The unabated flow of raw sewage into the Vaal River has been ruled as a violation of environmental acts by the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, prompting the Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu to take action. The court has given him 45 court days to submit an affidavit outlining measures to prevent contraventions of the National Environmental Management Act and the National Water Act, as reported by news24.
Additionally, the court has ordered Mchunu to present an action plan with implementation timeframes and funding details. This new development came after years of municipal mismanagement. There have been many failed attempts to repair the broken wastewater treatment plants responsible for cleaning effluent from Pretoria before releasing it back into the Vaal River system.
The Emfuleni Local Municipality, which should have been responsible for the plants, was under administration in 2018 and lacked the necessary repair resources. The Department of Water and Sanitation and the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries have also taken criticism for not holding the municipality accountable.
The South African Human Rights Commission investigated, revealing numerous violations of constitutional rights due to the ongoing pollution of the river. Following the report, Rand Water came back into the project. However, community members living in sewage along the Vaal expressed dissatisfaction with Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai’s claim that the spillages had improved.
In response to the persistent issues, Judge Gregory Wright has ordered the minister of environmental affairs to outline the department’s role in criminal investigations related to the infringements. The Gauteng High Court has also directed Mchunu to involve Save, an NGO dedicated to protecting the Vaal River and its tributaries, in quarterly engagement meetings to monitor infrastructure fixing.
In collaboration with the River Property and Safety Association, Save celebrated the court order as a significant victory after years of legal battles and pressure on authorities. The organisation stressed the importance of transparent and honest communication to foster understanding and address the challenges encountered during refurbishment and expansion projects.
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