‘Lives are at stake’: Hammanskraal water not fit to drink, SAHRC finds

The issue has been ongoing for years, with residents now concerned the elections will further delay a resolution

02 September 2021 - 18:53
The SAHRC is concern about the quality of drinking water in Hammanskraal, particularly regarding issues with the Rooiwaal Waste Water Treatment Works.
WATER WOES The SAHRC is concern about the quality of drinking water in Hammanskraal, particularly regarding issues with the Rooiwaal Waste Water Treatment Works.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Residents of Hammanskraal “do not have water that is safe for human consumption”.

This was the shocking finding of the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) during a visit to the area, north of Pretoria, on Thursday. The commission said it would release findings into the situation there and the state of rivers in Tshwane.

The SAHRC conducted a fact-finding visit to the Temba Water Purification Plant and the Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Works, joined by Tshwane mayor Randall Williams and MMC Phillip Nel.

It followed recent reports that the quality of water produced at the plant had severely deteriorated, leaving Tshwane with no choice but to temporarily shut down the plant.

The commission declared the water in Hammanskraal unsafe for human consumption in 2019 and found the situation hadn’t much changed since.

SAHRC Gauteng head Buang Jones said short-term interventions were not sufficient to address the human rights violation.

“We are happy with the cooperation that we received from the department of water and sanitation and the city of Tshwane. However, we are still unhappy that the people of Hammanskraal do not have access to clean water and water that is safe for human consumption.

“We have since decided to convene a meeting with the city and Rand Water to explore possibilities of providing alternative water to the residents as an interim measure,” said Jones.

Our main concern at the moment is that there isn’t sufficient communication with the affected residents and farmers who reside along the banks of Apies River. These are issues that require a cohesive response from the national, provincial and local sphere government.
SAHRC Gauteng head Buang Jones

When it came to the refurbishment of the Rooiwal plant, a project which is hoped will deal with much of the problem, Jones said he had been told the first phase would be completed in 2022. 

“Our main concern at the moment is that there isn’t sufficient communication with the affected residents and farmers who reside along the banks of Apies River. These are issues that require a cohesive response from the national, provincial and local sphere government, and we hope that the upcoming elections will not affect the progress that we have observed here today.”

Jones added that there were allegations of people benefiting from the status quo. 

“They are happy with the status quo and people like that suffer from shortism because they don’t understand the long-term implications for the residents of Hammanskraal.”

He said during their previous visit the government had given itself three years to complete the project at the treatment plant.

Williams said the challenges in Hammanskraal were first identified in 2004, when reports were presented to the then administration highlighting that the waste water infrastructure was deteriorating and would not be able to sustain population growth.

He said the reports were ignored, the population more than doubled and no interventions were put in place for more than a decade. 

“The infrastructure significantly degraded, such that by 2015 the water in parts of Hammanskraal was undrinkable,” he said.

We are very worried because of the political instability that we are seeing now it’s election season. If there’s a new administration we will be back to square one, so they need to speedily address issues of connecting the two pipes.
Tumelo Koitheng, Hammanskraal residents forum

Williams said the area was prioritised in 2016. “It then became apparent that repairs and maintenance would not be sufficient. What was required was a full-scale refurbishment of the Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment plant.”

He added that R300m was made available to upgrade the plant, funded over numerous phases and budgetary years. It was one of the city’s “biggest budget allocations”.

“Phase one of this work is currently under way and standing at 58% completion, with finalisation expected in October 2022. However, as this work takes place we must keep the plant running, which is challenging,” he said.

Kobus Fell, of NPO National Water Monitor, said he was concerned about information being released to the public in an attempt to put them at ease.

He said a picture was being painted that “everything is fine”, but in reality the quality of water being released into the river system was not good enough.

Tumelo Koitheng, from the Hammanskraal residents’ forum, said the water crisis in the area must be treated with urgency.

“We understand that until the source has been corrected we are still going to suffer. This is an emergency; people’s lives are at stake. We are very worried because of the political instability that we are seeing now it’s election season. If there’s a new administration we will be back to square one, so they need to speedily address issues of connecting the two pipes.”

He said when they lodged a complaint with the commission it was because the water was smelly and brown.

“The Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment still contaminates the Apies River, which is the source of water for residents. We are not satisfied with what we have seen today at the plant because when we walked around certain tanks were dark. They have been overflowing and that’s not a good sign. It seems they are busy with the upgrade, but neglecting the maintenance,” Koitheng said.

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