/ 10 March 2020

Court interdicts cancelling Hammanskraal wastewater contract

Little has changed in Hammanskraal since the Mail & Guardian last visited the area in August
An order by the Pretoria high court has put on hold the City of Tshwane’s efforts to cancel a contract to fix the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant, which is at the heart of the Hammanskraal water crisis. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

An order by the Pretoria high court has put on hold the City of Tshwane’s efforts to cancel a contract to fix the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant, which is at the heart of the Hammanskraal water crisis.

Last month it emerged — through a media statement issued by Parliament — that the City cancelled a contract to urgently refurbish Rooiwal, which has been leaking untreated sewage into Hammanskraal’s water system.

The statement suggested that the reason for the cancellation was the inability of the entities awarded the R291.4-million contract to “deliver on work to limit substandard work”.

But the joint venture awarded the contract refuted the City’s grounds for cancelling the contract, accusing it of misleading MPs. It succeeded in obtaining an interdict against the City from cancelling the contract.

In an affidavit to the court, Rudolf Schoeman of CMS Water Engineering — one of the three entities in the joint venture — said “the immediate implementation of the agreement is a matter of extreme urgency”. 

He noted that Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, has been without an adequate source of clean water for the last decade.

Hammanskraal residents have complained that the water has made them sick. In August last year, the South African Human Rights Commission, based on findings by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, declared the water in Hammanskraal unfit for human consumption. An analysis of samples found traces of E. coli and nitrates in the drinking water supplied to Hammankraal residents.

The City did not file papers opposing the matter. But in response to questions from the Mail & Guardian, its spokesperson, Lindela Mashigo, said the case “is pretty much still in court”. The court has given an interim ruling interdicting the City from cancelling the contract until the case is finalised, Mashigo said.

“That being said, it means the merits or demerits of the cancellation is still an issue that is alive before court. Hence it would be not prudent to elaborate and discuss the [City of Tshwane’s] position while a case is still pending … The matter is sub judice.”

The tender, which was first advertised in June 2018, was awarded more than a year later, in September 2019. The refurbishments were expected to start in October that year.

In the statement from Parliament, chairperson of the portfolio committee on human settlements, water and sanitation, ANC MP Machwene Semenya, called the “snail’s pace” of the Rooiwal refurbishments “unacceptable”.

Water crisis is a priority

The court battle between the City and the joint venture comes in the wake of the Gauteng government’s decision to dissolve the municipal council, citing its failure to supply adequate services to residents. The water crisis in Hammanskraal has been raised by the provincial government as one of its main concerns.

In a December 2019 statement, Gauteng co-operative governance MEC Lebogang Maile noted the City’s “serious challenges of water quality, along with unreliability of water provision”. 

“The water shortage is a high risk for the municipality, as it has had a negative effect on hygiene in communities, schools and healthcare facilities,” the statement read.

The statement was released three days after a sitting of the Gauteng provincial legislature during which Maile submitted a report on “the state of affairs” in the municipality to Gauteng Premier David Makhura. 

The statement announced the provincial government’s intention to invoke section 139 of the Constitution, which provides that when a municipality does not fulfil its obligations to residents, the relevant provincial executive may intervene by taking any appropriate steps to ensure fulfilment of that obligation. 

This includes dissolving the municipal council and appointing an administrator until a new leadership is elected. According to Maile, the Gauteng leadership issued a directive to the municipal council, describing the extent of the failure to fulfil its obligations and stating the steps to correct this.

Last week, Makhura announced that, in the wake of the “ongoing mismanagement of the City”, the Gauteng government would dissolve the municipal council and put the City under administration.

“The City of Tshwane has been deteriorating rapidly … Residents are suffering, while political parties are fighting in council and in the courts. 

“We will intervene decisively in any municipality when service delivery grinds to a halt,” Makhura said in a statement. He described the City’s ability to supply clean water as “severely compromised”.