A town so stinky you can smell it from far
Randfontein has gone years without a fully working sewage plant
The Randfontein treatment plant has been broken for several years, and the stench that hangs over the West Rand town doesn't let you forget it.
Local farmer Bianca Gerber has lost 27 calves in the past four years. She blames it on the sewage-contaminated water they drank from the river that runs past her property.
Neighbour Johan Hattingh, whose instant-lawn business is not far from the river, has forbidden his children to play on his lawn because of the sludgy effluent.
In the nearby cemetery, tombstones are sinking into the stinky mud. A visit to the local water-treatment plant shows sewage from the town entering, and then exiting in the exact same state, to be pumped directly into the Rietspruit River.
Municipal spokesperson Tshidiso Thlaripe said the authority was aware of the problems at the Randfontein waste water treatment plant.
"We are in the process of refurbishing the plant to ensure it operates at its optimal capacity," he said.
He said the municipality has issued a notice stating that the final effluent being discharged into the receiving stream should not be used for any other purpose until further notice.
"The plant started to deteriorate in the past two years as the municipality couldn't keep up with the required maintenance activities as a result of lack of funding and resources," he said.
Asked why the town was building a new housing development while facing this problem, Thlaripe said: "The plant has enough capacity to accommodate the new housing developments in and around its catchment area. The plant only requires the necessary refurbishment to ensure that it operates to its optimal capacity."
He said the department of water and sanitation had allocated R20m for the first phase in the 2018/19 financial year.
The municipality falls under the Rand West District municipality, which invested more than R77m in VBS Mutual Bank, where large-scale looting has been uncovered.
The district municipality is the water and sanitation services authority, supplying services to the local municipality.
Gerber said the past four years had been difficult for her and her family. They had lost 27 calves between 2014 and 2018 after pregnant cattle drank from a contaminated river.
"E.coli has killed what we as the family love most, the cattle," said Gerber.
AfriForum chair in the area Matiam van Vuuren said it had been more than eight years of smelly struggle. "People have lost their livestock; we used to have Egyptian geese, ducks, fish, but today they are all gone," he said.
Property agent and ratepayers' association chair Frans le Grange said boreholes were also affected.
Gerber and Van Vuuren blamed the municipality's management, saying it had failed to fix the ailing infrastructure.
In its 2018/19 integrated development plan, the district municipality revealed that the local municipality was struggling with recurring blockages and burst pipes and needed about R200m to upgrade water and sanitation infrastructure over five years.
The district municipality officials could not be reached for comment last week. On its current development plan, the local municipality's budget for water management is R262m, 17% of the total budget, while waste-water management is R37m, 2% of the annual budget.
Randfontein resident Mandie Marais said the cemetery was an eyesore and it was "heart-breaking" to see tombstones sinking into the sludge.
A visit to the treatment plant by the Sunday Times revealed that nothing is working at the plant, which has 13 fulltime staff members. Five sewage tanks, an incinerator, about 10 sewer processing dams, and primary settling basins are all out of order.
Farmer Hattingh said he had moved his cattle away from the river "and I keep them in a feed lot high up".
"This is dangerous, not only to animals but to people," he said. Not far from the house, a big dam he is using to irrigate his instant-lawn fields is full of sewage.
Thlaripe confirmed another water reservoir was being built by the municipality.
"Drinking water in the municipality is not affected, as Rand Water is the supplier to the municipality," he said.
"In the 2015/16 financial year, the department of water and sanitation also appointed Rand Water to assist with the refurbishment of part of the plant."