Municipal services Sheq shock

The National Water Forum has laid criminal charges against ministers of Water and Environmental Affairs, Agriculture, Forestry, and Mineral Resources, for violating the National Water Act.

A group of non government organisations, including National Water Forum, National Tax Payers Union, Federation for a Well Maintained Environment, and Olifants River Catchment Area, have approached the World Health Organisation in Geneva to apply pressure on the South African authorities to stop the pollution of water resources.

Documentation was sent to Dr Margaret Chan, director general at WHO, and copied to news media in the UK and USA.

The poor state of South African water results from general breakdown in water management at all government levels. If water management in South Africa continues at the present level the country faces a crisis in water quality and quantity, says Norfedra.

The Department of Water Affairs Green Drop report on the state of SA sewage treatment works, reveals that municipal waste water treatment is in dire straits and unacceptable in public health terms.

Compliance with the Water Act must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Failure to treat waste water correctly poisons river ecosystems, adversely affects agriculture and puts rural communities reliant on surface water, at risk.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union had warned that “collapse of water purification installations has resulted in the pollution of rivers and underground water sources, which makes these sources unusable for farming.”

Johannesburg metro culprits

Johannesburg metro’s municipal sewage treatment, environmental compliance, property governance, admin and skills levels are in shocking states of neglect. Similar problems haunt residents in many other metros and municipalities, including Ethekwini, Witbank, and Mpumalanga province.

A Johannesburg civic group, Northern Federation of Ratepayers, detail municipal sewage, water quality, property sales corruption, nepotism, accounts problems, and a legal racket around valuation hikes, in a ‘Shock Sheet’ dated 17 May 2010.

Sewage spills over 55 days at Northern Sewerage Works accounted for 10-billion litres of waste running into the Jukskei River. Ecoli readings in Johannesburg’s meagre streams, mostly manmade, are ‘horrendous’. Surface water at Bruma Lake, Alexandra suburb, Katherine Drive, Strathavon, and Bez Valley, all have ecoli readings above 2.4-million per 100ml.

Following closure of several shafts and cessation of underground pumping, untreated acid mine drainage is toxifying groundwater at an increasing rate, and decanting into some rivers along the reef, with serious long term health and environmental consequences.

Government and municipalities have yet to admit to the threats and apply corrective actions.

Johannesburg parks sold

Johannesburg metro’s quasi-private Johannesburg Property Company has secretly sold 33 parks and open spaces “under suspicious circumstances”, without the knowledge or approval of the metro council, at prices way below market value.

Some of the sold properties were registered to their new owners in the Deeds Office in one day, hinting at corrupt practice.

The fraud became public knowledge when observant ratepayers in Fourways discovered their nature reserve and park were about to be sold, and raised the alarm.

EM radiation protest

The new Electromagnetic Radiation Research Foundation of SA, at was addressed by scientist Barrie Trower. They are opposed to cell phone towers in residential and educational areas.

Darrenwood action

Darrenwood Heritage Area, declared by National Heritage Council in 1987, is a 22 ha piece of land next to Cresta Shopping Centre that contains Darrenwood Dam and Koppie. Community stakeholders like Norfed, Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, Braaamfontein Spruit Trust and Birdlife SA, have engaged in fierce opposition to developments by an insensitive developer.

Since the year 2000 the developer has proceeded with little or no consent from the SA heritage authority, SAHRA. Development here had resulted in a gross neglected, scarred and polluted open space, and office development that appears overbuilt and largely inappropriate in terms of heritage objectives.

Norfedra’s legal representative had received a letter from the Gauteng provincial MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, confirming that a legal challenge of the developer commenced on 31 May 2010 in the Pretoria High Court.

The Gauteng MEC She wrote; “It is our intention that this matter is pursued with all determination so that cases of this nature do not recur, with other developers feeling that they can commit heritage violations and get away with it”.

The developer may have to restore the open space, demolish parts of office blocks, and redo landscaping around these.

Accounts woes

A resident who owns three adjacent residential properties said upon publication of the new valuation roll in mid 2008, he objected, but received no response, except accounts in obvious administrative error. He hand delivered documentation pertaining to these problems, but stills receives letters and phone calls of demand, ‘final notices’ and threatening communication.

Metro lawyers have resorted to threats to harm his credit rating. “It seems the fees the attorneys get for writing letters are more lucrative than for solving administrative errors,” comment Norfedra.

A Florida resident received an incredibly large water services bill in 2008, and could not rectify the problem, but was offered terms to pay off the amount in installments. A year and a file full of correspondence and many visits later, part of the erroneous account was written off as ‘inexplicable error’, reports

“Computer operators just gazed at me and said ‘pay up, and have your meter tested by Johannesburg Water, and pay for the meter test.’ That test costs R600 and I had no guarantees that they would disclose meter error.”

The Johannesburg metro Valuation Appeal Board is slowly responding to about 12 000 appeals. Only now are they scheduling hearings, starting with large properties such as Hyde Park Shopping Centre, while residential owners have to wait and pay up,” commented Norfedra.

Government acts against municipal nepotism

The Municipal Systems Amendment Bill has been approved by cabinet, aiming to depoliticise municipalities and ensure that provincial and local governments appoint skilled people, instead of politically connected people.

The minster of Co-operative Governance said that after next year’s local elections, every municipality would have a capable municipal manager, chief financial officer, town engineer, town planner, communications manager and human resources manager.

* Send information and queries to Northern Federation of Ratepayers,

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