/ 3 February 2023

City of Johannesburg slapped with directive over raw sewage pollution into tributary of Klip River

Foul: Church members worship on the banks of the Klip River, a heavily polluted river. Photo: Ihsaan Haffjee/Getty Images

The Gauteng department of water and sanitation slapped the City of Johannesburg with a directive for polluting the Harringtonspruit, a tributary of the Klip River, with raw sewage.

The directive was issued for the city’s failure, under section 19 and section 20 of the National Water Act, to take reasonable measures to “prevent pollution from occurring, continuing or recurring” from the overflowing of the emergency dam of the Bushkoppies wastewater treatment works that causes raw sewage wastewater to flow into the Harringtonspruit.

The directive was issued in August but Alberton resident Bryan Marshall said there had still been no improvement. “Since it’s stopped raining, it’s actually got worse. The river level has dropped, so of course the foam and the contamination is more exposed. The hidden pollution into the wetlands is getting worse by the day.”

He had been fighting the matter for the past three years. “I drive past the Mall of the South in my vehicle with windows closed and it just hits you like a wall. The stink is absolutely terrible and they don’t care. 

“The sad part is that people further downriver, there are ladies and people being baptised and bathing in that water. People are catching fish in that river and they’re eating them. At the end of the day, it’s contaminating something that everyone can’t live without, and that’s water.”

The city did not respond to the Mail & Guardian on the steps it had taken to comply with the directive. 

In the directive, Wisani Justice Maluleke, the acting provincial head of Gauteng operations, recorded how its officials had conducted site inspections at the Goudkoppies wastewater treatment works and Bushkoppies on 6 and 7 June last year. Another site inspection was conducted at the Goudkoppies wastewater treatment works on 14  July. 

“The following observations were made. Goudkoppies wastewater works was diverting its inflow to Bushkoppies wastewater works because of cable theft that occurred on 8 May 2022. Since Bushkoppies wastewater treatment works was receiving wastewater from Goudkoppies wastewater, it was over-capacitated,” he wrote. 

“This was evident as the inlet and emergency dam were overflowing into the environment, due to the diverted flow from Goudkoppies. It is evident that pollution has been ongoing for a prolonged time.”

The city was not adequately attending to the overflow of wastewater taking place at Bushkoppies, which is affecting the water quality of the Klip River and “ultimately the Vaal River”, Maluleke wrote. 

The department was “inundated with complaints” regarding water pollution of the Harringtonspruit, which emanates from the Goudkoppies wastewater treatment works. 

Maluleke said the department was of the view that the city is not complying with the provision of section 19 of the National Water Act, which deals with the prevention of pollution to water resources.

“During the site inspection, it was observed that raw sewage overflowing from Bushkoppies wastewater treatment works was flowing into the Harringtonspruit. It was also observed that the raw sewage was flowing for a prolonged period,” said Maluleke. 

“The raw sewage flowing into the Harringtonspruit and ultimately into the Klip River will have devastating consequences to the downstream water users and aquatic life.”

The directive, among others, ordered the city to cease, modify or control any act or process causing the pollution; to comply with any prescribed waste standard or management practice; contain or prevent the movement of effluent; eliminate any source of the pollution, remedy the effects of the pollution as well as the effects of any disturbance to the bed and banks of a watercourse.

Ferrial Adam, project leader of the Water Community Action Network (WaterCAN), an initiative of non-profit civil action organisation, Outa, said: “Surely, the buck stops at the local government level when you’re getting sewage spilling into rivers. How can you be issued a directive by the national government and not do anything about it?”

Last month, Wisane Mavasa, spokesperson for the national department of water and sanitation, said that since 2014, it has issued 135 notices and 72 directives against municipalities, mostly in Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

Most of these had been issued since 2020. 

“The department is closely monitoring the implementation of these administrative actions to monitor compliance with the instructions outlined in the notices and directives,” she said.