Parys’ water flows untreated from river to taps – AfriForum

Municipality's water treatment plant pumping water directly into town's network, says organisation

“We are thirsty!”: Protesters in Parys take to the streets in water protest

23 May 2024

An engineer’s report commissioned by AfriForum on the condition of the Parys water treatment plant shows that untreated river water at this plant is pumped directly into the town’s water network without even the most basic water treatment. In addition, the report shows that various basic maintenance work on the plant is not being done, that the plant is poorly managed and that new infrastructure installed is already faulty. These and several other critical findings are contained in a full report that stems from a site visit AfriForum did of the water treatment plant on 9 May.

AfriForum as well as the community organisations Save Ngwathe and Metsi Pongpong and outraged community members from Parys, Tumahole and Schonkenville marched to the Ngwathe Local Municipality’s offices in Parys today. The inability of the municipality to deliver safe drinking water to the nearly 50 000 residents of Parys, Tumahole and Schonkenville has now caused the situation in this Free State town to boil over.

The engineer’s report and a memorandum detailing their demands for an urgent solution to the pressing water crisis in Parys and the surrounding settlements were presented to the Municipal Manager, Dr F.P. Mothamaha. Mothamaha has now confirmed that the municipality will meet with AfriForum, Save Ngwathe, Metsi Pongpong and representatives of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) at 09:00 tomorrow to discuss the problems as laid out in AfriForum’s engineer’s report, as well as possible solutions for it.

The water treatment plant in Parys consists of three units with a total treatment capacity of 25 megalitres per day. The latest addition to the plant is the Trident unit which was erected almost eight years ago at a cost of R30 million to increase water treatment capacity by 10 megalitres per day.

According to the DWS’s National Blue Drop Report issued in December 2023, Parys is failing abysmally with the provision of clean drinking water to residents. In this report, it is emphasised, among other things, that DWS placed the water supply institution – in this case the municipality – under regulatory surveillance and that the Municipal Manager had to submit a detailed correction action plan to DWS within 20 days after the publication of the Blue Drop Report.

However, in the Ngwathe municipality’s 2022/2023 annual report, which was published in April this year, it is claimed that 90% of all residents in this municipality (including Parys, Heilbron, Koppies, Vredefort and Edenville) have access to drinking water. Stakeholders who participated in today’s protest action maintain that what is currently taking place in Parys and the surrounding communities confirms that the municipality is fabricating facts, does not see the seriousness of the crisis and therefore does not have the will or ability to fix the town’s failing water treatment infrastructure.

The relevant organisations and the Parys, Tumahole and Schonkenville communities therefore demand urgent intervention at the municipality’s water treatment plant due to the poor management and the defective installation of infrastructure and equipment there. The organisations also demand that access to the water treatment plant must be given to the community and specialists so that recommendations can be made regarding legal compliance; that AfriForum’s engineers are involved in the oversight, management and execution of projects at the waterworks; that AfriForum’s engineers, at the organisation’s expense, offer training to all water treatment plant personnel; and that the community must be informed about the water quality every week. In addition, those involved also demand that the community be notified immediately when it is found that water distributed by the plant is unfit for human consumption and that the necessary corrective steps will be taken.

The memorandum also calls for the establishment of a steering committee with representatives from the municipality, AfriForum, Save Ngwathe, Metsi Pongpong, the provincial DWS and the Free State Premier. According to the memorandum, the committee will aim to facilitate matters such as the maintenance of the water treatment plant and its management and upgrading.

According to Morné Mostert, AfriForum’s Manager of Local Government Affairs, tap water that AfriForum tested in Parys was not adequately treated. “The poor quality of water treatment in Parys poses serious health risks. Despite these risks, AfriForum could not locate a single notice in which the municipality warned the community that the water flowing from their taps is unsuitable for human consumption. Meanwhile, everyone in this community suffers from the municipality’s poor management. And while high-ranking officials in the municipality can afford to buy access to this basic human right, the poorest members of the community are thirsty and left at the mercy of an authority that has turned its back on its people,” explains Mostert.

“However, today is a wake-up call for the municipality, because this community’s thirst for clean drinking water now brought them together to take a stand in their yearning for justice,” concludes Mostert.

Issued by Morné Mostert, Manager: Local Government Affairs, AfriForum, 23 May 2024