/ 8 June 2023

We have failed you, Ramaphosa tells Hammanskraal residents

President Cyril Ramaphosa 9976 Dv
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The government has “failed the people of Hammanskraal” by not supplying them with clean drinking water, President Cyril Ramaphosa told a community meeting on Thursday.

He was visiting the region, north of Tshwane, which has been the epicentre of the country’s cholera outbreak, to assess its impact. Thirty-one people have died of the infectious bacterial disease typically contracted from infected water supplies — 29 of them in Hammanskraal — in recent weeks. The other two deaths were in Limpopo and Free State. 

Poor water quality has been a problem in Hammanskraal for many years. 

“Our people have the right to clean running water and, in this case, we will admit we have failed the people of Hammanskraal. We have failed you,” the president told residents gathered at Temba Stadium.

“Even though investigations are still ongoing to find out exactly what led to the deaths of people, and to find out where the source of his cholera was, the fact that you don’t have clean running water is enough for us to be extremely concerned about the exercise of your rights, as the people of our country …”

The government, he said, is “sorry that it has taken the deaths of a number of people” to bring this to their attention, even though “we have not yet confirmed that the cholera deaths are as a result of the water supplied to residents”. 

“Your basic human right of having clean water … we have not lived up to your expectations as the people of Hammanskraal. We are now going to put this right.”

Ramaphosa was accompanied by a delegation, including Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi and Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink

Rooiwaal upgrade

Earlier, Ramaphosa visited the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works, upstream of Hammanskraal, which is polluting the Apies River which flows into the Leeukraal Dam, from which water is abstracted by the City of Tshwane’s Temba water treatment works. 

Temba is supposed to treat the raw water taken from the dam so that it is fit for human consumption. But the water in the dam is so polluted that Temba is not able to clean the water to the point where it meets the required standards for drinking water.

Upgrading Rooiwal will require R4 billion and money would be made available from various government departments, as well as the City of Tshwane, he said. “The city will also make a contribution to make sure that we revamp and expand Rooiwal wastewater treatment works and we also revamp the Temba water treatment plant so that they both can deliver clean running water.

“You have a right to clean water, as the people of South Africa. We are sorry we have not been able to give you that right of access to clean water. We accept that,” said Ramaphosa.

Multiplicity of problems

Within six months, he said, Magalies Water would build a portable water treatment plant to supply Hammanskraal residents with clean drinking water and water tankering would continue until then “but it won’t be [continuing] for years and years”.

There were a “multiplicity of problems” in relation to water in Tshwane and Hammanskraal, he said.

“The Rooiwal wastewater treatment works has not been maintained up to the right standard for quite a long time … Rooiwal has not been expanded to be able to handle the volumes of effluent that has been coming in. As the population in Tshwane has been growing, the municipality needed to realise it is growing and expand the waterworks and invest in capital as well as maintenance. 

“The two of them have not been done. We are saying that, yes, there must be revamping, expansion and there must be maintenance that has to be done, or else there’s going to be big trouble,” Ramaphosa said.

Co-operation between all spheres of government was needed. “One level of government must not pull in its own direction because now we can see, when the levels of government do not work together, it leads to the disaster that has unfolded here in Hammanskraal.

“The other problem, of course, is that, yes, the municipality did try within its own capability to find people who will go and repair and extend the waterworks. They issued big tenders, and the work was half done, and the tender had to be cancelled because there were irregularities in the awarding of the tender. 

“In the end, it is our people who then suffer because, had the work been done properly in that waterworks …. the provision of clean, quality water would have been the right you would have been able to exercise.”

The national department of water and sanitation, he said, is “going to be paying closer attention to Rooiwal, “indeed as they are doing around the country as well”. 

“This has been a big lesson for us.”

Addressing Brink, the president added: “I want the problem of water, my dear mayor, to be your priority focus. Day and night, I want you to focus on your water.”