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FSE's LETTER TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REGARDING THE VAAL POLLUTION

Written by  Tuesday, 28 January 2020 19:58
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LETTER TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

 

Dear Mr Jones,

 

I thank you for your brief response.

 

Permit me please to copy Commissioner Ameermia, Ms Chantal Kisoon, Ms Yuri Ramkissoon and Mr Matthew du Plessis on this e-mail, since my organisation (the FSE) and I have engaged with them in the past as well as with Ms Janet Love, a former Commissioner of the SAHRC. The FSE was/is also a member of the Commission’s Section 11 Advisory Committees on Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), unregulated artisanal mining and recently the National Hearing on the Underlying Socio-economic Challenges of Mining-Affected Communities in South Africa.

 

Permit me now to, as an established human rights defender, and member of inter alia the Department of Water and Sanitation’s:

  1. Water Sector Leadership Group
  2. Sustainable Development Goal 6 Task Team
  3. Catchment Management Fora (CMF) including the Rietspruit Catchment Management Forum, the Blesbokspruit CMF,  the Wonderfonteinspruit CMF, the Mooi River CMF, etc.
  4. Strategy Steering Committee on the Reconciliation of the Integrated Vaal River System

 and on behalf of the FSE, respectfully report as follows:

 

Since the Commission’s Hearings and the Defence Force’s intervention, Rand Water reported exceptionally high e-coli counts and elevated total ammonia, which are indicative of sewage pollution, at the last Department of Water and Sanitation’s (DWS) Rietspruit Catchment Management Forum (attached).  The instream water quality downstream of the Sebokeng@Rietspruit Waste Water Treatment Works showed e-coli counts of 6,539,700 per 100ml and ammonia levels of 17.  According to the instream water quality guidelines for the Rietspruit Catchment e-coli counts of more than 400 counts per 100ml and ammonia levels of more than 5 are unacceptable. 

 

It follows hence that the situation has not improved but deteriorated.

 

The situation is not unique to the Rietspruit Catchment.  The recently launched National Water and Sanitation Master Plan reported that:

  • 56% of waste water treatment works and 44% of water treatment works are in a poor or critical condition;
  • 11% of this infrastructure is completely dysfunction;
  • Between 1999 and 2011 the extent of the main rivers in South Africa classified as having a poor ecological condition increased by 500%, with some rivers pushed beyond the point of recovery;
  • South Africa has lost over 50% of its wetlands and those that remain, 33% are in a poor ecological condition;
  • R33 billion more is needed each year for the next 10 years to achieve water security.

 

The recently published DWS’ State of the Rivers Report (2017-2018) found that:

  • Only 15% is in a good condition;
  • The Vaal River Water Management Area has no sites in a good condition

 

The DWS reported during the 2ndStrategy Steering Committee of the Integrated Vaal River System Reconciliation Strategy that, notwithstanding the fact that the Integrated Water Quality Management Strategy identified a need for the implementation of a strategy to address microbial pollution in the Vaal River in 2009, the strategy has not been implemented, that is, after the effluxion of  more than ten (10) years.  (Please see second attached document.)

 

In the light of the above-mentioned facts, and the fact that a number of human rights are currently being violated such as the right to life, the right to dignity, the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being and the right to sufficient water (of sufficient quality and quantity), we beg of you to – in terms of your mandate - expedite the publishing of your report; to take the necessary steps (including the issuing of Directives to and prosecution of polluters) to secure appropriate redress of the violation of the abovementioned human rights and to carry out research.  In this regard, the FSE has offered the services to the Commission of Russell Tate and Simone Liefferink, who are both water quality experts,  on a pro bona basis.  Their research is ongoing and they are eager to engage with the Commission on their results.  The research by Prof. Johann Tempelhoff of the North West University and a non-executive director of the FSE is also ongoing and, it is our considered opinion,  will be of great value to the Commission.

 

We respectfully request a response to this e-mail.