Untreated sewage crises destroying health, economy and environment

Issued by Jane Cowley, MPL
Shadow MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism

The Democratic Alliance plan to meet with the new Minister of Water and Sanitation and the Minister of Environmental Affairs to discuss the ongoing crisis of raw, untreated sewage that has been spilling into the streets and rivers of towns in the Chris Hani District municipality for years.

The uncaring, incapable ANC-led district municipality has for years violated the constitutional rights of the residents they are supposed to serve, placing them directly in harm’s way, despite the national government instructing them – not once but several times – to address the issues.

Their failure to act is destroying the lives and livelihoods of not only those local communities entrusted to their care but is endangering everyone who lives downstream of the contaminated water sources as well.

The raw, untreated effluent running into these rivers has the potential of destroying tens of thousands of agricultural jobs, as an extensive network of irrigation schemes for grazing and crop farming for export rely on water from these contaminated waterways.

The Democratic Alliance has established that at least eight freshwater sources in the district are being contaminated by multiple ongoing sewage spills.

Many people living alongside these freshwater sources use water sourced directly from these rivers daily for consumption. These individuals constantly run the risk of being infected by Escherichia coli which causes Diarrhoea and Cholera infections.

Many of these individuals do not all have immediate access to healthcare, and a cholera outbreak in these rural areas could have catastrophic consequences for these communities.

The ongoing contamination of these rivers also places livestock at risk, as water sources contaminated with faeces can bear a parasite called Cryptosporidium, which causes a disease called Cryptosporidiosis. This is a severe form of diarrhoea that has killed many young calves. The parasite can also infect wildlife such as birds, fish and reptiles.

If the export market emanating from this agricultural produce were to be halted as a result of contamination, the economic implications would be devastating. The agricultural sector employs 44 000 permanent and 33 000 seasonal workers, and the collapse of the export market would result in huge job losses.

The Democratic Alliance will not allow this blatant disregard for people’s wellbeing to go unchecked.

Criminal charges have been laid against the Municipal Manager of the Chris Hani District Municipality by my colleague, Vicky Knoetze, MPL, and DA Mayoral candidate for Inxuba Yethemba, Cllr Monde Desha, on Friday 24 September.

I, together with Knoetze, in her capacity as Shadow MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and Retief Odendaal in his capacity as Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) plan to meet directly with the new Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, and with the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy, to establish what action steps they intend taking to resolve this crisis, before it worsens even further.

In a capable state such as the DA-led Kouga Municipality, the environment is protected and developed in an ecologically sustainable manner to support social and economic development.

Their communities have access to clean, reliable water sources that are safe to drink.

Where the DA governs, we get things done.