“Our municipality is not functioning. They are not giving us our basic services. We are battling with water in this area.”
Elayne Henderson has lived in Bonaero Park, in Ekurhuleni, for at least 14 years. The area got its name because it neighbours OR Tambo International Airport. Air pollution is a major problem but this has reduced since the regulations to prevent the spread of Covid-19 kicked in and travel has been restricted.
Now the residents are focusing on their other constant problem: sewage spilling into the wetland. It has done so for the past 10 years and despite work starting nine years ago to fix the cause, the situation has not improved.
Wildlife has moved away, including flamingos, which used to be a regular sight at the pan. Instead, the closer one gets to the wetland the stronger the stench of sewage.
Andre du Plessis, the Democratic Alliance’s ward councillor for Bonaero Park, says the original sewer line, which circumvented the wetland, stopped working properly because it was old. A lot of water and debris got into the sewer line and was carried to the pump station a kilometre away. The station could not cope with the extra capacity and would get damaged.
To fix this, Du Plessis says the City of Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality put out a tender for a new sewer line and work started in about 2011.
“They dug the manholes by hand so that they could do underground drilling from one manhole to the other to prevent the destruction of the ecology of the area,” he says. “However, the contractor who was appointed did not have the capacity and the material, tools to do underground drilling.”
The municipality says this work cost R2.8-million.
Some of the manholes have collapsed. All of them are open, posing a real danger to people.
“This pipeline inside this wetland is constantly spewing sewage into the wetland. The community around here have dubbed it Poo Lake,” says Du Plessis.
Another resident, Danie Putter, who two weeks ago worked to unblock a manhole that had been spewing sewage for 20 days, says the stench flows over to the streets close to the wetland. “This pond has always had flamingos and they’re gone now.”
Asked why the sewage situation has not been fixed, Henderson says: “Because this is Ekurhuleni. Have a look at Ekurhuleni as a complete whole, the mess the whole place is in. The electricity is collapsing , the sewage is collapsing, all over people are complaining. There is no policing.”
There is a resounding sound of frustration in her voice.
Du Plessis says they have tried to get the municipality to resolve the problem, but nothing has been done. During a meeting last year municipal officials said they were going to expedite the processing of the water use licence, so that work on the sewer line could start. But that has not been done.
Henderson says the municipality is “taking our payment every month and that is it. We are getting nothing else for our services.”
But the City of Ekurhuleni says it “prides itself in the delivery of service to its people. In the country at the moment the city is the only municipality with a very ambitious programme for service delivery, including construction of 30 new reservoirs at a go, replacement and upgrading of water and sewer lines.”
Themba Gadebe, the spokesperson for Ekurhuleni, says the municipality is aware that the project on the sewer line was “completed”, but it had numerous “defects”.
He says the city has hired specialist consultants to rectify the sewage “challenges” in the Pomona, Blaaupan and Boanero Park areas. The municipality plans to fix the problem by putting in a new sewer line and refurbishing Bonaero Park’s pump station. Gadebe says the project will start during the 2021-2022 financial year after the water use licence and environmental authorisation has been issued.
Gadebe says the problems are exacerbated by excessive sewer discharges beyond sewer design capacity. For this reason the municipality is discussing the rerouting of a sewer line with the developers of the Jewellery Manufacturing Precinct and In2Food, a prepared food and beverage business.
Earlier this month, auditor general Kimi Makwetu released a report on local government, titled Not Much to Go Around, Yet Not the Right Hands at the Till.
“Irregular expenditure in this [Gauteng] province amounted to R1.7-billion for municipalities. A further R3.3-billion was reported for audits finalised subsequent to the cut-off date for this report, with the City of Tshwane metro accounting for R2.9-billion of this amount and Emfuleni R358-million.”
There is a positive note in the report: municipalities in Gauteng, including the City of Ekurhuleni, have improved the quality of financial statements submitted.
Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian