16 July 2018 Read: 100
You could be drinking your neighbour’s waste. Tzaneen boasts a massive signboard at its entrances proudly displaying its ‘Blue Drop’ status. However, the faded sign should be an indication that this was awarded a very long time ago. There are certain criteria that have to be met in order for a Water Services Authority to be awarded a Blue or a Green Drop status. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) implemented this programme as a means of facilitating a more transparent method to ensure compliance to drinking water legislation.
Despite DWAF’s claim that its ‘Drinking Water Quality Regulation Unit’ would continuously assess Water Services Authorities’ performance in its entire area of jurisdiction, that too seems to be an empty promise.
On a visit to three sites within the Tzaneen CBD this week, Bulletin discovered a gross violation of DWAF’s legislation and the basic human rights of the citizens of this town. Though water samples were taken by the team from Afriforum on Wednesday afternoon (yesterday), the results of those tests have not yet been made available.
Judging only by the stench and the visible human faecal matter floating in the glowing blue and grey water of a branch of the Great Letaba river, it is quite apparent that this water is not suitable for human consumption. In fact, it is an environmental disaster and one that could very well be behind the recent spate of diarrhea cases reported around town.
Campylobacteriosis is the most common diarrheal illness caused by the consumption of contaminated drinking water. Added to this is the risk of contracting Typhoid Fever, Escherichia coli, Encephalitis, Gastroenteritis also known as “stomach flu”, Hepatitis A, Leptospirosis, Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritis. To name a few.
At the pump station in Rietbok Street in the Old Industrial area, every one of the four large manhole covers have been removed, presumably stolen and sold for scrap metal. Pieces of steel and bolts in the brick walls of this station reveal that there may have been a palisade fence enclosing the structure to prevent the public from entering. With the fence and manhole covers gone, the site itself is a serious risk as children, or drunken pedestrians can easily fall through one of the manholes and drown in the tanks below.
Pedestrians have constructed a rickety hanging bridge over the river that runs past this substation. It now connects the Rietbok Street area with the Letaba Brickyard on the other side of the riverbank. The water running beneath this structure has a blue glow to it and regular air bubbles are seen rising to the surface as the sewerage on the bottom of the river bed, boils to the surface. Solid faecal matter is seen drifting down stream.
This is just a description of one of the sites we visited. The other two sites are as terrifying but this writer feels that describing it here would evade the attention of most of the inhabitants in our area and would therefore refer you to the video docuseries posted on our Facebook page entitled “How safe is your water – Part 1” to see the full extent of the problem.
We have sent enquiries to the GTM and DWAF and have received notice from Agri Letaba that they have noted and reported the problem to the municipality. According to Naomi Excell of Agri Letaba, the municipality said that they would immediately rectify the situation. She also stated that her organization is currently drafting a letter highlighting the impact of this malpractice on the environment and they will be sending this off to the GTM in due course.
Regarding the state of the Limpopo Health Department it would be a safer option for the community members in Tzaneen and Nkowankowa to refrain from drinking the water straight from their taps and rather look at alternative sources such as mineral water in bulk containers. It is not certain what the extent of the contamination is, but we feel that it is better to be safe than sorry until confirmation has been given.