Govan Mbeki Local Municipality contravenes environmental legislation

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The Govan Mbeki Local Municipality in Secunda, Mpumalanga has pleaded guilty to counts of contravention of National Environmental Act, pollution of water resources among others. It is second municipality to found to have contravened the National Water Act in the Mpumalanga.

Late last year, the Msukaligwa Municipality in Ermelo failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the pollution of water resources and engaging in water use without authorization at the Ermelo Waste Water Treatment works.

The Govan Mbeki Local Municipality is amongst the municipalities struggling to maintain the infrastructure such as sewerage pump stations and wastewater treatment plants. In Evander, just outside Secunda, the sewage is spewing from a manhole into the wetland.

This is due to the dysfunctional pump station.

In the eMbalenhle Township waste water is channeled into the Welamlambo River, which flows into the Vaal River. Residents are concerned about the situation.

“The problem that we are facing here is this damaged sewage and it’s also affecting our life and especially our mothers and our kids. They have rash and you see we can’t sometimes go out and you have to close the door because of the smell. And sometimes when it’s raining you can’t even walk around.”

“We are very concerned about this sewer because since the time that I arrived here, this problem has been rising. And up until now the problem is getting worse. Our concern is for our children. We can’t even allow them to come out of the gate because if they come out, you see the way this sewer.”

Fined R200 million

The Bethal Magistrate’s Court fined the Govan Mbeki Municipality R200-million of which R50 million has been suspended for five years, on condition that the municipality is not convicted of the contravention of the Environmental Management Act.

Water and Sanitation Department Deputy Minister David Mahlobo is concerned that a lot of municipalities countrywide continue to contravene the environmental and the water acts.

“The pollution that is coming from government affecting a number of communities including our river system until to the Vaal system is one of the major problems. And we’re very pleased that inasmuch as we have to be ensuring that municipalities are in compliance, but at the same time we are supporting them. A lot of investment through our water services improvement grant has been given in the district Gert Sibande is implementing a number of these projects that need to be looked at.”

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Mpumalanga once reported the pollution of water resources to the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The party has welcome the court judgment.

But councilor James Masango is not convinced that municipality will be able to pay the imposed fine.

“Yes this should be addressed but I’m afraid the way I know Govan Mbeki, I mean I am a councilor there, they are totally bankrupt and I’m serving on finance. They don’t have money and every time, they can’t even you know every year and every month we pay a bill that is R65 million from Eskom, we only pay R10 million. A bill that is R45 from Rand Water we are only able to pay R10 million. So there’s nothing better that we’re doing. We are just building debts everyday from the municipality.”

The Govan Mbeki Local Municipality Mayor Nhlakanipho Zuma says it’s not all doom and gloom. Zuma says they started repairs some of the equipment’s before the court judgment.

“Out of the five if not six pump stations that were highlighted, we are done with four. But in terms of the waste treatment plants we are still a bit backwards on the basis that we keep on maintaining. But while we are maintaining we’re experiencing quite a high level of vandalism and this is causing us to have a setback. For example in Emalahleni waste treatment plant we have spent over R30 to R50 million and on maintenance and unfortunately the impact is very minimal on the basis that it continues to be looted.”

The Bethal Magistrate’s court ordered the municipality to finish repairing their sewer system before December 2026.