Africa-Press – South-Africa. Disease flare-ups such as the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal are “made far worse in situations of poor governance, weak management and poor maintenance of infrastructure”, says the head of government, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said: “We have a responsibility – and are determined – to remedy those shortcomings in a sustainable way and as a matter of urgency.”
Last week, a cholera outbreak caused deaths in Hammanskraal, Tshwane, and the Free State.
Ramaphosa said: “The deaths of 24 people in Gauteng and the Free State are deeply tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones. Hundreds more people have been hospitalised following the outbreak.”
He added that the outbreak showed the “vital importance” of safe and effective water and wastewater management.
“Authorities are to be commended for their efforts to speedily assist all those affected, including setting up a field hospital in Kanana in Hammanskraal, providing additional water tanking services to residents and going into communities to raise awareness about proper hygiene,” the president said.
“An investigation is under way into the source of the outbreak. Technical teams from the City of Tshwane, the Department of Water and Sanitation, and the provincial and national departments of health are carrying out water quality tests at distribution points and at water treatment works in the area.”
Ramaphosa said that while infections were being tracked and traced, the original source of the cholera infection had not been located.
“However, this waterborne disease is highly transmissible in conditions where there is inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
“Unreliable and poor-quality drinking water has been a problem in Hammanskraal for many years. The Rooiwal wastewater treatment works, which is upstream of Hammanskraal, has not been well-maintained and has insufficient capacity to deal with the volume of wastewater entering the works.”
He said the Department of Water and Sanitation had issued many directives to the City of Tshwane to address pollution at the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works.
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“Regrettably, these directives were not acted upon. Consequently, the department initiated legal action to force the City to use its grant from national government to refurbish and upgrade the wastewater treatment works.
“While there must be full accountability for the failings that have resulted in the outbreak in Hammanskraal, at this time, we must focus on the problem at hand. We must stop the spread of cholera and take remedial measures to safeguard human health.”
According to Ramaphosa, South Africa’s water quality is generally of a high standard.
“Under these circumstances, the fact that many councils underspend critical infrastructure grants is unacceptable.”
He said the Department of Water and Sanitation was working with municipal managers and technical teams to ensure local councils used their water infrastructure grants effectively.
Ramaphosa added that it was critical that local governments worked closely with the national government to deal with the immediate challenges of Hammanskraal’s water quality, while the outcome of the investigation is awaited.
He said he had asked Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu to make recommendations to strengthen the governance, management and regulatory framework for municipal water and sanitation services.