City in ‘dwang’ as ActionSA piles on pressure over sewage spills

Sewage leakage and blockages are an on going problem for the eThekwini Municipality. Sara Zondi and Tracy Zuma have had sewage problems for more than a month in their yard at Dube village. | FILE

Sewage leakage and blockages are an on going problem for the eThekwini Municipality. Sara Zondi and Tracy Zuma have had sewage problems for more than a month in their yard at Dube village. | FILE

Published Jun 2, 2024


Durban — The eThekwini Municipality remains in the “dwang” over its supposed poor management of the 8500 kilometres of pipeline, 263 pump stations, 27 treatment plants and other infrastructure under its care.

On Monday this week, Action SA submitted a supplementary affidavit for the Durban High Court’s consideration as part of an action – initiated in November 2022 – in which the municipality stands accused of failing to properly manage its water and sanitation infrastructure.

Early last month, the DA secured August 8 as the court date in their case against the municipality over ongoing sewerage and water infrastructure shortcomings.

Action SA cited concerns over increased instances of sewage seeping into local rivers and the ocean, saying this posed health risks for people and impacted the environment and the economy.

eThekwini’s mayor, various government departments and KwaZulu-Natal MECs were listed as respondents, including the MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

Subsequently, the municipality was required to provide an “action plan” with time frames to remedy malfunctioning and collapsed infrastructure.

Action SA claimed the action plan was “no action plan at all” because the city ignored deadlines and did not deliver on its promises.

The party’s leader in KwaZulu-Natal, Zwakele Mncwango, stated in his affidavit that the plan would only become effective when the “court intervenes”.

Mncwango said an amount of R1.5 billion was secured from Treasury to fix the infrastructure challenges, but it was “unknown where these funds are now”.

He said on-site inspections in August 21 last year were attended by Action SA councillors and their legal representative from various government departments.

“What we witnessed at the inspections was diabolical,” Mncwango said of their visit to the Phoenix wastewater treatment works.

The facility had not operated for 10 years, was in a state of disrepair and many of the staff members were not present as there was no work to do.

When the delegation arrived early at the pump station near the Ohlanga River, municipal staff were hurriedly clearing the area of sewage and debris, which was being put into plastic bags.

Mncwango said the municipality could not give an account of any progress made in terms of the action plan, though they conceded that the uMhlanga wastewater treatment works was not working.

“This led to raw sewage pumping daily into the Ohlanga River.”

Mncwango said the numerous repairs listed on the plan as “complete” were ”lip service“ because the repairs had not actually been done.

He said that on May 7, his party had tried to inspect various sites to establish whether the action plan timelines had been met, or if there had been any progress, but they were prevented from entering by municipal officials and the police.

“The only inference we can draw is that the municipality has not implemented the action plan, a year later.”

Mncwango said that as councillors they were permitted to conduct oversight visits.

He questioned the municipality’s diligence in managing its finances and taking E.coli readings, which were not shared with the public over the holidays.

“Holidaymakers utilised beaches blissfully unaware that E.coli levels were dangerously high.”

Mncwango said the municipality did not have the “political will to address the situation” and put an end to the crisis in Durban.

Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said: “The municipality’s responses to the allegations will be in the court papers at the appropriate time.”

In March last year, Ednick Msweli, the municipality's head of water and sanitation, responded to Action SA’s founding court documents.

He said that following the April and May 2022 floods, a “war room” had been created on the directions of the national ministers of water and sanitation and Cogta, together with KZN’s Cogta and Tourism MECs.

The aim of the war room was to co-ordinate the state’s response when it came to repairing damaged infrastructure, as well as helping the municipality with the consequences of the floods and to be kept apprised of on-the-ground happenings.

Msweli said many of Action SA’s claims were objectionable, inadmissible and “hearsay”.

He said rapid urbanisation had placed a huge strain on the city when it came to service delivery to its 1.2 million households, 700 000 of which were informal households.

“This has resulted in a shortage of toilets and inadequate waste disposal systems, leading to poor sanitation conditions in many areas.”

He said while the municipality had plans, a lack of funding had prevented an upgrade of infrastructure before the floods.

After the floods, certain projects were prioritised and through the efforts of the municipality, all the infrastructure was repaired.

Of the R1.5bn funding for flood-related projects, only R228m was earmarked for water and sanitation repairs.

He said the municipality had taken all necessary steps, despite a constrained budget, to address the consequences of the floods.

Msweli conceded that E.coli levels had been unacceptably high at several beaches while repairs were being carried out, but the situation was now regularised.

He asked that the court refuse Action SA the relief they sought.

Sunday Tribune