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Steven Maleka worked at Pelindaba and believes his skin condition, asthma and heart problems are because of chemical exposure. Steven Maleka worked at Pelindaba and believes his skin condition, asthma and heart problems are because of chemical exposure. PICTURES . SIMONE KLEY

Desperately seeking justice

Written by  Sheree Bega Sunday, 18 December 2016 06:21
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Ill workers and families want the nuclear body to own up~ published in Canvas Life by Sheree Bega

HAROLD Daniels had no choice - he had to grow up fast. It was either that or watch his grieving mother, suddenly lost without an income, struggle even more. The  teenager dropped out of high school and went searching for a job to pay the bills.

Today Daniels, who shares his father's name, is a debt collector who chases recalcitrant car owners - it's work that runs on commission and he doesn't earn much.

In a way, he says, it feels as if the painful death of his father, a security guard at Pelindaba nearly 20 years ago, killed his dreams too.

In early 1997, the 40-year-old died of lung and brain cancer, six months after he had been retrenched from the nuclear research facility near Hartbeespoort Dam, run by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), where he had worked for 15 years.

He had fallen gravely ill after extinguishing a "radiation fire" at the plant in 1996. Daniels, who had complained his arm and neck were stiff and his stomach swollen, refused to accept the R43 000 severance package his family claims Necsa proffered. In D the  end, his wife, Amanda, had to sign for it.

"When my father started to get sick, that's when they they (Necsa) told him to leave," charges Daniels. 

"They knew he was going to die and they didn't want him working for them. I remember how tragic and hard it was, visiting him in hospital as he lay there dying."

Now, 64, his mother, Amanda, never remarried.

"Harold was a wonderful husband and a hard-working man," she says, fondly. "We were building our home when he got sick after he ran into that building to stop the fire. They sent him home to die with nothing," remembers Amanda, who lives with her son in Ekurhuleni. Daniels's case - one of two confirmed deaths attributed to radiation exposure at Pelindaba at the time - was among 11 Necsa employees Dr Murray Coombs, an independent occupational expert, referred to the compensation commissioner in 2006.

Non-profit organisation Earthlife Africa had commissioned Coombs to conduct tests on its workers three years after Victor Motha's death in 2001. After inhaling a fluoride gas - used to process uranium for fuel in nuclear reactors - at Pelindaba, the 21-year old came home on November 21, complaining of nausea, and a burning in his throat and chest.

He started vomiting and died that night in hospital.

The then energy minister, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, sent a letter and promised to investigate his death, but his family maintains that that is where correspondence with the department stopped, says the 2011 Greenpeace report, The Trust Cost of Nuclear Power in SA, released in 2011.

His family reportedly received just R6 000 in compensation. In 2007, Daniels was among a group of ailing ex-Pelindaba employees who told a parliamentary inquiry how they had fallen ill because of exposure to nuclear radiation and toxic chemicals at "secretive" agencies such as the Uranium Enrichment Corporation of South Africa and the Atomic Energy Corporation, where highly enriched uranium was used to create nuclear weapons during apartheid.  

In her desperate plea for justice, she told parliamentary officials how she had not received a cent of compensation  and how Necsa reportedly failed to pay out her husband's life policy because he had skipped two instalments.

Officials promised to investigate the claims of nuclear exposure, but nearly a decade later she and her husband's colleagues are still waiting.

Since 2010, their final hope has rested at the Office of the Public Protector, but its investigation, too, has been fraught with delays.

The probe centres on Necsa's alleged failure to acknowledge or compensate the workers for occupational illnesses and a failure by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in its legislated mandate to ensure the protection of workers.

"The investigation is in its final stages," says Oupa Segalwe, spokesman for the office of the Public Protector. "The only matter that was outstanding was the specialist medical testing of seven volunteers of the complainants to ascertain if it can be medically established that they were exposed to radiation. This  process took a while to complete but we have just received the full medical report from all the medical specialists." The NNR footed the bill for these medical tests.

Segalwe says its investigators are studying the report. "We've scheduled a joint meeting between ourselves. the Compensation Commissioner and Necsa for early January - wherein we will address all issues around outstanding claims by complainants not yet paid by the commission. It is envisaged that the report will be finalised early next year."

The NNR says it "will wait for the due process of the public protector and take it from there" while Necsa this week took the same approach. "The matter of the former Pelindaba workers is under investigation by the Office of the Public Protector. Necsa is unable to comment on an ongoing investigation as it is an affected party," it says.

For her part, Daniels looks to a former Uranium Enrichment Corporation worker, 62-year-old Alfred Sepepe, who has become a champion of their plight, for hope.

"Alfrad's the only one who fights for us. All the meetings we've been to in Atteridgeville over the years, he organised them and still does. He has sat at the Public Protector's Office for days," she says of the anti-nuclear activist. It was Sepepe who helped motivate former Pelindaba workers to take part in Coombs's occupational health study.

Last month, at the international Nuclear Free Future Awards, he was honoured for his work "to see that the South African nuclear industry worker health problems are acknowledged as occupational disabilities brought on by radiation exposure". Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive for a Sustainable Environment, who presented Sepepe with his award, lauds his activism: "Despite extreme difficulties Alfred remains the only voice for scores of uncompensated former nuclear industry workers.

"By continuing to singularly keep alive this unresolved issue is a tribute to this man's determination and tenacity, which he funds from his meagre pension earnings.

"The thin, wiry Sepepe says his 11 years spent as a maintenance and decontamination worker at Pelindaba from 1989 made him sick - he claims he was never provided with protective gear - until doctors discovered he had testicular cancer: He was operated on at a hospital in Ga-Rankuwa in 1999.

"They asked me how many children I had. I told them I had three. They told me I would not have any more and removed my testicles." He was left impotent.

Back at work in Pelindaba, Sepepe recalls how he was unexpectedly informed his work was being phased out and he was being retrenched. "When I asked my supervisor, they told me I shouldn't ask questions or I wouldn't get a payout," he recalls, claiming he was offered R20 000 for his silence. Necsa has consistently rebutted claims it ever retrenched sick workers.

Sepepe lives in a tiny room at the back of his mother's property in Saulsville, ear Pelindaba. His neatly-made bed is scattered with pamphlets on uranium mining and how to stop South Africa's nuclear ambitions.

But for many, the fight has been too long. Sepepe has laid 62 of his colleagues to rest over the years.

"It's been years of fighting but I won't give up. They must compensate us because too many people are sick. I want my children to have a home. We've taken this issue to the president, to the minister of energy. Nothing has been done. All you ever hear from the public protector is Nkandla, Nkandla. What about us?"

The Greenpeace report notes how those who battle on for compensation "fear the state and its nuclear industry are waiting until we all die for the problem to go away".

Steven Maleka, a gardener, shows his battered, festering legs. Now in his 70s, he worked at Pelindaba from the 1980s and remembers plodding through "red and blue water" that would run inside his boots. "I've been in and out of hospital for years. It's too painful to work." 

In his neat home in a nondescript street in Atteridgeville, Percy Msimanga walks slowly to the lounge from his bedroom, leaning heavily on his crutches. Now in his 80s, his asthma makes it hard to breathe.  Msimanga worked in a boiler room at Pelindaba until the early 1990s - after he fell sick, he says, he was paid out R27 000 and told to go. He was too ill to work again. "Please help me get my money." he pleads.

Judith Taylor, of Earthlife Africa Joburg, has her doubts.

"The situation will be stretched out until no one is left, but I'm open to being surprised."

Like Taylor, Samson Mohlolo's family have run out of hope. His daughter, Julia, sits in her gown in their home in Atteridgeville trying to comfort her 92-year-old father, who has stomach cancer.  The former maintenance worker was retrenched from Pelindaba after his cancer was discovered.

"When he's sick, he always says he wishes he had never worked there. He was trying to provide for us but he never could work again.  There's no justice in this world."

MORE than 500 ill workers sought help from environmental NGO Earthlife Africa around the turn of the century. 

Dr Murray Coombs, an independent occupational health expert, examined 208  workers. His report in 2006 revealed that 40 percent of the workers suffered probable occupation- related illnesses, including lung cancer, asthma and lung fibrosis as well as skin conditions. Findings couldn't be made for 62 workers because of missing information from the employer. Coombs concludes there will be a significant increase in disease among ex-workers over the next 20 years.

What the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation said about its own R3.5 million investigation Necsa's independent occupational medical doctor examined 50 workers, correlating with their medical records. Not one presented symptoms related to radiation. Most of the group were workers who had been retrenched, aged between 40 and 61, and their "financial burden may have allowed for a high self-selection".

In its 2016 report, Necsa states that high safety standards ensure that no employees are exposed to radiation. Workers were put through monitoring for full blood count and urine testing. None presented with abnormal blood results. 



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The Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s ongoing role in addressing the sewage pollution in the Vaal River

‘People the same as pigs’ in the VaalBy Sheree Bega | 16 Oct 2020 Foul: Pigs root in sludge in Emfuleni municipality. (Photos: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G) Clutching her one-year-old son, Monica Ndakisa jumps onto a brick to avoid the sewage that runs like a dark stain across the passage in her home.  “We’ve lived like this for years,” she says pointing to one of the culprits: her blocked toilet, which causes sewage to pool into nearly every room of her home in Sebokeng hostel in the Vaal. “The smell is too terrible.” It’s worse outside. Her small garden is submerged in a sickly, grey sewage swamp. To stop the human waste from seeping inside, Ndakisa has built a concrete barrier at her front door. But it’s futile. “My five-year-old son was in the hospital for two weeks with severe eczema and they told me it’s because of all this sewage. It makes us cough all the time. It’s so depressing to live like this.” Samson Mokoena, of the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (Veja), shakes his head. “It’s chaos. You can’t allow people to live in such conditions. The government is playing with our people.” Ndakisa’s neighbour, Maphelo Apleni, has used pipes to divert the stream of sewage from his garden. “It never stops,” he says grimly. “We have a municipality [Emfuleni] that doesn’t care about us.” Mziwekaya Mokwana points at a sewage-filled furrow clogged with litter where pigs are feeding. “This is no better life,” he says. “People are the same as pigs here.” Sewage in Vaal River system  Last month, the human settlements, water and sanitation department said it would take at least another three years to minimise and eventually stop the sewage flowing into the Vaal River system. In a recent presentation, it states how “design treatment capacity is at its limit, housing development investments are delayed and there are negative environmental and health impacts”. Ageing infrastructure is to blame for sewage spillages, coupled “with a lack of operation and maintenance investment” as well as theft and vandalism.  It will cost about R2.2-billion “to have a sustainable impact on the Vaal River catchment within Emfuleni local municipality”. The department’s plan aims to safeguard infrastructure; repair the bulk network to eliminate spillages, key and critical pump stations and rising mains; refurbish wastewater treatment works “in an attempt to comply with discharge licence conditions”; and achieve operation and maintenance requirements. But Maureen Stewart, the vice-chairperson of Save the Vaal (Save) is sceptical. She says there is no political will to tackle the crisis. “These problems go back over 12 yearsand reached crisis proportions when the system collapsed in 2018. The result is some 200 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage entering the Vaal River and its tributaries daily.” Stewart warns that it’s an ecological disaster that also affects agriculture and has serious health implications for people living above and below the Vaal Barrage Reservoir, which is 64km long and used to supply Johannesburg with water but is now too polluted to do so.   She says the Emfuleni municipality has been under Gauteng’s administration since mid-2018 and, despite promises, the status quo remains — unbridled sewage pollution of the Vaal River and Emfuleni.  “The Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (Erwat) was appointed to take over in 2019 and were given funding and spent R179-million. Their contribution was to unblock pipes and remove 50 tons of rubbish from the system. This opened the pipes but, as the pump stations and the three wastewater treatment plants remain dysfunctional, there has been no improvement. Raw sewage continues to flow into the Vaal River and into the streets of Emfuleni.”  Monica Ndakisa sweeps overspill from her toilet. There was a “glimmer of hope” when Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, visited the Vaal in January this year, assuring Save that action will be taken and that funds are earmarked in the 2020-2021 budget.  “It seems her enthusiasm has not filtered down to her department,” says Stewart. “After Erwat’s contract was not renewed, the department stated they would undertake the repairs by appointing their own contractors. Tender documents have been languishing on someone’s desk at the department since July.” Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department, says the government has committed resources towards solving the sewage problem in the Vaal.  “Government sent state institutions to assist Emfuleni local municipality (ELM) in this regard; these include SANDF and Erwat. Recently, the department finalised the scope of all that needs to be done to solve the sewage problem. There are 26 work packages that will be advertised in the coming weeks for competent contractors to take part in solving the sewage challenge in the Vaal.”  The department, says Ratau, aims to have a “busy festive season” working with the appointed contractors. “In the 2020/21 financial year, the department has committed R911-million towards solving this challenge. The total investment by the department in 2020/21 financial year is R1.2-billion in the Vaal; this includes the building of additional wastewater treatment capacity and associated pump stations.” Maphelo Apleni installs pipes to drain sewage out of his garden. Before the end of the financial year Module 6 in Sebokeng water care works will be launched, “subject to no community unrest disrupting construction”. The department, Ratau says, has to take all necessary precautions to ensure that section 217 of the constitution is followed as far as procurement is concerned.  “Thus the departmental checks and balances had to be followed to the letter to ensure compliance with procurement processes. This unfortunately caused delays but was necessary.” Within the next month the department aims to advertise for all the contractors “that can assist in this challenge”. Ratau says commitment dates, including start and completion dates, “will be sent not only to Save but all interested stakeholders once the contractors are appointed. The department cannot preempt this before the appointments are made.” He says that R7-billion is required to “solve the pollution challenge in ELM. This needs to be coupled with operations and maintenance, which is a function of ELM at local government level”. Save is once again taking the government to court to enforce legislation to ensure infrastructure is repaired within phased completion dates and that sufficient funds are made available for ongoing maintenance and operation of the system by the municipality, supervised by the high court.   Veja’s Mokoena is glad the department is taking over the Vaal clean-up. “This situation was supposed to be fixed a long time ago. So much money has been squandered at the municipal level.” Rand Water’s delay Eight months. That’s how long it took Rand Water to release public water quality records for the Vaal Barrage system to a team of aquatic specialists investigating the ecological health of the river system.  In January, Aquatic Ecosystems of Africa submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application to Rand Water for access to its water quality analysis data for the Vaal Barrage and downstream since 2015.  Nothing happened, it says, until Tshepang Sebulela, the Paia compliance officer from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) intervened late last month.  New pipelines are being installed in the Vaal. In an email to Rand Water, Sebulela noted how the multiple requests for records by Aquatic Ecosystems and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment have allegedly been ignored, which in terms of Paia are deemed refusals.  “The SAHRC is greatly concerned by a large number of public institutions who provide such important services to the public who refuse to meet their basic legislative obligations,” he wrote. The records landed in the firm’s inbox on 2 October.  Aquatic Systems’ Simone Liefferink says sourcing surface water system data is becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s disturbing the data is not adequately managed, readily accessible to the public and private sectors who pay tax and other water charges for effective catchment management to be implemented.”  Rand Water did not explain the reason behind the delay.  That the information was provided in a PDF format of almost 2 000 pages “frustrates and delays” its interpretation, says Liefferink.  She and her partner, Russell Tate, began their investigation after a major fish kill in the Vaal River in mid-2018. That September they testified at the HRC’s inquiry into the contamination of the Vaal River that high levels of ammonia from the wastewater treatment works was wiping out life in the river system. A snap-shot analysis of the data provided by Rand Water shows high levels of E coli, ammonium and ammonia — key indicators of sewage pollution. Average E coli counts soared from 12 705 colony-forming units per 100ml in 2010 to more than 107 000 in 2018 and 66 923 in 2020.  “The contributing factor is clear — dysfunctional sewage treatment conveyances and treatment plants. More disturbing is the long-standing deterioration of the system that ever increases the loss of biodiversity and other essential ecological functions and human services. Yet this matter is still not treated with extreme urgency,” says Liefferink. HRC’s long-awaited report It’s taken nearly two years for the Human Rights Commission to release its report into the Emfuleni sewage crisis. “Their report has not yet been taken to parliament, nor has it been published. Why?” asks Save’s Stewart. Buang Jones, the Gauteng manager of the HRC, says the provincial report has been finalised.  “It’s with the commissioners now for final adoption and approval. Once it’s been approved, it will be shared with implicated parties and they’ll have 10 days to comment. This is a countrywide issue and the report seeks to address broader challenges when it comes to river pollution and wastewater management,” he says.  Read the original article here.


The Intervention document is attached for download....

Development of the National Eutrophication Strategy and Supporting Documents

Attached documents:1. DWS Eutrophication SA & GA PSC 1 BID2. PSC 1 Meeting A...