Same sh#@, different day…

Sewage overflow increasingly seems to be the order of the day in municipalities around the country as towns battle to find the funding to upgrade or maintain sewage, water and drainage infrastructure.

raw sewageImage credit:

Case in point is the Cleland and Mkondeni municipalities where, for more than five years, residents have been battling to have ongoing sewage spill problems addressed by the Msunduzi Municipality.

“The municipality recently installed a sewerage pipe in the stormwater drain, which is not normal.” - Veron Vogt, Cleland Ratepayers’ Association chairman.

Residents claim that the culprit of the sewage overflow into the Mkondeni stream, is via a pipe channeled into the stormwater drain.

However, each time the problem is reported to the municipality, the response comes back from the authority that the problem ‘is going to be fixed’. To date, this has not happened.

Veron Vogt, Cleland Ratepayers’ Association chairman told local newspaper, Maritzburg Fever that the spill was also responsible for fish dying in the river.

“We have had this problem since I have been the chairman for the ratepayers. The municipality recently installed a sewerage pipe in the stormwater drain, which is not normal.

“It is disgusting that sewage water runs everywhere and some of the stream is now blocked. The smell is unbearable when the sewer overflows in Hereford Road.”

With the summer rains coming, the situation will be further exacerbated, as Vogt points out, “If the sewer is overflowing now, imagine when there is heavy rain – the whole area will be covered in sewage.”

MkondeniVeron Vogt at the main Cleland stream where sewage is blocking other streams.
Image: Lethiwe Makhanya

The problem also affects Mkondeni factories that say they have reoccurring sewerage blockages that happen at least every three months and the municipality has not responded to the problem.

According to the local newspaper, Maritzburg Fever, when it undertook a visit to the area last week, the stench of raw sewage was unbearable.

It reported that one of the streams behind a store in Mkondeni has been turned into an illegal dump site with locals now throwing their garbage there.

The municipality has remained silent regarding its response.

Broke department and broken infra

While this and similar scenarios are being played out in municipalities dotted around the country, and indeed the rest of Africa, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Appropriations (SCOA) that it could not ignore the water challenges being experienced by the municipalities and had to make necessary interventions to ensure that communities had access to the most basic of services.

africa sewerAn open sewer runs alongside a railway track in the Kibera slum of Kenya's capital Nairobi.
Image credit: Darrin Zammit Lupi

This however, has challenges of its own, as the necessary interventions on water services at various municipalities has resulted in a negative impact on the department’s 2016/2017 budget and performance.

The department appeared before SCOA to account on its Q4 Expenditure Patterns for the previous fiscal year.

According to the DWS, the SCOA supports the department's efforts to manage its internal financial controls and operational efficiencies, as well as to enable it to negotiate additional funding from the fiscus to deal with budget pressures related to infrastructure projects.

brokeThe Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is reportedly bankrupt.
Image credit:

On this basis, the department was urged to apply for additional funding from the National Treasury and was also encouraged to put measures in place wherever fiscal maladministration existed which, is vast and has impacted the entire water sector adversely.

The committee raised the need for the DWS to have an audit of matters relating to commitments, accruals and budget shortfalls as there is a discrepancy between spending and programme performances.

Deputy Minister, Pamela Tshwete pointed out to the committee that, unlike the other entities which provide services, the department could not turn off taps as there was no substitute for water.

Tshwete impressed upon the committee and the DWS a need to consider the indigent municipalities too, saying that some of the municipalities were genuinely unable to raise revenue sufficiently to make the necessary payments.

The acting DG, Squire Mahlangu, repeated that the DWS was aware of the necessity for financial compliance, assuring that the department was currently working on recovering monies from clients who owed money to the department.

The department is struggling to pay contractors because it is R4.3-billion in the red, and in February City Press reported that senior executives advised Cabinet to place the department, which is headed up by Nomvula Mokonyane, under administration.

The DWS was encouraged to finalise the Water and Sanitation Master Plan as speedily as possible, encouraged by the fact that the Master Plan speaks to the ideals of the National Development Plan, SA's Vision 2030.

The finalisation of the auditor-general's report will also give a clear indication of the department's performance.



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