The bereaved families of the more than 20 people who died in Hammanskraal after a cholera outbreak this year have many questions but few answers about the untimely deaths of their loved ones.
In May, reports started coming through that people admitted to Jubilee District Hospital for treatment after they had consumed tap water had died.
Health authorities said that since May 15, a large number of people were admitted to the hospital after they took ill due to diarrhoeal disease or gastrointestinal infection.
The disease was said to be caused by consumption of contaminated water.
The government subsequently declared that there was a cholera outbreak in the area.
At some stage, the Gauteng Department of Health reported that 165 people were admitted to the district hospital. Eighteen of them had been had been transferred to other health facilities in Tshwane.
EFF councillors in Tshwane demanded that mayor Cilliers Brink drink Hammanskraal’s dirty water. It brought some to a council sitting at Tshwane House.
EFF councillors wielded placards inside the chamber, bearing messages condemning the quality of water in Hammanskraal.
Party regional leader Obakeng Ramabodu said the EFF was “not politicking on the matter” after health authorities declared that there was a cholera outbreak.
Ramabodu challenged Brink to take a sip of the brownish water in order to publicly demonstrate that it was indeed drinkable.
In June, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the township and blasted the municipality for its failure to maintain the Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Plant that was linked to the deadly cholera outbreak .
Addressing the people at Temba Stadium, Ramaphosa said: “Money comes in but not all of it is used to maintain the plant. This is the first mistake, that there hasn’t been proper maintenance.”
He also found fault with the municipality for not adhering to directives by the Department of Water and Sanitation to fix the Rooiwal plant.
Ramaphosa apologised profusely to residents for the poor quality of water.
He conceded that the government was in the wrong for having flouted residents’ constitutional right to have access to clean running water.
In July, Brink announced that the families who had lost their loved ones after the cholera outbreak were in line for ex gratia payment of R30 000.
His good gesture of donating funds was made known amid a threat of a class action lawsuit by the families represented by several lawyers led by advocate Moafrika wa Maila.
Wa Maila said the families were gunning for Ramaphosa, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, Brink, Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu, Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements Lebogang Maile, Tshwane Human Settlements MMC Ofentse Madzebatela and Health Minister Joe Phaahla, among other defendants expected to be listed in the application.
The affected families wanted closure and to be compensated for the loss of their loved ones.
One of them, Eva Phengwa, lost her sister, Johanna Phengwa, who died after consuming water in the area.
She was struggling financially to take care of her late sister’s four children.
Phengwa said she would like the government to assume the responsibilities of taking care of them because their mother had been the breadwinner.
Wa Maila and many locals believed that there were other cases of deaths involving people who had died at home because of dirty water.
They said those who had died at home had not formed part of the statistics compiled by health authorities at hospitals.
This publication spoke to a father of one of the deceased Karabo Baloyi, 25, who died at home after consuming tap water, but he was never taken to a hospital for treatment.
The distraught father, David Baloyi, said his son was not counted among the deaths that were reported by health authorities.
Baloyi said his son, who had been deaf and had used sign language to communicate, drank water from the tap because he had been thirsty.
The water, Baloyi said, had looked clean after it had been poured into a glass or container, but it had changed to brown, with slime, after two or three days.
Grace Motale’s three nephews were admitted to hospital after drinking tap water.
The had had diarrhoea.
The City of Tshwane council approved R450 million to capacitate Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant, which has been identified as the source of problem.
Mchunu and Brink announced, during a joint media briefing, that the estimated cost of a full rehabilitation and upgrade of Rooiwal was in the region of R4 billion.
In a damning report against the municipality in November, Public Protector advocate Gcaleka Kholeka slammed the city for failing to provide water suitable for consumption to township residents.
The report, dated October 31, 2023 emanated from a complaint by a Mr Edwin Bapela.
On September 1, 2021, Bapela asked the public protector to investigate allegations that the city was failing to provide the residents of Hammanskraal with clean water that was suitable for human and animal consumption.
The report said the allegation that there was “undue delay and/or failure by the City of Tshwane to supply residents of Hammanskraal with clean water that is suitable for human consumption is substantiated”.
In September, Ramaphosa signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit to investigate allegations of maladministration and corruption in the contract awarded to a joint venture of CMS Water Projects and NJR Projects linked to controversial businessman Edwin Sodi.
In August 2022, the city terminated the contract following significant problems and delays with the quality of the work on the site due to continuous stalling.
Phase 1 of the project involved civil and mechanical work for the refurbishment of various elements of the plant as well as upgrading and extending others.
The refurbishment and upgrade project was needed in order to improve the capacity of the wastewater treatment works to process the large amount of wastewater coming into the plant.
For more than a decade, the problem of dirty water supplied to Hammanskraal residents has been attributed to lack of capacity of Rooiwal plant to purify wastewater, resulting in the sludge being discharged into the Apies River.
The Apies River, in turn, supplied water to the Temba water treatment plant, used for purifying water for Hammanskraal residents.