Persistent water issues at centre of court case

Published Apr 23, 2024


WATER shortages and sewage spillages, which especially affects the town of Komatipoort and the Crocodile River, are so overwhelming that a judge dealing with the matter remarked that the pictures handed to court depicting the problem, was “overwhelmingly shocking”.

The Mpumalanga High Court, sitting in Mbombela, was told that the Crocodile River, which is supposed to supply drinking water to the community, was littered with raw sewage.

It is said that the situation was so out of control that residents, who received drinking water from the municipality in 2023, had live fish coming through their taps.

Fed up and desperate with the situation, a group calling themselves the Komatipoort Despondent Residents Association turned to court for an order that Nkomazi Local Municipality and others, including the Mpumalanga MEC for Environmental Affairs, do something about the situation.

They said their rights to a safe environment and drinking water were being violated.

They argued that the spillage of raw sewage into the Crocodile River threatened the livelihood of all people dependent on the river. That included the tourism community, residents, nature and natural resources in and around the river.

The poor supply and the inadequate management of raw sewage stole the dignity from the people, impacted the health of citizens and caused fly infestations and infectious diseases such as chronic diarrhoea.

The applicants said the municipality had failed them dismally. They said that despite the water shortages in the area, the municipality had also failed to provide them with water via water tankers. The applicants had to get water from people who had boreholes in order to supply water to those who had none.

Aggrieved by all that, the applicants had written to various arms of government to complain and seek an intervention.

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) acknowledged the issues but attributed it to the December 2022 flooding in the area. It undertook to monitor the situation.

The municipality denied that the sewerage works were not being maintained. It also denied the bad colour of the water which reached the households and said no incidents of fish coming out of the pipes were reported to it.

An official from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment told the court that the department did not have the legislative competence to prevent the flow of sewage that emanated from municipal sewage works into rivers.

Judge Lindiwe Vukeya said that in her view, the application related to an environmental hazard in which the provincial executive had to intervene.

The judge said the waste disposal sites and sewerage works in Komatipoort were clearly not well managed and therefore needed urgent attention.

She said the applicants had also proved that the municipality was in breach of its constitutional obligations to prevent contamination of the environment by allowing the raw sewage spillage.

The National Environmental Management Act acknowledged that everyone had the right to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.

The judge said several email correspondences addressed to several state organs had been sent about the raw sewage spillages in Komatipoort and the surrounding areas, to no avail.

Some of the correspondences has caught the attention of the Human Rights Commission during 2019. The commission had given directives to the municipality to rectify the problem, but those had not been not followed.

The MEC for Cogta had promised to intervene and respond to the residents' concerns but it was clear that nothing had been done up to the date of the application, the judge said.

The respondents were ordered to urgently take remedial steps to stop the raw sewerage spills by immediately fixing the causes of the spillages, to remedy the effects of the pollution caused and to rehabilitate the affected areas.

Pretoria News

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