ActionSA Launches Shitty Tour in a City that is Full of It

As ActionSA’s Team Fix SA Member for Infrastructure, I have toured the water, road and rail infrastructure of our country and now it is appropriate to begin with sewage as one of greatest issues undermining the dignity of South Africans.

I woke up this morning and inspected the closed beach signs in Simon’s Town where the sewage spills have washed up on the beaches this morning. I stood on the closed beaches of eThekwini only a few weeks ago, a City where the number of tourists has declined from 7.9 million in 2015 to 800 000 in 2023, largely because of an inability to handle a sewage crisis. This should be a stark warning to the residents of the Western Cape.

It is entirely appropriate that this tour begins here, in Cape Town, because the City of Cape Town has proven to be as full of it as the oceans we have inspected this morning. The visuals we have witnessed from the air of raw, untreated sewage going out into a protected marine reserve has been astonishing.

While it is true that the City of Cape Town has disposed of its sewage through marine outfalls since 1895 the truth is that much has changed over 130 years.

Firstly, Cape Town is now a City of 5 million residents and the volume of sewage has now reached 30 million litres per day going out of the False Bay marine reserves.

Secondly, South Africa is a country now protected by a Constitution which enshrines the rights to health, clean environment and economic development in ways that were not protected in the 19thcentury.

Finally, people in 1895 did not have anti-depressants and hormone enhancing medications that produce a chemical contamination effecting marine life in the ways that it does today.

ActionSA has fought this issue since is become clear that a growing community of civil society had been ignored by the City of Cape Town’s public consultations processes when they raised serious contraventions of legislation.

The City of Cape Town has not played honestly on this matter, along with the Department, by seeking to mislead the public into believing that the sewage has been treated and it is not raw. The truth is that the ‘treatment’ to which they have referred is a screen that removes larger items and does nothing to address the quality of the output or the chemical harm it causes.

The City has argued that its practice of using marine outfalls predates environment legislation in this country. By doing so it has ignored that the population of Cape Town has doubled since the passing of this legislation, the use of modern chemicals and medications had proliferated over these past 20 years and the ability to determine the impact of these outfalls has grown exponentially since then.

Following sustained pressure by ActionSA and other organisations, the City of Cape Town has announced that it will begin plans for sewage treatment of the marine outfalls, however, much awaits to be seen in terms of these plans and the timeframes associated with their implementation.

ActionSA has laid criminal charges against the City of Cape Town for breaches of environmental legislation, and it was reported serious violations of the permit to dispose of sewage granted by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment.

Through an application in terms of PAIA, ActionSA was able to determine that the City of Cape exceeded the maximum volumes of sewage permitted through the marine outfalls in 104 days over a 6-month period in 2023. During this time the City regularly failed to meet permitted disposal quality levels and the stipulated permit requirements that failures in quantity or quality management be reported have not been adhered to – with the City’s response confirming that no records exist.

From here, today, we will go to Nomzamo in Strand, a community which has had to contend with pooling of sewage for months following a lack of repairs of the sewage pipeline that is believed to have existed for more than 3 years. The streets of this community are regularly flooded with sewage and learners attending the ACJ Phakade Primary School have to use stepping stones to cross the sewage to get to and from school each day.

The City of Cape Town contends the matter is caused because of shacks built on the sewage line, a fact contested by the community, and this stand-off has been allowed to continue for years to the detriment of the community and in breach of the constitutional obligations of the City of Cape Town.

Regrettably, these stories of the City of Cape Town or Western Cape, are neglected from the portrayals of how life in the Western Cape is better than life under ANC governments. For the people of Nomzamo, that jingle is meaningless and ActionSA fights for these and other communities across the province. The reality is that no government should benchmark itself against the worst-case-scenario of the ANC and South Africans deserve government that aspires to be more than better than the ANC.

Majority governments like we have seen nationally under the ANC, and like we have seen provincially under the DA in the Western Cape, become arrogant and unaccountable to communities. This is the only explanation that ties together the ignoring of the public protest against the City’s permits to disperse sewage in False Bay and the willingness to allow residents of Nomzamo to live in sewage.

ActionSA’s growth in the Western Cape continues across all communities of the Western Cape. As signatories to the Multi-Party Charter, ActionSA will not allow the return of the ANC to this province.

That said, ActionSA will require of our involvement in any coalition government the imperative that these sewage infrastructure matters be addressed effectively, with greater respect to the diverse communities that they impact and with far greater deference to the constitutional rights of South African impacted by them.