No escape from sewage in North West towns of Sannieshof, Ottosdal and Delareyville
A screengrab from Google Earth (September 2021) shows untreated sewage pooling in the cemetery at Sannieshof in the North West Province. It is visible in the lower centre of the image and flows past the informal settlement to the Harts River (upper left).
In Sannieshof, a small town in North West, so much sewage spills out of broken pipes and manholes because pipes are blocked that part of the cemetery is flooded.
Some households cannot use their toilet because of backflows from the blocked sewerage system, and sewage flows down the streets.
Even the drinking water, which only runs at night, smells like sewage, one resident said.
The raw sewage flooding the cemetery can be seen on Google Earth, from imagery dated September 2021. This was the same month that the South African Human Rights Commission held a site inspection of sewage spills and drinking water provision in Sannieshof, Ottosdal and Delareyville, all in the Tswaing local municipality, after numerous complaints.
On Google Earth, sewage can be seen forming a vlei of human waste between the cemetery and the informal settlement, with the pollution flowing toward the Harts River, which reflects an acid green colour indicative of an algal bloom caused by high concentrations of nitrates and phosphates contained in untreated sewage.
The commission’s Final Investigative Report, signed off on 20 April 2023, notes at least two homes in Asiganang, the Sannieshof township, had raw sewage pooling in their yards. Blockages further down the sewerage line meant the families in the two homes couldn’t flush their toilets for fear of them overflowing.
In the Ottosdal township of Letsopa the floors of one home were flooded with sewage caused by backflows from the toilet because of blockages down the sewerage line.
“The yard around this home was also flooded with raw sewage,” the commission stated.
The commissioners reported raw sewage flowing out of manholes into private yards and streets in other parts of Letsopa. Residents told the commission’s officials that this had been happening for “prolonged periods”.
In Delareyville, the commissioners said, “The residents live in an environment that is contaminated by raw sewage.”
In Sannieshof, Agisanang residents also went for days without water because there was no diesel for the pumps operating the boreholes supplying water to the township.
Residents of the Jachtkraal Farm settlement to the northeast of Delareyville also had no water for days for the same reason.
Both the district and local municipalities ignored letters from the human rights commission and it was only when its investigators went to the councils’ offices on 28 September 2021 that they spoke to municipal officials, who “denied that any challenges relating to water and sanitation existed”.
On 29 September 2021, the commission’s officials were accompanied on their site inspections in Sannieshof, Ottosdal, Delareyville and Jachtkraal Farm by officials from the district municipality. The municipal officials promised to provide more water service points at Jachtkraal Farm and attend to the diesel shortages within two days, and to appoint a service provider to unblock the sewerage pipes in Sannieshof, Delareyville and Ottosdal.
But a follow-up inspection on 14 October 2021 found the promised water service points and diesel supply had not been provided, and although a sewer jet had been used to clear blocked pipes, it had been ineffective.
According to the report, when the commission sent a letter to the district municipality in December 2021 setting out “all allegations of human rights violations made against it”, no response was received.
When a copy of the preliminary report was provided to the municipalities on 22 August last year, inviting them to submit comments within 21 days, no comments were received.
The Final Investigative Report found the municipalities in violation of the Constitution, the Water Services Act, the National Water Standards Regulations and the National Environmental Management Act.
As a result, the municipalities have been directed to install enough water connections to supply a minimum 25 litres of potable water per person per day to residents of the three towns and Jachtkraal Farm, and to ensure that no resident is further than 200m from a source of potable water.
Residents must be provided with proper toilets. In addition, the municipalities must, within one month, consult the provincial department of cooperative government and traditional affairs and the department of water and sanitation, as well as hold discussions with residents to fully assess the towns’ water and sanitation infrastructure. The municipalities also have to determine the cost of fixing it.
The municipalities are also directed to submit a report to the human rights commission under oath, within two months after completing the assessment, describing the steps to be taken in the short, medium, and long term to address the water and sanitation failures in the towns and Jachtkraal Farm.
Significant sewage treatment failure
Data on the national department of water and sanitation’s Integrated Regulatory Information Services (IRIS) website show that the sewage treatment works in Ottosdal and Delareyville fail to treat sewage to minimum standards before releasing it into river systems. The IRIS website reflects the results of monthly tests on the quality of effluent released from sewage treatment works, as well as the quality of drinking water in municipalities in the country.
The three million litres of effluent from the Delareyville sewage works had an average 0% compliance over the last 12 months for microbiological indicators (E coli and enterococcus bacteria).
The four million litres a day flowing from the Ottosdal sewage works into the Klein-Harts River complied with microbiological indicators in only a third of tests over the past 12 months. These results show significant sewage treatment failure and resultant pollution of the environment into which the effluent is released.
The IRIS site shows six drinking water distribution systems in Tswaing local municipality. Five of these have 0% compliance in all three microbiological and chemical indicators, which is a possible indication that no testing for the quality of drinking water is taking place, despite it being a legal requirement.
At one distribution system — a borehole in Delareyville — compliance with minimum standards for the presence of microbiological indicators was 55% and compliance with acute chemical indicators was 85%.
For drinking water, a minimum 97% compliance is required.
A businessman in the Sannieshof township of Asiganang, said on Thursday last week that nothing had changed since the human rights commission’s site visit in 2021.
The businessman, who asked not to be named as local politicians “will do anything to stop people from talking”, said he woke up to the smell of sewage every day, and recently had sewage pooling in his yard and flowing into the street.
He said drinking water only flowed through the taps from 6pm to 6am, and sometimes it smelt like sewage.
He said this was the case about a week ago, and he has had diarrhoea since then. Complaints to the municipality were met with no response, he said.
No response was received to questions sent to the district and local municipal managers.
This story was first published by GroundUp.