Media statement: Makhanda residents take the Makana Municipality to court over broken sewerage system

Media Statement      

For Immediate Release

The Legal Resources Centre will represent 10 Makhanda residents who wish to compel Makana Municipality to repair and maintain Makhanda’s dilapidated sanitation system. The provincial and the national governments are named as co-respondents in the matter, which is set for hearing in the Makhanda High Court in Makhanda, on 2 June 2020.

The residents are asking the court to order that immediate action be taken to address the spills around their homes, including the routine rodding of sewerage lines, the unblocking of drains, and weekly visits to clear blocked pipes that cause spillages. The second part of the application is aimed at compelling the municipality and the national and provincial government to generate a plan, together with a budget, for the upgrade of the waste water treatment works. The plan will also need to address the upgrade and replacement of old or damaged infrastructure that causes the numerous sewerage spills. The purpose of the application is to ensure that immediate steps are taken to minimise the impact of the spills on residents, while long-term solutions are sought that will see the entire sanitation system upgraded or replaced.

The application was first launched in November 2019. Sanitation systems in Makhanda have gradually deteriorated since 2010. Inadequate maintenance of these systems, along with budget constraints as a result of the mismanagement of municipal funds, have resulted in constant sewerage spills in and around the homes of residents. Blocked drains are responsible for many of the spills, while crumbling sewerage pipes burst often, resulting in large spills of raw sewerage that flood into homes.

The impact on residents has been devastating; some residents are unable to use certain rooms in their homes as they are flooded by sewerage, while others have suffered structural damage to their properties. Many are unable to use their toilets for fear of flooding their homes. Children are often exposed to raw sewerage when walking to and from school, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. Test conducted on the spills during 2019 reveal that most of the spills contain traces of e.coli. In areas where the sewerage runs into rivers and natural waterways, the raw sewerage reduces the level of oxygen in the water which eradicates plant and animal life and collapses the natural ecosystems. This has a devastating long-term impact on the environment and exposes people to diseases associated with contaminated water.

The court papers in this case reveal the endless efforts by the residents to try and compel the municipality, the national and provincial government, to take action and fix the sanitation system. Many of the complaints date as far back as 2014, and despite numerous promises by officials to address the issues, nothing has been done. The residents argue that the continuous failure to fix and maintain the sanitation system and the conditions that they have been forced to endure, violates their constitutional rights to dignity, equality, and the right to a safe and healthy environment that does not pose a risk to their health.

Makana Municipality is opposing the application, but has failed to file answering papers.