It’s been a long time coming, yet the end is nowhere in sight for the people of Hammanskraal, as their water remains ‘undrinkable’ and the project to upgrade the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works is taking longer than expected.
On Thursday, 2 September, as part of their monitoring mandate, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) visited Temba Water Purification Plant on a fact-finding mission to inspect the recent maintenance issues that led to the deterioration of the water and temporary shutdown of the plant and the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works to assess the progress of the refurbishment project happening there.
The community of Hammanskraal has faced a water crisis since 2004, as the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works, which treats the Hammanskraal community’s sewerage, was not built to support the now expanded population.
Additionally, Stephens Notoane, Group Head of Water and Sanitation for the City of Tshwane told Daily Maverick that the plant was originally built in the 1960s for a very small population, but now this plant is serving about 40% of the City of Tshwane’s population.
The current Tshwane Municipality administration says that when they took over in 2016, they made it their priority to address the capacity issue, and allocated R300-million for a full-scale refurbishment of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works to upgrade the plant over numerous phases and budgetary years.
During the site visit, SAHRC Gauteng Provincial Head Buang Jones explained that the SAHRC began investigating the situation in Hammanskraal in 2019, deeming it appropriate and in the public’s interest.
The dirty water that is separated during the purification process at Temba Water Purification Plant, Hammanskraal, on 2 September 2021. (Photo: Julia Evans)
In August 2019 the SAHRC declared the water in Hammanskraal “unfit for human consumption”, and in March of this year held an inquiry into the water quality of Roodeplaat Dam. They plan to release a report of their findings regarding the challenges pertaining to water and sanitation in the City of Tshwane, in the hopes of finding a lasting solution.
Although Jones said he was happy with the full cooperation from the City of Tshwane and the Department of Water and Sanitation, he is unhappy with the slow pace of the first phase of refurbishment.
“We are not happy with the fact that the people of Hammanskraal continue to drink water that is not safe for human consumption,” said Jones. “Until all those violations have been remedied, we will continue to come here, we will continue to exert pressure on government to discharge its constitutional obligations.
“We are happy with the cooperation that we have received from the Department of Water and Sanitation and the city of Tshwane. We are happy with the progress report that we have received. But we cannot be happy that people continue to endure these violations and drink water that in the long term could compromise their health.”
The dirty water that is separated during the purification process at Temba Water Purification Plant, Hammanskraal, on 2 September. (Photo: Julia Evans)
The refurbishment project
Phase one of the refurbishment project of Rooiwal wastewater treatment works was contracted in January 2020.
As it stands, phase one is 58% complete, which Jones is unimpressed with.
According to Jones, the first phase was meant to be finished in early 2022, but because of project delays (hampered by lockdown restrictions), the Municipality say they’re hoping to complete the first phase by August 2022.
Another concern Jones voiced is that the Municipality has not yet secured funding for the second and third phases of the project, adding, “these are critical phases which will address the ongoing violations and challenges downstream.”
Dumisani Gubuza, the Divisional Head for Tshwane Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Planning and Implementation division, confirmed that the funding has yet to be sourced.
Phase one of the refurbishment project at the Rooiwal wastewater works is 58% complete. (Photo: Julia Evans)
Gubuza added, “The then-minister of water, sanitation and human settlements, Honorable Lindiwe Sisulu had committed funding towards the next phases of the project. Engagements with the National Department are ongoing in this regard. The City is also engaging other potential founders for the project.”
Also in attendance on Thursday was MMC Phillip Nel, a member of the Tshwane mayoral committee who deals with water and sanitation. Nel told Daily Maverick that they do not yet have the R2-billion in funding required for the rest of the project, in part due to changes in staff on a leadership level (such as minister of human settlements, water and sanitation and the minister of finance), and budget allocations to Eskom, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Covid-19 response.
“No, we don’t have the money in the bank,” says Nel, “can the government afford not to continue with that pledge? I don’t think they can. Because there’s just too many communities developing in this area, which is 100% dependent on the future water from here.”
MMC Philip Nel (left) of the Tshwane Mayoral committee and Buang Jones, Gauteng Provincial Head of the SA Human Rights Commission at the assessment of the refurbishment project at Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Plant on 2 September 2021. (Photo: Julia Evans)
While the refurbishment of Rooiwal works takes place, as a temporary measure (since of December 2018), water supplied to Hammanskraal has been split into three sources.
The eastern section of Hammanskraal receives water from Magalies Water, the western section from Rand Water and the central section from Temba Water Purification plant (which gets its water from the Apies River, which is supplied with water from the Rooiwal works after it has been treated.).
Notoane and Gubuza emphasised that only one-third of the 120,000 Hammanskraal residents get their water from the Temba Water Purification plant.
The Temba Water Purification plant was recently shut (25 August) after the quality of the water deteriorated, due to water pump maintenance issues. After the pumps were fixed, the plant reopened on 25 August.
After receiving complaints about the water, the SAHRC visited the Temba Water Purification plant to investigate the cause of the deterioration of the water.
Nel said, “there is nobody in Hammanskraal that is given water to drink that isn’t safe.”
The municipality has said water sourced from Rooiwal works is not safe to drink or cook with and is supplying water tankers to a portion of Hammanskraal until the Rooiwal works becomes operational and can supply safe drinking water.
Why has it taken so long?
Mayor Randall Williams said in a media statement on Thursday, “the challenges in Hammanskraal were first identified in 2004 when reports were presented to the then administration highlighting that the wastewater infrastructure was deteriorating and would not be able to sustain the population growth.
“Unfortunately these reports were ignored and the population nearly doubled and no interventions were put in place for over a decade. The infrastructure significantly degraded such that by 2015 the water in parts of Hammanskraal was undrinkable.”
The treated water before is flows into the Apies River at the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works. (Photo: Julia Evans)
In response to why the water crisis has been ongoing for so long, Nel said, “I cannot speak on behalf of the administration before 2016. When we took over as a minority coalition, this subject was immediately prioritised, and the project was managed to get into the ground as soon as possible.”
For now, the refurbishment project continues, albeit at a slow pace, and with a third of Hammanskraal receive water unfit for consumption.
The delay in getting the Hammanskraal community safe drinking water is steeped in a legacy of political inaction and budgeting issues. Now, the longtime issue has come into the spotlight as other competing political parties and the SAHRC investigate the situation.
Jones says once their report comes out, if they are not satisfied with the findings, the commission will take further action. DM/OBP