Nationwide river cleanup under way, says Senzo Mchunu

17 November 2021 - 07:00
Minister of water and sanitation Senzo Mchunu is determined the country's polluted rivers will be cleaned.
Minister of water and sanitation Senzo Mchunu is determined the country's polluted rivers will be cleaned.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu said on Tuesday that his department was embarking on a nationwide project to clean SA's polluted rivers.

Mchunu was speaking at the National Assembly during a portfolio committee meeting on water and sanitation which discussed the department's and Rand Water’s interventions in the Vaal river system challenges.

He said the department would be embarking on a national cleanup project that will ensure that what happened in the Vaal river does not happen elsewhere.

“Rand Water has begun the work and we were happy with the initial briefing in terms of what they took us through what they had done.”

There is work that is being done on all the critical aspects, including the unblocking of pumps.

“What we now need is picking up speed and agreeing with Rand Water on the total amount that is going to be spent without further waste of time while they do the work.”

A meeting involving all role players was held where it was unanimously agreed that a decisive decision needed to be taken that the department intervenes. The department asks those involved to ensure that the environment that Rand Water operates, was free of interference.

Mchunu said Rand Water was still in the process of doing assessments and cleaning the water ensuring that no further pollution takes place. “We want to stop pollution because the system to be free of any external elements getting in there.”

Mchunu said at the end of the month there would be a meeting to discuss all the pollution spots in the river systems from the source right down to the mouth.

Rand Waters’ CEO Sipho Mosai told the committee that the main problem affecting the Vaal System was pollution and that the first intervention is to stop raw sewage from flowing into people’s yards.

The first intervention for Rand Water was to go into the priority pumps and ensure that maintenance and repairs were done. “This will be a multiyear project, we want to show people that we are unblocking and that their concerns are being addressed. We want to talk the talk.”

He assured the MPs that his department will resolve the pollution problem plaguing the Vaal water system.

“We are serious about this project, we are monitoring it and we are making progress already,” he said.

He said the first thing that the department did when it intervened in the Vaal was to appoint Rand Water as the implementing agent.

“The second thing we did is that we went to the Vaal ourselves, took a cruise with knowledgeable people and assessed everything. We were then fairly informed about the extent of the problem.”

The department’s assessment found that the river had been polluted thoroughly.

“It was clear that it was heavily contaminated. You could see that the animals were affected, and the environment as a whole.”

Another assessment of the plants found that they were functioning minimally. He said the pumps needed  serious attention.

Mchunu said the sewer pipes had been blocked to a point that they needed a complete overhaul.

Subsequently, meetings were held with Rand Water Board and the department “made it clear that we are putting our heads on the block on this matter because various attempts and interventions have been made in the past and the department has incurred costs”.

He said this time around the department was not going to do that, adding: “We are decisively intervening and we want this work done as soon as possible so all administrative processes have been concluded, to a large extent.”