/ 24 May 2023

Hammanskraal water crisis exposes years of neglect

Hammanskraal Crisis: Slow Tender Stops Clean Water Flowing
Hammanskraal residents have to go out and find water. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Water is an invaluable resource essential for survival and fundamental to equitable socio-economic development. Its significance extends beyond a basic human need, intertwining with various rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, including the right to water, life, dignity, environment and food.

The distressing situation unfolding in Hammanskraal may be shocking, but not surprising. People have endured a decade-long struggle with water and sanitation issues, serving as a stark example of what happens when development occurs disproportionately.

It is no secret that the water supply network in Hammanskraal needs to be updated and equipped to meet the growing demand. A significant portion of the water infrastructure is in a state of disrepair, leading to frequent leaks and disruptions in the water supply. Over the years, several red flags have been raised, further highlighting the extent of the crisis.

  • The Rooiwal water treatment plant has been failing to treat the wastewater and instead is dumping raw or semi-treated wastewater into the Apies River which supplies Hammanskraal.
  • Residents have repeatedly described the water in Hammanskraal as “brown and slimy”, a distressing testament to the compromised quality of their water supply.
  • In 2019, the South African Human Rights Commission declared the water unfit for human consumption following an independent analysis by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
  • Adding to the resident’s plight, the City of Tshwane, in August 2021, shut down the Temba water purification plant, leaving Hammanskraal without access to water for a week.

All this is occurring in South Africa’s fourth-largest municipality, which has a sizable budget that includes allocations for water and sanitation. Despite the availability of resources, Hammanskraal, a peri-urban area in the City of Tshwane, has been persistently underserviced, mismanaged, and overlooked.

This disparity in access to adequate water and sanitation becomes painfully apparent when comparing Hammanskraal to its neighbouring urban core, Pretoria. Alarming statistics show the stark contrast: 30.3% of households in Hammanskraal rely on pit latrines without ventilation pipes, while the figure stands at 0% in Pretoria. 

Additionally, 4.4% of households in Hammanskraal lack any sanitation facilities, while more than 96% of households in Pretoria have flush toilets. Furthermore, 14.2% of households in Hammanskraal, which depend on water tankers that supply piped water, water treatment failures render the water unfit for human consumption.

The consequences of limited access to clean and reliable water have been dire for the health and well-being of the people of Hammanskraal. Waterborne diseases and sanitation-related issues have surged, further exacerbating the problems faced by its residents.

The situation has escalated to an intolerable level, with avoidable deaths underscoring the ongoing violation of people’s right to clean, safe, drinkable water, and adequate sanitation. Urgent action is imperative, necessitating an immediate resolution to the Hammanskraal crisis and a long-term strategy to address the deteriorating water infrastructure across the municipality.

Without a commitment to follow through, these gaps in access to adequate water and sanitation will widen, leaving residents in less-developed areas such as Hammanskraal without hope for resolution in the foreseeable future. It is crucial that the City of Tshwane demonstrates a clear plan of action, both for the immediate crisis and the long-standing deterioration of water infrastructure in the municipality.

A poignant quote from the 2006 Human Development Report resonates deeply and serves to underscore the importance of access to water and sanitation: “Not having access to water and sanitation is a polite euphemism for a form of deprivation that threatens life, destroys opportunity, and undermines human dignity.”

Adelaide R Chagopa is a candidate attorney at the Centre for Environment Rights.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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