Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

SA’s Drinking Water Reservoirs are full of shit. Literally

It was only when I started looking into the controversial award of a Water Use Licence (WUL) to Metsimaholo Municipality (enabling them to pump treated and partially-treated effluent from their Refengkgotso sewerage works into the Vaal Dam at Deneysville) that I realised how deeply in the pooh we are across the whole country – both literally as well as metaphorically.

Before getting back to the specifics of the Refengkgotso pipeline, take a look at the compliance table below to see how your province fares in the Green Drop stakes. The Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) Green Drop awards program sets standards for processing raw sewage into an acceptable state for reintroduction into the environment.  As a cornerstone of the program, municipalities are required to regularly test the effluent from their waste water treatment plants to ensure that it complies with prescribed microbiological, chemical, and physical standards.

Green Drop Compliance Statistics
Total Tests Required
Total Tests Done
Tests Done vs Tests Reqd
Total Tests Passed
Tests Passed vs Tests Done
Tests Passed vs Tests Required
Northern Cape
Free State
Eastern Cape
North West
Western Cape

This table very clearly shows the lack of concern that the majority of municipalities have for the quality of “treated” effluent they release back into local rivers and dams. These are the same rivers and dams, by the way, which are the primary sources for our drinking water.

Many of them, such as the Vaal River and Dam, are also tourism and recreational draw cards that contribute to the local economy. Any significant deterioration in the recreational quality of the water can therefore also have serious consequences for tourism-based enterprises, and their ability to provide sustainable employment opportunities to the local labour force.

Although there are many other equally critical areas of concern, the story behind Metsimaholo Municipality being given a license to pump treated and partially-treated effluent into the Vaal Dam at Denysville, might help to explain how we have arrived at such a parlous state.

In 2015 an ANC-led council forged ahead with the construction of a 355mm “treated” effluent pipeline without necessary authorisations from DWS. DA Councillor Johan Geyser reported the irregular project to DWS who forced Metsimaholo Municipality to halt the project until the necessary licences were obtained.  At this time, construction of the pipeline was well advanced.

Despite their protestations to the contrary, there was no upgrade to processing capacity at the treatment plant in progress, so there is little reason to doubt that Metsamaholo Municipality intended to pump untreated raw sewage into the Vaal Dam to alleviate their excess waste predicament.

In April 2016 the appointed consultants, Scientific Aquatic Services (SAS), prepared a Water Use Licence application for submission to DWS. Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, SAS endorsed the routing of the almost completed pipeline, with a couple of variations from the original plan that avoided the need for more detailed environmental impact assessments, and their concomitant costs.

Against a raft of objections from the local community and SAVE (Non-Profit Organisation: Save the Vaal Environment), the license was granted on 7th June 2016 by the then Director General of DWS, Margaret-Ann Diedricks.

It would be interesting to ask Ms Diedricks why the approval was granted when Refengkgotso’s treatment plant capacity had not yet been increased, but unfortunately she had resigned from her position “with immediate effect”, and without explanation, some 30 days after issuing the licence.  

This does not imply any wrongdoing on her part, but to make such a controversial decision so close to departure does beg for an explanation. Did she already know that she was leaving DWS when she approved the licence? Was she distracted by controversies wracking the department relating to award of tenders to LTE Consulting that allegedly bypassed normal open tender procedures?  Was she applying her mind to the licence application, or just clearing her desk?

Superficially there is nothing wrong with the Refengkgotso WUL application, nor is there anything superficially wrong with its approval but something doesn’t smell quite right.

Dstv’s Carte Blanche program recently ran a segment entitled Vaal Dam: Status Critical. In this exposé Stephen van Staden, Managing Director of Scientific & Aquatic Services openly admits that while the Refengkgotso treatment plant is being upgraded, “there will be a period of time when effluent that has not been treated to the required standard will be pumped into the dam”, which will directly contravene standards required by the water use licence.  Van Staden must know this, and so must the Department of Water and Sanitation, which begs the questions, what will the Department do about it, and did they know this in advance of issuing the licence? Again, it would be interesting to hear the point of view of the previous DG, Margaret-Ann Diedricks, but she appears to have dropped below the radar.

On the political front, after the August local government elections, the ANC-led Metsimaholo council has been replaced with a DA-led council. With their history of opposing the pipeline, it will be interesting to see how the DA deals with this issue now that they are at the sharp end of the problem. Will they try to find an alternative or, pardon the pun, just go with the flow? It will certainly be an interesting test of their political integrity.

At the end of the day, though, the Refengkgotso/Deneysville situation is only one of the many sewerage disposal disasters happening across the country.

Unpacking the National Issues
  • First of all, municipalities, particularly smaller municipalities, do not have the financial resources or skills to properly address the challenges of sewage processing and disposal. Urban expansion is also outstripping their ability keep up with demand.
  • Many municipalities have the mistaken belief that water purification at the drinking end of the cycle mitigates their lack of concern for polluting the input to this process. All they are really doing, however, is moving the problem from the back end, to the front end, as it were. While they may be reducing costs for processing our sewage, they are exponentially increasing costs for purifying our drinking water. In several instances recorded by Afriforum’s own 2015 Blue & Green Drop Report, the purification processes are themselves not adequate
  • “He who pays the Piper.....” The appointment and briefing of consultants particularly environmental consultants is systemically flawed. There is no blame attached here as they are fulfilling the mandate of their client.  So if their client says “We need you to justify what we have already done..” or “We need the cheapest, not necessarily the best option..” etc then that is what they have to provide. To do otherwise is professional suicide. Yet when we are talking about a national strategic asset, should consultants not be obliged to identify the best possible long-term options, irrespective to perceived short term costs?
  • The Department of Water Affairs & Sanitation issues Water Use Licences based on an assumption that licensees are going to abide by the standards stated in their licence. Yet DWS either has no teeth, or just can’t be bothered to enforce these standards. The 4.9% of Waste Water Treatment Plants that achieve Green Drop status (40 out of 821) attend presentation ceremonies and pat themselves on the back. The other 95.1% apparently couldn’t care less. Until there is a punishment to fit the crime, and pollution is a crime, all the unenforced standards in the world are not going to help us.

Where to from here?
Water is a National Strategic Asset, and should be managed as such. We cannot continue to have incompetent or disinterested local municipalities messing with the future of our water supplies. Technically, by not meeting minimum required standards for effluent discharge, many municipalities are in continuous breach of Chapter 2, Section 24, Article 9 of the Constitution which states:
Everyone has the right:
a. to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and
b. to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that
i. prevent pollution and ecological degradation;
ii. promote conservation; and
iii. secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
Yet nothing is done to challenge their indifference to this constitutional obligation.

The already dire situation has been exacerbated by the prevailing drought conditions, which further highlights the need for high-level strategic interventions. Interventions that bring skills and enough clout to knock the system back into shape. We can live without nuclear power; and we can live without a National Airline; but we can’t live without clean water, and a healthy environment.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Disconnected Dimensions

During Parliamentary question time on Thursday 1st September, Cyril Ramaphosa referred to South Africa as having a Multi-Dimensional Democracy. I have no idea of his intended meaning when he said this, but here is my very abstract and esoteric interpretation.

The First Dimension is the Presidential Parallel Universe, or PPU. This dimension has primary, sycophantic, captured, and resisting elements. These are rounded out with a chaotic element that results from interactions between the aforementioned primary, sycophantic, captured and resisting elements.

Understanding the driving force behind the primary element is essential, so:

“Imagine, if you can, not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do.  Imagine having no struggles with shame, not a single one, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.  And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.  You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are seldom confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness.  Best of all, you create situations that cause others to feel bad about themselves.  Most invigorating of all is to bring down people who are smarter or more accomplished than you, or perhaps classier, or more morally admirable.  This is not only good fun; it is existential vengeance.  And without a conscience, it is amazingly easy to do. Provided you are not stopped, you can do anything at all.   In fact, if you do it just right, you may be able to make a whole nation jump.  And if that is not power, what is”[1] (ie Nenegate; Nkhandla; Hawks; NPA etc etc etc?)

A sycophantic element has no capacity for original thought and is essentially parasitic in nature. While this element fuels the basic needs of a primary element, which feeds it with scraps in return, it is a fundamentally symbiotic relationship, without which neither element could survive. (ie Constitutional Court Judgement; Impeachment?)

A captured element functions in basically the same way as a sycophantic element, but at a generally higher level for higher reward. A captured element is also required to protect the primary element by occasionally exposing itself to attacks from other Dimensions, or make efforts to pre-empt such attacks. (ie Shaun Abrahams; Des van Rooyen; Nkosinathi Nhleko; Thulas Nxesi; Mozebenzi Zwane; Charles Nqakula et al?)  A captured element will also be sacrificed by the primary element if deemed necessary to the advancement of its cause.

A resisting element pushes back against the destructive appetites of the other elements, and tries to bring balance to an otherwise unbalanced situation. While courageous, these elements presently lack sufficient power to bring about real change in the PPU dimension. (ie Nhlanhla Nene; Pravin Gordhan, Thuli Madonsela, Mogoeng Mogoeng?)

The common element across all dimensions is the chaotic element. As the creator of this element the PPU exerts the most influence on it, although once fully unleashed there is no telling who the casualties will be.

The Second Dimension is the Luthuli House Dimension, or LHD, which until recently was the ultimate controller of all other dimensions. LHD’s integrity, gender, youth, and collective decision elements have been cannibalised by the Presidential Parallel Universe, which has reduced LHD’s  function to being merely a mirror of the PPU.

The Third Dimension is the Impotent Opposition Dimension, or IOD. This dimension has a multiplicity of elements including “the ideologically incoherent coalitions of the power-hungry, the forgotten, the almost forgotten, the preferably forgotten, the far right, the rearguard and the downright loony”.[2]

The IOD dimension is conjoined with the PPU through a common chaotic element, to which they add their own chaotic contribution, resulting in increasing occasions of rejection and ejection in the Third Dimension, known as the Parliamentary Dimension. The Parliamentary Dimension is generally inconsequential, and is of only occasional entertainment value.

The Fourth Dimension is the Constitutional Dimension, or CD. This dimension has many of the most important elements of all. The ConCourt, PProtector, and HighCourt elements are primary agents in curbing the excesses of the Presidential Parallel Universe through application and dedication.  Without constant support from these elements, the IOD would not only be impotent, it would be irrelevant.

Unfortunately, these vital CD elements are also shackled by the NPA and Hawks elements which are disinclined to participate in reining in the Presidential Parallel Universe, thereby adding further fuel to the chaotic element. It also eliminates the only avenues that can actively enforce the removal of cancerous elements in the PPU. Without an ability to enforce such removal, the fight here is restricted to damage limitation.

The Fifth, and our very own Dimension, by far the largest but presently the least influential, is the multi-level Citizens and Residents Dimension, or CaRD. Sub-divisions are the RaceCaRD, GenderCaRD, and the LGBTCaRD, all of which involve disharmony, which directly contributes towards our lack of influence. Each of these sub-divisions is stoked by a mainstream media element that sometimes deliberately fans the flames of disharmony, to further fuel the chaotic element, under the guise of legitimate reporting.(ie Gupta Media; SABC?). But the biggest contributor to the chaotic element by a country mile is the social media element, together with its comments component. These allow mass and unfettered access to the blame game: whites blaming blacks, blacks blaming whites; socialists blaming capitalists and vice versa; unions blaming business, business blaming BEE; schoolgirls blaming schools; parents blaming teachers; the list goes on ad nauseum.

In this arena, the RaceCaRD predominates, with the most vociferous commentators generally hiding behind a wall of anonymity. All of this plays directly into the hands of the Presidential Parallel Universe, for while the Fifth Dimension is divided the primary element will continue to rule unchallenged.

What is also apparent from this interpretation is that there are really only two dimensions to our democracy, the Presidential Parallel Universe and Constitutional Dimension. All other dimensions are inconsequential and irrelevant.

With this in mind, in our darkest hour since 1994, are we selling out if those who stand with us are black not white or vice versa?  Should we care whether they are male or female?  Is it relevant or important that they have a different sexual orientation to us, or us to them?  If you can answer an emphatic No! to all  of the above, then we have some hope of getting somewhere.

Only together, by putting aside all prejudices, can we collectively understand how our much-vaunted Constitution allows a Presidential Parallel Universe to come into existence in the first place, and then be allowed to flourish without any practical mechanism to stop it. Armed with this understanding, we can organise ourselves to stand up against the divisive and destructive tactics of the PPU and make sure that it never happens again.

In the words of our own Dimension’s namesake 1960’s band[3], we need to work with harmony and understanding, together with an abundance of sympathy and trust. Can we do it, if only for the sake of our girl-child’s future? The answer is that we must, before we are all reduced to the singularity of the Presidential Parallel Universe.

[1] Extracted from: “The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless vs. The Rest of Us” by Martha Stout Ph.D
[2] ANC has hit self-destruct button. Who will survive? David Everatt, Biznews August 30th 2016
[3]Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In lyrics
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation. 
Let the sunshine in – The Fifth Dimension (1969)