Pretoria - The government has been threatened with a class action suit for negligence stemming from the provision of contaminated water to Hammanskraal residents, resulting in the deaths of 23 people.
Advocate Moafrika Wa Maila told the Pretoria News that he would institute a class action against the government on behalf of those who died, those admitted to hospital and other affected residents.
Since May 15 many people in the township were admitted to Jubilee District Hospital after they fell ill with diarrhoeal disease or gastrointestinal infections said to be caused by the consumption of contaminated water. The government subsequently declared that there was a cholera outbreak in the area.
Maila said one of the bases for the lawsuit would be previous reports with findings on the Hammanskraal water situation, including the 2021 report compiled by the South African Human Rights Commission after its public inquiry into the quality of water.
Part of the commission’s report blamed the municipality “for the unacceptable levels of pollution”, which was attributed to “the failure to manage and maintain existing wastewater treatment works over a prolonged period of time”.
Maila said he would host a media briefing with the bereaved families next week to outline their legal strategy.
“I have been a water activist in Hammanskraal for the past years. When the four children died in 2015 of cholera the media refused to cover the story and I took action, but we lost the court case because the autopsy results were twisted. This time there has been some acknowledgement that there is indeed cholera and that gives our case a 90% chance of winning,” he said.
Maila is seeking compensation for the affected families for loss of income and comfort, among other things.
“These are family members, wives and siblings who had duties and everything and now some of them had their lives cut short due to negligence by the government which provided them with water that killed them. It is the duty of the government to provide clean water,” Maila said.
The SAHRC report said the government, by giving the people of Hammanskraal contaminated water, was in gross violation of a human right and they ought to be held criminal liable, adding calculations were still to be done on the amount of the claim.
Maila said money was not going to be a problem because he had secured some funders and the support of powerful senior advocates. “I am going full swing in this matter and I am using powerful senior advocates. I am winning this one.”
He said one of the people who died was a woman in her forties who had a career and earned a minimum monthly salary of R12 000.
“She has three children who are below the age of 12. She had a long life ahead of her. She had an opportunity to grow her career but now her life has been cut short by government negligence. Who will take care of these kids? The government must take responsibility,” Maila said.
This week the City of Tshwane council approved a R450 million allocation to capacitate Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant, which has been identified as the source of problem for Hammanskraal residents.
It was announced during a joint media briefing held this week with Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu and Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink that the estimated cost of a full rehabilitation and upgrade of Rooiwal would be about R4 billion.
Meanwhile, WaterCAN – an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) – said on Thursday that it had commissioned an independent laboratory service, Aquatico Laboratories, to test water from four taps in Hammanskraal. The laboratory found that water from three of four taps “was not safe to drink,” WaterCAN said.
However, it said there was no trace of cholera after independent analysis of the bacteriological water quality.
WaterCAN’s executive manager, Dr Ferrial Adam, said: “The water may be free of E coli and free of cholera, but there is still a very high number of other bacteria in the water which is a major cause for concern as it indicates either inadequate treatment before it goes into the pipes, or water is secondarily polluted after it leaves the treatment facility. Either way, it remains unsafe for consumption.”