Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti. Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA
Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti. Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA

Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Friday that an implementation protocol to restore infrastructure at the polluted Vaal River system had been signed with a wastewater specialist company.

Nkwinti made this announcement during a visit to Sebokeng in the Vaal to get an update on the Vaal River Rehabilitation Project.

The project began in 2018 after raw sewage flowed into the river from pump stations in the Emfuleni Municipality on the northern bank of the river, posing environmental and health risks.

Nkwinti said on Friday that the implementation protocol was signed on March 29 by his department, the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs in Gauteng, the Emfuleni local municipality, municipal infrastructure support agent and the East Rand Water Care Company (ERWAT).

“As a wastewater specialist company, ERWAT will ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructure is resuscitated to an operational state and that pollution in the Vaal River is stopped,” Nkwinti said.

Nkwinti said R341m had been allocated for the project, and 250 youth would be trained in plumbing, carpentry, bricklaying, paving and agriculture.

He said the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would also train 2,000 young people and community members to guard 44 pump stations until the completion of the project, which is estimated to be in March 2020.

The SANDF teams were the first to be deployed to the Vaal River in November 2018 to assist with engineering and other expertise to resolve the crisis in the Vaal River system.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) welcomed the renewed promises of funding for the Vaal River intervention and Emfuleni sewerage system restoration.

Outa said a department of water and sanitation document used at the briefing stated that the total project was budgeted to cost R1.2bn.

“Outa welcomes the indication of cooperation between the national departments, the Gauteng government, Emfuleni local municipality and Sedibeng district municipality, as this is essential to completing this project and ensuring its sustainability.

“Outa also welcomes the promise that 2,000 local youth will be hired and trained to provide security for the sewerage plants as this will both ensure long-term security of the installations and assist with crucially needed buy-in from the local community,” Outa portfolio manager for local government, Michael Holenstein said.

However, Holenstein said Outa was concerned that there were no clear guidelines for approval of the rest of the funds and that there was no clarity on which of the national departments would provide the funds.

“This is a big omission,” Holenstein said.