The putrid town of Lephalale is, among many other problems, a huge health risk. Residents are complaining and gross stories about the sewage situation in Lephalale are frequently discussed throughout the town. Mogol Post receives phone calls and WhatsApp messages on a daily basis from fed-up community members. With pump station 1 that broke down last week, many residents had to live with raw sewage rising in their drains.
Mogol Post interviewed Maria Cocquyt, Acting Municipal Manager at Lephalale Municipality, on Tuesday 2 April to determine what the municipality plans to do about the horrific sewage situation.
Cocquyt agreed without hesitation that the town’s sewage system is in serious trouble.
“There are a couple of problems – we had a breakdown at pump station 1 (at Kloppenheim flats) and what we found is that people are flushing baby nappies and fabrics down the toilet. It seems like someone deliberately took a whole bunch of nappies and dumped it in the drainage system. These foreign objects block the sewage pumps”.
She said that the screens or filters have not yet been installed to filter through all the sewage and foreign objects.
She did however confirm that pump station 1 was repaired and up and running at the time of going to print, but she explained that it may be not be for long as people throw all kinds of things in the sewage system, blocking the pipes and as a result, the sewage pumps overheats because it runs without water. The pumps then burn out.
“It is a major crisis,” she said.
She said the repair work at pump station one is going to cost the municipality roughly another R250 000 that’s not been budgeted for.
“The municipality spent close to R1 million in October last year on repairing and servicing 26 sewage pumps,” she added and then said there are about 30 pump stations in Lephalale but only 26 of them are up and running.
She furthermore explained that the sewage pipes have reached the end of their lifetime (the municipality is about 30 years old) so the occurrence of burst pipes is a reality.
“The AC pipes have to be replaced and it is a huge project – if you have to replace a whole reticulation network, it involves the whole municipality,” she said.
She confirmed that all the pumps have been repaired and replaced in October 2018 just when she accepted the job as Acting MM. “Pump station 23 (opposite Palm Park Hotel) is also a big problem. There was a contractor appointed to do refurbishment and I am not yet sure what happened there and what the technicalities are. We have to still get into that.
“I don’t know what the scope was, but right now we are trying to give priority to all the immediate challenges,” she said. She added that the municipality will maybe start “within the next two or three weeks to look into the problems at pump station 23”.
So what is her message to the community?
“For me it is a priority to see if we can fix the sewage situation. The mayor also said to me he is sick and tired of being a mayor of this stinking town.
And what about the budget?
It is a priority as it is an environmental hazard. I will ask the Finance Department for figures on how much we’ve been spending on replacing sewage pumps, because I know that close to R5 million had been spent on pump station 23 and it is still a problem.
“We have upgraded the Paarl Sewage works, I know there are problems now, but we’ve upgraded it.
“When Medupi started, there was close to R15 million spent on the upgrading of sewage pumps.
“So at the moment I get a feeling that some of the service providers that we are appointing are not entirely honest with the municipality in order to helping us with these challenges.
“Exxaro’s always been willing to assist. Exxaro said they are available to help and I will contact them and ask them to come and help us.
“What we need is technical advice on what to do. When we do a technical assessment, we’re giving an estimation of what the problem is. Maybe the people present don’t have the correct knowledge of what is wrong. Because previously the system worked, I think there are a lot of new young guys that were hired and I am not convinced that they understand how the system works. When the older people leave their jobs, they leave with an institutional memory of how things worked.
“I worked with people like Dries de Ridder and the system worked at the time. Somehow the new team that is here has the technical knowledge, but the understanding of the system could probably be a problem.
“I will list the services of people that were here previously and then get some technical advice on what is the status and how do we resolve the problem.
“At the moment we try to attend with the immediate crisis and it is crisis management all the time, so the second stage will be to start taking a realistic assessment of what technical issues there are, and then to get skilled people to join.
“The plan and the hope and the passion are there, because we are also victims of this terrible sewage situation. It is not good for anyone. We cannot continue and do nothing. “My priority is really to get going and get it working so when we need help, I can contact role players. I’m determined to get it resolved.
“There are a lot of people who offered to help – they know we have a problem and they will assist. I remain humble and grateful that there are people that understand there are problems and they want to help.
“It’s always better to be honest and tell the truth and tell the community that there is a problem because we cannot deny it,” she concluded.