The Committee was briefed in a virtual meeting by officials of the City of Ekurhuleni and the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS) on the Bonaero Park and Actonville petitions.
The Bonaero Park petition had been submitted in 2020 by Ms H Ismail (DA), and highlighted the plight of Bonaero Park residents who were desperate for an improvement in their living conditions, which had been deteriorating over the past ten years. A blockage in the sewer system caused the pipelines to overflow, which posed serious health risks to the residents. The impact on the environment was just as severe and destroyed the bird life in the wetland. The City had a panel of consultants and contractors readily available to do the maintenance work, but the funds were lacking.
The Committee instructed the City and the DHSWS to develop an action plan with timelines, and to liaise with National Treasury for funding in order to resolve the problems as a matter of urgency. The Committee expected a response within 14 days.
The residents of Actonville had concerns about discrepancies with rental tariffs and shortcomings in the revised rental policy. In a meeting held on 28 July 2020, the City had agreed to embark on a public participation process and to update the Committee on the resolutions taken to resolve the issues. According to officials from the City, the item had been concluded and the matter was deemed closed.
The Committee was disappointed that officials were unable to provide a report in writing to substantiate the closure of the item. The City was requested to afford Members the opportunity to do proper oversight by providing a written report.
The Chairperson accepted the apologies of Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Mr David Mahlobo, the Deputy Minister, and Mr L Basson (DA), who would join the meeting towards the end of the session.
Bonaero Park petition
Ms H Ismail (DA) introduced the Bonaero Park petition which she had initially submitted to Parliament on 23 September 2020. The residents of Bonaero Park were desperate for urgent intervention to address the serious health risks that were caused by the flow of raw sewage into their yards, which had been a persistent problem for more than ten years. The area was situated near a wetland and used to be a flamingo habitat, but the flamingos had since disappeared. The residents had also requested urgent water infrastructure upgrades in Bonaero Park, and were pleading for assistance as all their complaints were being ignored by the City.
The Chairperson asked officials from the City of Ekurhuleni and the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS), to respond to the Bonaero Park petition.
Ms Pam Tshwete, Deputy Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, apologised for network problems that she was experiencing, and started addressing the meeting on the Actonville petition. In 2020, the residents from communities in Gauteng had requested an investigation into tariffs on council flats due to the small differences between the rates for two- and three-bedroom houses. The public had held discussions on radio and virtual platforms. The current model was being revised and had become a political hot potato, as residents from the Eastern Cape and Western Cape also had similar complaints. The Deputy Minister said that Ekurhuleni was setting an example in this regard.
The Chairperson requested that the Bonaero Park issue, raised by Ms Ismail, be addressed.
Cllr Tiisetso Nketle, Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC): Water and Sanitation, Energy and ERWAT, City of Ekurhuleni, indicated that the councillor responsible for water and sanitation would deliver the Bonaero Park presentation. She said that the City was not in dispute of the petition, and advised that subsequent to submitting the presentation to the Committee, changes had been made.
The Chairperson replied that in terms of the rules, the Committee was to receive a presentation 24 hours before a meeting. She advised that the councillor should highlight the changes while doing the presentation.
Bonaero Park Petition: Pomona Sewers Presentation
Mr Mduduzi Shabangu, Head of Department (HOD): Water and Sanitation, City of Ekurhuleni, said that the changes were in tabular format. He explained that the Bonaero Park sewer pump station was one of five pipelines that formed the Pomona sewer system. During the rainy season, most areas get flooded which cause an overflow of the Pomona sewer system. To relieve the pressure on the Pomona sewer system, the pipeline connecting the Bonaero Park pump station needed to be replaced and upgraded simultaneously. R143 million was required for this project. Designs were completed and the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and water use licence application (WULA) were in place. The City had a panel of consultants and contractors readily available to implement the project, but the budget allocation would happen only in the 2022/23 financial year.
In addition to the storm water ingress during the rainy season, the sewer blockages in Bonaero Park were worsened by blockages caused by fats from nearby restaurants.
The City had embarked on an infrastructure renewal programme called Aqua Leap. R12 billion was required for water and sanitation projects to eradicate backlogs. A number of projects had commenced, including the construction of 29 reservoirs. A shortfall of R544 million was required to speed up the completion of some of the reservoirs before the end of 2020/21 financial year, instead of deferring it to the 2021/22 financial year.
Mr Shabangu said that the projects could be fast tracked if the money was made available immediately. In the meantime, operational and maintenance interventions were continuing to address the challenges faced by communities.
The Chairperson invited Members to interact with the presentation of the HOD.
Ms Ismail was at a loss for words and deeply disappointed in the content of the presentation. She found it unacceptable that the problems would be attended to only in the 2022/23 financial year, and said that the City was in contravention of the Constitution by delaying the repairs. The dilapidation in the pipelines showed a lack of maintenance over the years. Residents were being subjected to unhealthy living conditions. She understood that the City had budget constraints, but highlighted the fact that the City had had time to address the problems as they had started seven to ten years ago. She could not understand why the City was not treating this as an urgent matter. The residents had had meetings with the MMC, where the issues were raised. The problem was that there were no timelines. Without timelines there would not be delivery of services. The 2022/23 timeline was unacceptable. The reality was that residents were paying members of the community, and needed their problems to be sorted out immediately. She had received large amounts of messages from residents expressing their unhappiness about their living conditions. Ms Ismail reiterated that 2022/23 was too late, and that she needed an undertaking from the City that the problems would be addressed sooner.
Ms C Seoposengwe (ANC) asked how often public participation was done, and how often residents were provided with feedback on their queries. She did not think that it was appropriate for the petition to be brought to Parliament.
Ms M Mohlala (EFF) highlighted the problem of water with fat content infiltrating the pipeline. She asked whether people were held accountable for not complying to the protocol for discharging fat. She enquired on what basis the EIA had been approved, and whether the Committee could be provided with a copy of the assessment related to this sewer. She also wanted to know what the initial cost of the Bonaero Park pump station had been.
Ms E Powell (DA) said that the sewer problems were due to a lack of planning by the municipality. She asked how many upgrades and budget allocations for repairs had been done over the past ten years. She wanted to know how the City could justify ongoing contravention of the Constitution. According to the presentation, the services of contractors had been obtained. In light of this fact and due to the health risks, she asked if it was not possible to divert funds from other projects to fund the repairs of this sewer. She asked what the cost of the EIA had been, and whether the City was taking responsibility for the rehabilitation of the project.
Mr M Mashego (ANC) said that the questions raised so far must be addressed in order to understand what the real problems were. There must also be solutions to these problems, which had worsened given the downpour of rain over the past five months. He queried why companies responsible for dirtying the streams were not held accountable, since they were known to the City. He did not get a sense from the HOD’s presentation that the polluter-pay-principle was being applied. At face value, the plans of the City of Ekurhuleni sounded good, but it did not appear so good at a practical level due to the lack of funds. However, capacity did not seem to be a problem. He wanted to know how Members at a national level could be of assistance. The plans did not speak to the urgency to resolve the problems that were affecting the health of the communities. He urged the City to act ‘abnormally’ in its attempts to address the problems, and suggested that the City should approach the DHSWS to ask the Minister for funding.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) said that the development was of a very low standard and not fit for “our people.” It was important to build developments that were suitable for all South Africans. This type of problem would continue if specialists were not involved when dealing with environmental issues. She was concerned that the proposed plan was in a bits-and-pieces fashion, and that it would not address the issues on the ground. She requested timelines and the budget to implement the plan, and reiterated that programmes for “our people” should not be of a lower standard that was only fit for baboons. The development must work well, be sustainable and dignified for the people of Ekurhuleni.
The Chairperson asked at what stage the City had discovered that the pipeline was built in a wetland. It should have foreseen that building a pipeline in a wetland would result in water infiltration. Ekurhuleni was one of the municipalities that was not doing badly in terms of waste water treatment. She asked why the City, which was responsible for building the pipeline in the wetland, did not prioritise the issue. She also questioned why the issue was before Parliament, and why the councillors that represented the communities did not raise the issue with the municipalities. It was expected from ward councillors to present issues to municipalities and report back to communities. She did not get a sense that councillors had been engaging with communities, and doubted that the issue would soon be resolved.
She noted that the City was constructing other pipelines and wanted to know why the City could not assist in fixing this pipeline at the same time. She had observed the establishment of a number of informal settlements which affected the delivery of services in that area. From a planning perspective, this growth in the population necessitated the prioritisation of water and sanitation. Adding to the problem was the number of undocumented people in Ekurhuleni. She did not get a sense that the presentation was talking to these issues. There should be consequences for the municipalities or companies that were responsible for causing the environmental crisis. She wanted to know what the City was going to do to make sure that the people would in future not be subjected to this situation, and that municipalities and companies faced consequences if they did not follow the law.
Ms S Mokgotho (EFF) asked whether the pump station was indeed built at the lower part of the wetland. She questioned why the construction of the pump station in a wetland had been authorised. Pumping money into the system was not a sustainable solution to the problem.
Ms Ismail, in response to the question about the involvement of the councillors, said that there were numerous reference numbers to indicate that councillors had raised the issue with the City of Ekurhuleni. She had also been inundated with calls. In addition, a public meeting was held to bring the matter to the attention of the MMC. Councillors had gone through all the stages, but residents were not getting any joy.
The Chairperson asked the City to respond to the questions raised by members.
City of Ekurhuleni response
Cllr Nketle said she had connectivity problems and would therefore respond only to the questions that she was able to hear. She indicated that Mr Shabangu would respond to all other questions.
She said that the City had many informal settlements, as it was the financial hub of the area. In response to the growing population, it was building 29 reservoirs. As part of the Aqua Leap programme, pipelines were being refurbished and sewers extended. The infrastructure was dilapidated, as it had been in use since the apartheid era. She confirmed that the City obtained the EIA and WULA reports, and was aware of the problems, but that repairs were unfortunately hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and budgetary constraints.
Mr Shabangu said that Cllr Nketle had highlighted some of the programmes that the Department was running in this area.
In response to Ms Sihlwayi’s comment about the plan not being coherent, he said that the City was also facing challenges in other areas, but in this meeting he was going to concentrate on Bonearo Park. He explained that the Department was relying on grants from the City, and that the budget of the Department would be negatively affected if the City were not performing well, which meant that projects would be scaled down.
Mr Shabangu agreed with Ms Ismail that the problems needed urgent attention. He suggested that the DWS could be of help in obtaining a directive in order to move with speed. The problems could be solved within three months, depending on whether they were able to get R43 million. Repairs and maintenance were being carried out, but due to continued development in the area, the problems kept on increasing.
In terms of the City’s by-laws, a tariff was charged to industries responsible for pollution. However, the penalties did not solve the capacity problems in the system. The City relied on the services of nine contractors to assist with the upgrades. It was not in contravention of the law and did not have a problem with buoyancy when the pipeline was initially constructed. The problems had been encountered as the developments had expanded.
He said that the cost of the EIA study was not more than R300 000.
Department of Human Settlements’ response
Deputy Minister Tshwete said that the presentation was mostly about the budget, and as the national Department of Human Settlements had been requested to come with solutions, its Chief Financial Officer: would respond.
Ms Funani Matlatsi, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DHS, said there was a possibility of taking money away from non-performing metros. The Department had already made an assessment of the metros that were not performing and which were at risk of losing their funds. The Department could assist the City of Ekurhuleni, depending on an agreement with the Minister of Finance to channel money from other metros. However, such an agreement would come with conditions. Should the money be re-directed, the municipality would be expected to use it solely for the purpose of Bonaero Park. A response should be forthcoming after consultations with DHS, the Director-General and his team.
Mr Neville Chainee, Deputy Director-General: Strategy and Planning, DHS, said that the Director-General was having connectivity problems, and was unable to respond. The Chief Financial Officer had addressed most of the problems, except for the question about the approval of the development. He felt that it was unfair to expect the City to respond to the issue. He reiterated that the City should prioritise the problem of Bonaero Park if the money became available.
Mr Squire Mahlangu, Deputy Director-General, Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), said that the Minister would have to approach Parliament and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) within 14 days for permission if the Department was going to intervene in the municipality.
Mr Justice Maluleke, DWS, was pleased that the City of Ekurhuleni acknowledged that the problems had a long history. The Department had started observing the problems in 2010 and had issued a directive at the time but due to internal delays, the City had started attending to the problems only in 2015. During engagements, the Department was broadly informed about the challenges that the City was facing. The system was very strained. and he deemed it unfortunate that the City did not have the money to implement its plans. The Department had engaged with the municipalities and put programmes in place to fast track the problems. He pleaded with the City of Ekurhuleni to up its game and to look for more sustainable ways to resolve its problems.
The Chairperson noted that the question raised by Ms Mohlala, about the pipeline being built at the lower end of the wetland, had not been responded to. Despite renovations and repairs, the problems would persist if it was not feasible to have a pipeline located in that part of the wetland. She suggested that the City would save money if it had a sustainable plan for resolving the problems.
Ms Powell said that her question about accountability for the environmental impact had not been answered. She wanted to know how much money had been paid for the environmental impact study, whether the tender process was followed and how many directives were issued.
Ms Ismail thanked the Committee for the assistance with the petition and asked whether a resolution with expected dates could be expected. She reiterated the importance of timelines.
Mr Shabangu said that the Department was doing its best to address the issue of too many pump stations in the wetland. Pipelines had been constructed to bypass some of the pump stations in order to avoid the continuous flooding of the pump stations.
In response to the environmental issues, he said that a rehabilitation programme had been developed. Unfortunately, the programme could not be implemented at this stage, as it still needed to be handed over to the relevant authorities for approval. He confirmed that a tender process had been followed, and that not more than R300 000 was paid for the study. He requested the Department to respond to the issue about the number of directives that were issued.
Mr Maluleke replied that the Department had issued only one directive in 2010. The municipality had responded with action plans at that stage, but the Department could not continue with further enforcement. The engagement of the Department was to make sure that all requirements were in place. The ball was currently in Ekurhuleni’s court.
The Chairperson said that the Committee could not accede to Ms Ismail’s request for timeframes in this meeting. The Department did not have the resources, but had made a commitment to grant some money depending on a performance evaluation of the City. She asked for a commitment from the City that they would prioritise the matter.
She enquired from the Deputy Minister whether the request to Parliament for intervention by the Department could be made within 14 days. In the meantime, the City should assist the communities with interim solutions to reduce the health risks. She gave the Department 14 days to evaluate the performance of the City in terms of determining whether funds could be granted to completely resolve the problems. She asked whether 14 days was a reasonable period of time for a response from National Treasury in terms of allowing the reallocation of grants.
The Deputy Minister replied that it would depend on the evaluation of the performance of the City by the Department. A solution should be reached between the office of the CFO and the MMC. The Department should receive a report about the performance of the City after at least 14 days. She promised to provide the Committee with a report on the progress made by all spheres of government within 14 days.
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister’s commitment to provide a report, but urged the City to help the communities in the meantime by doing maintenance and repairs to the sewer pump station.
Cllr Nketle noted the request and agreed to action all recommendations with regard to the problems that the City was facing.
Ms Matlatsi replied that the Department was mindful of the financial year end, and would speed up the process. She would liaise with the office of the Deputy Minister and the Committee within two weeks. She requested the City to decide on timelines for this project.
The Chairperson requested the City and the DHSWS to work together to make sure that the problems would be resolved. The report should indicate the activities of each role player and provide a sense that something was going to be done.
Ms Mohlala said that R12 billion, instead of R10 million, was needed in order to provide a permanent solution. She said there was already a R544 million shortfall for the completion of reservoirs before the 2020/21 financial year. “The people suffering are our brothers and sisters.” She wanted to know what the role of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) was in addressing the issues.
The Chairperson replied that the role of COGTA was to support the municipality, and that the 14 days allocated for feedback included all role players, including COGTA.
Mr Mahlangu thanked everyone present for addressing the issue. He said that the Deputy Minister was aware that the Department had been dealing with problems in other areas as well, including in Meyerton and the Vaal River.
The Chairperson indicated that the Bonaero Park issue was being dealt with in this meeting. The municipality should be assisted to comply with the input required that was required for feedback within 14 days. The Department should continue to engage National Treasury to assist with solving the problems in the country.
Cllr Lesiba Mpya, MMC: Human Settlements, City of Ekurhuleni, said he would give an update since the City last appeared before the Committee on this issue. The public participation process had occurred between 24 August and 22 September 2020. Intensive engagement had taken place between councillors and the tenant communities. Comments were obtained from the public who had a vested interest. The trade unions were also engaged, as a large number of tenants were employees of the City. The legislative framework, including the Rental Housing Act, was consulted. The rental portfolio was to oversee the implementation of the changes. The item had been concluded and was approved by Council.
Mr Andile Mahlalutye, HOD: Human Settlements, City of Ekurhuleni, said that a progress report had been submitted since the last appearance in July 2020. The City had been requested to provide an update on revised tariffs which addressed the issue of the ratepayers in Benoni. The City considered the issue closed and recommended the same to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked whether the information conveyed orally was available in writing. The expectation had been that the information would be presented on screen, as Members needed to see what was being communicated.
Ms Powell said that the report forwarded to Members was compiled in July 2020, which meant that it was drafted before the Committee deliberated on the issue. Members required a document with timelines that it could interrogate. Timelines agreed to on 31 July 2020 had not been adhered to. She said that the City should be called to order.
Ms Ismail expected more detail, and was very disappointed in the feedback from the City. She needed clarity on when the item was passed and approved by Council.
Ms Mashego said that the impression was being created that the item had gone to Council. It would be a problem if this was not the case. She wanted proof of the council resolution, and said the word-of-mouth feedback was unacceptable.
Cllr Mpya replied that there was no intention to disregard the Committee. The views of Members had been taken into consideration and the report would be circulated to them. He explained that on 25 June 2020, the item had been approved pending public participation. This might have been interpreted differently by Members. Given the opportunity, the report would be made available. He was under the impression that an update was required, as a comprehensive presentation had been done in 2020.
Ms Ismail requested that the minutes of the Council meeting be made available. Her understanding of public participation was that the public would be given an opportunity to provide input so that members could review the issue, taking into consideration the additional information. She needed clarity from the councillor on whether the minutes of the meeting were available to Members.
At this point, the connection with the Chairperson was lost. Deputy Minister Tshwete asked the HOD to assist in leading the meeting.
Mr Mahlalutye apologised for the misunderstanding about the feedback. He explained that in the July meeting, a detailed description had been presented about the approach to be followed in the public participation process. A report had been submitted to the DHS and to Council. The matter was resolved at the end of August 2020. The matter was finalised from the Council’s point of view. The City could submit the resolution of Council to the Committee.
Ms Mashego said that according to the June council meeting, the report was adopted, subject to public participation. She asked that the minutes of the meeting be made available.
Ms Powell said that the Committee was not able to conduct oversight without the correct documentation. She proposed that the matter stand over to allow Members the proper opportunity to do their work, and requested officials to forward updated documentation of what had happened since the last report of 28 July 2020.
Ms Ismail supported the proposal that documents be submitted in order to have a proper discussion.
Cllr Mpya replied that the City had conducted a public participation process from August to September 2020. There was no meeting held in August 2020. In October 2020, a report was submitted to Council with specific recommendations on the basis of revised tariffs. In terms of the consideration by Council, the issue was closed. A request would be submitted to the Speaker of Council for the minutes of the June meeting to be made available.
The Chairperson, after her connection was restored, replied that the Committee had expected a resolution after the public participation process. If a report was available, it should be circulated and distributed so that Members could determine whether the matter had been resolved or if a follow-up was needed. Members had been denied an opportunity to view the report. It was not the intention of the Committee to demand minutes of meetings. It needed a report that was signed off by the legislative structures of the City. It was difficult to conclude on the matter without a report being made available.
Ms Mohlala said that the resolution about public participation had been agreed in the previous meeting. What was needed was a report to determine what had transpired after the public participation process. The report would give an idea of whether it was still necessary for the City to provide further clarity.
Mr Mashego agreed with Ms Mohlala on the importance of getting a report.
The Chairperson concluded that the matter could only be resolved based on the report. Unfortunately, a report was not available to determine whether more information was needed. The City would not be called back for another meeting if Members were satisfied that the report adequately addressed the issues that the City had agreed to do. However, if the matter was not satisfactorily resolved, the City would be called for a follow-up meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
- City of Ekurhuleni - Pomona Sewers presentation
- City of Ekurhuleni ”Annexure A” Departmental Response to Petitioners Received from Residents Parliamentary Enquiry on Rental Tariffs
- Hon M R Semenya, MP Chairperson Portfolio Committee: Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation
- Media Statement: Water and Sanitation Committee Gives Ekurhuleni 14 Days to Find Solutions to Challenges in Banaero Park
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