“Shitty Tour” exposes sewage as threat to national health – ActionSA

Party says municipal dysfunctionality remains at the heart of the crisis

ActionSA Shitty Tour exposes sewage as threat to national health, tables plan to fix It

17 May 2024

During the course of the ‘Shitty Tour’ of broken sewage infrastructure across South Africa, it is clear that South Africa faces nothing less than a national health crisis.

The fact that over 46% of our groundwater is now contaminated by sewage demonstrates the quantum of the problem and the scale at which municipalities are failing to manage sewage infrastructure.

The 2022 Green Drop Report published by the Department of Water and Sanitation revealed that a staggering 71% of wastewater treatment facilities are in critical condition requiring urgent intervention.

The consequence of this failure was evident at every turn of the ‘Shitty Tour’ with visuals of raw, untreated sewage flowing out of treatment plants that were not operational and into the water courses. This pollution has directly impacted on agriculture and irrigation systems, pollutes drinking water and reduces our ocean water quality and associated tourism industry.

There is absolutely no question that South Africans face a national health crisis as a direct consequence of sewage infrastructure failure. At every point of the ‘Shitty Tour’ communities and interest groups confirmed that people are getting sick at an increasing rate and this problem looks certain to get worse as more communities start to experience the consequence of sewage infrastructure collapse.

From a tourism perspective Cape Town and eThekwini stand to lose the most with the latter already suffering a decline in tourist numbers from 7.9 million in 2015 to just 800 000 in 2023 because of its closed beaches. Cape Town appears to be heading in the same direction as closed beaches become a more frequent occurrence arising from the marine outfalls close to the beaches.

The quality of capital project management remains a massive concern as witnessed at the non-operational Zwelitsha Wastewater facility between King William’s Town and East London. The facility was built in 2018 at the cost of hundreds of millions of rands and, yet it is not operating and no person could be found on site as all of its untreated sewage was being directed into the river system.

Municipal dysfunctionality remains at the heart of the crisis, featuring as the common factor behind sewage infrastructure failure witnessed on the ‘Shitty Tour’. The recalcitrant attitude of the City of Cape Town towards protestations of communities and the impact of its breach of the terms of the permits issued to it and environmental legislation remains a problem. In Makhanda in the Eastern Cape the municipality has been under administration and infrastructure collapse has occurred across all categories presided over by a Municipal Manager that was the former Mayor. In Buffalo City 12 of the 15 wastewater treatment facilities are dysfunctional causing East London and King Williams Town to drown in untreated, raw sewage.

Failures of Provincial Government to address broken municipalities is another key reason for the sewage crisis that faces many South Africans. ActionSA’s engagements with the community of Bazil Reid near Hannenman in the Free State revealed the most broken of municipalities. This small municipality is bankrupt, owes ESKOM in excess of R5 billion and has had its entire service delivery fleet attached by the courts for non-payment to its creditors. Sewage flows through the streets, into the homes and even out of the toilets of residents because the nearby treatment plant has been shut down. Despite this, and directives from the National Council of Provinces, the Free State Provincial Government has not placed this municipality under administration.

Infrastructure theft and vandalism is a major part of the problem with our access to sites being far too easy given the strategic importance these sites represent to our national water security. At the Pots Dam wastewater treatment facility outside Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, armed criminals held up a security guard and dug up all of the cables leaving the facility non-operational. This site sits above the Bridle Drift Dam that feeds the whole of East London where water quality readings are detecting record levels of eColi.

ActionSA appears as the only party driving the issue of infrastructure collapse in this election, despite the reality that this problem is driving the disruption of basic services and constitutional rights across South Africa impacting an increasing number of communities. ActionSA presents the following solutions to address the failing sewage infrastructure through our Infrastructure Master Plan:

1. Zero-based budgeting that locks down required funding for sewage infrastructure renewal, repairs and maintenance before budgets can look to fund less pressing priorities.

2. Public Private Partnerships that leverage the balance sheets of the private sector for initial capital outlays required to expand and renew wastewater treatment facilities.

3. Municipal Oversight to ensure that minimum prescribed levels of spend on sewage infrastructure are required alongside accountability mechanisms for return on investment.

4. Declare states of disaster in worst impacted regions to unlock disaster management support to address both the health and infrastructure aspects of the crisis.

5. Prosecutions of Municipal Officials by the NPA to ensure people go to jail for criminal pollution of water courses and coastlines, ending the era of charges pled down to fines paid with public money.

6. Protecting wastewater treatment facilities by declaring them national key points strategic to our national interests, establishing a specialised infrastructure unit in the SAPS bolstered by military deployment to protect these instillations. ActionSA would amend criminal legislation to declare infrastructure theft or vandalism as a crime of sabotage carrying a mandatory life sentence.

The final leg of the Shitty Tour finished on a strong footing at the Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Plant which has been the origin of the Hammanskraal Water Crisis for nearly 20 years. Affected communities here have suffered from undrinkable water, outbreaks of cholera and the collapse of surrounding agriculture.

ActionSA has fought this issue, even within our coalition government in Tshwane, including championing the fight for investigations against officials who awarded the tender to Edwin Sodi and withholding our support for budgets that did not adequately budget for this project. During this visit ActionSA’s Deputy Mayor, Dr Nasiphi Moya, briefed South Africans on the impending resolution of this crisis. Of particular importance is the appointing the Development Bank of South Africa to implement the project after the removal of Edwin Sodi’s joint venture, the commitment to deliver clean water to Hammanskraal by September 2024 and plans to implement water testing by December 2024. This represents the first progress on this issue over the past nearly 20 years and ActionSA applauds Dr Moya’s work on this vital issue.

ActionSA’s Shitty Tour has exposed the national crisis we face with untreated sewage in our country, and it has laid down a clear plan to address this crisis. We do so as a party with a track record in government that has very recently, in Tshwane, proven that Only ActionSA Will Fix South Africa.

Issued by Michael Beaumont, ActionSA Team FixSA Member for Infrastructure, 17 May 2024