Bacterial counts in the tap water from testing sites in Makhanda (Grahamstown) have returned to safe levels; however, in Riebeeck East, the water remains unsafe to drink, according to laboratory results. Testing on drinking water sampled from nine sites across Makana Municipality on 6 February show that bacteria in the tap water at all sites except Riebeeck East had returned to acceptable levels, according to Director of Community Safety and Social Services Kelello Makgoka. The Director today 19 February telephonically shared with Grocott’s Mail some of the latest test results, printed at the National Health Laboratory Service’s Port Elizabeth laboratory on 11 February 2019, as well as information about tests on samples taken in January.
Public service watchdog PSAM this week slammed Co-operative Governance MEC Fikile Xasa for failing to intervene in Makana Municipality, after it emerged that during the last two months of 2018, some residents were receiving unsafe water in their taps.
The Public Service Accountability Monitor called for serious action to address human rights violations, and councillors have demanded disciplinary action, as test results on Makana water in November and December report levels of potentially disease-causing bacteria up to 20 times higher than the legislated standard. The alarming repeat of Makana’s May 2018 dirty water debacle came as Makhanda (Grahamstown) faces an unprecedented water supply crisis.
Large areas of the city have had dry taps for a week or longer because of operational failures at the water treatment works. And the city’s water could halve as soon as next week, as drought shrinks the supply to the west, Settlers Dam, to a level where it can no longer be pumped. Humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers handed out emergency supplies of bottled water to residents, schools and clinics last Wednesday from six massive trucks that had travelled from every corner of South Africa. This week, Gift of the Givers has brought two giant rigs to town and together with Makana Municipality is deciding where to drill boreholes.
The water quality shock that confronted councillors and officials in the Council Chamber on Wednesday 13 February, was due to insufficient capacity to manage Makana’s water infrastructure, ineffective supply chain management processes and a lack of skilled operation and maintenance, Director of Community Services and Public Safety Kelello Makgoka said. This week, Makgoka said that while the water appeared to have returned to safe limits, this could only be confirmed on Wednesday, when laboratory results were expected.
Today Makgoka said laboratory results for February confirmed that water at all the testing sites except Riebeeck East had returned to safe levels.
Makgoka’s directorate supplies water safety information to managers of the municipality’s water treatment works, which they must act on. He said he would be corroborating data from Makana’s clinics to see if there had been a rise in diarrhoea or other waterborne diseases among the community during November and December last year.
Furious councillors in a committee meeting of Makana Municipality’s Community Safety and Social Services portfolio heard that in November 2018, among other shocking results, the total coliform count of water sampled at the Environmental Health department was 201. The total coliform standard considered acceptable for drinking is 0-9. In the same month, laboratory tests recorded e.coli in water sampled at the Extension 7 clinic. The national standard for drinking water says no amount of e.coli in drinking water is safe.
SOUTH AFRICA’S WATER SAFETY STANDARD
SANS 241: 2015 is the South African National Standard for drinking water. It includes microbiological, physical, aesthetic and chemical factors derived from the World Health Organization Guidelines for drinking-water quality. The unit to estimate the number of bacteria that could divide and multiply in a sample is colony forming units per 100ml (cfu/100ml). The e.coli bacterium is found in the faeces of animals and humans. The SANS standard for e.coli is zero. The total coliform count includes bacteria found in the soil, in dams and other surface water, as well as in human and animal waste. It’s an indication of contamination that has the potential to cause disease. The permissible total coliform range for drinking water, according to SANS 241: 2015 is 0-9 cfu/100ml.
In May 2018, angry residents put the national spotlight on Makana’s water and sanitation crisis, marching to the city hall with bottles of dirty water and at least one bucket of raw sewage.
As he was then, Health and Cleansing Manager Johann Esterhuizen was last week called on to explain the test results. His department, which falls under the Community Services and Public Safety directorate, carries out regular internal water quality testing. Samples are also sent to an accredited laboratory once a month for certified testing.
WHAT WE HAD IN OUR WATER
According to a report in the Social Development Portfolio Committee agenda for 13 February 2019, water sampled at one place in November 2018 had e.coli:
Extension 7 clinic: 2 cfu/100ml
In November 2018, the following total coliform counts were measured in water samples in Makana:
Extension 7 Clinic: 8
Environmental Health Office: 201
Community tap in J Street: 29
Indoor Sports Centre: 10
Alicedale Municipal Office: 41
Riebeeck East Municipal Office: 50
In December 2018, e.coli was measured in samples from:
Extension 7 Clinic: 4
J Street community tap: 1
Indoor Sports Centre: 1
In December 2018 a total coliform count of 95 was measured at the water purification works itself. The Extension 7 clinic, J Street tap and Indoor Sports Centre had total coliform counts greater than 201, with the Environmental Health Office at 130, Alicedale Municipal Office at 109 and Riebeeck East Municipal Office at 89.
IMPROVED RESULTS IN FEBRUARY
Director Makgoka verbally shared test results from February 2019 with Grocott’s Mail. These verbally shared figures suggested that water from all sampling points except Riebeeck East had by February returned to safe levels. Some of the results, as shared telephonically on Tuesday 19 February were:
J Street – e.coli corrected to zero (after a January count of 1 cfu/100ml).
Makana CBD offices – e.coli 0 and total coliform 10
Extension 7 Clinic – e.coli 0 and total coliform 8
James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works – e.coli 0 and total coliform 8
Alicedale – e.coli 0 and total coliform 5
“If results do not comply to SANS, resampling must be done and the results must be corroborated with clinical data from the community in that area,” Makgoka emphasised to Grocott’s Mail on Tuesday 19 February. He said a notice warning residents to boil water would be issued if a combination of test results, a formal report from the treatment works indicating a problem and clinical data supported that level of concern.
“A result from one sampling point doesn’t mean we need to raise the alarm,” Makgoka said. “It could mean there is a localised contamination.
“However, if we found any level of e.coli in all nine sampling points, we would certainly issue a warning.”
Asked to explain the November and December 2018 data during last week’s meeting, Esterhuizen said staff at Riebeeck East and Alicedale water treatment works had told him that for three weeks they hadn’t had enough sodium hypochlorite to treat the water and had been instructed to use less to make it last longer. They had also run out of chlorine gas.
“You need to purify the water properly with right amount of chemicals,” Esterhuizen emphasised to the councillors on Wednesday. “The people who are supposed to do the job are doing it – but they can’t do it properly if they don’t have chlorine gas, or sodium hypochlorite. I don’t understand why they run out of the chemicals.”
Councillors were unanimous in their outrage.
“Who issued the instruction to reduce the doseage?” Ward 4 councillor Brian Fargher asked. “Who issued an instruction to break the law?”
PR councillor Carey Clark called for consequence management. “If people don’t do their jobs and that puts thousands of lives at risk, they need to be fired,” she said.
Supply chain management was under fire for an almost identical situation in early 2018, when the Waainek treatment facility ran out of chlorine and the chlorination process at James Kleynhans was faulty. Excessive sludge in the settling tanks at the water treatment works for east Makhanda (Grahamstown) made the water muddy in appearance. The turbulence along with the large quantities of flocculent added to settle the sediment made chlorination ineffective.
Of the November and December 2018 test results, Makgoka confirmed to councillors this was one area that could not be compromised. With a senior technician acting as a water manager, capacity was a serious problem, he said. One of the consequences of this was that the plants are not maintained on a regular basis. In addition, supply chain management needed improvement so enough chemicals are bought in time, Makgoka said.
Portfolio chair Phumla Matyumza said the institution’s supply chain management should be called to account.
Public Service Accountability Monitor Jay Kruuse this week said the latest water quality results confirmed a recurrent trend of mismanagement that implicates various officials within Makana Local Municipality.
“This is not the first time that residents of Makhanda, Alicedale and Riebeeck East have had their human rights violated by mismanagement of a critical function – the delivery of unpolluted clean and safe drinking water,” Kruuse said. “It is high time that those implicated face disciplinary action for recurrent acts that result in widespread endangering of residents health.”
Kruuse said the latest results and explanations provided by the Municipality revealed yet again that decision-making and management had failed at water treatment facilities, within offices responsible for maintaining essential supplies and at middle to senior management levels.
“We call upon the Municipal Manager and Council to take serious action to address these human rights violations. A municipality that distributes polluted water to residents places preventable strain upon the health service and poses serious health threats to especially young undernourished children, the elderly and those who don’t have easy access to medical treatment.
“This state of affairs also implicates Fikile Xasa, the MEC for Cooperative Governance, who has failed to respond adequately or at all when called upon to intervene and improve such basic services that clearly evidence dysfunction and negligence,” Kruuse said.
Promise of support
In May 2018, during a summit with local stakeholders including business, schools and the University, Minister of Co-operative Governance Zweli Mkhize promised that Makana would receive various kinds of support from the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA), including water engineers.
Makana’s Infrastructure Director Dali Mlenzana was in September 2018 put on precautionary suspension pending investigations into alleged financial misconduct during periods when he was acting municipal manager.
Makgoka, who was appointed Director of Community Safety and Social Services midway through 2018, was almost immediately additionally tasked with carrying the deeply fractured and dysfunctional infrastructure and technical services directorate. He was recused from this role at a full Council meeting on 30 January, with the acting directorship defaulting to Municipal Manager Moppo Mene.
Last Thursday’s committee meeting of the crucial Infrastructure portfolio had to be rescheduled when it failed to reach quorum. Mene, Manager of Electricity Distribution at Makana Municipality, Mzomhle Radu and Makgoka were the only managers present, alongside the seven councillors in the portfolio.
The Infrastructure and Technical Services Portfolio Committee meeting will be held on Wednesday 20 February. Among the agenda items are a progress report on the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works upgrade due for completion in December 2021; a report on projects in a R140 million ECDC-approved budget for upgrading Makana’s bulk and reticulation sewer lines, pump stations and substations in Makhanda, Alicedale, Riebeeck East, Seven Fountains and Salem; and details of breakdowns and repairs to pumps at James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works, Alicedale Water Treatment Works, Alicedale waste pump station and Settlers Dam pump station.
- This article was updated at 6pm on Tuesday 19 February to include information about February test results, made available to Grocott’s Mail on Tuesday afternoon. Updates are in blue. Please note that the original article stands unaltered, other than the Director’s assurance that updated laboratory results would be available on 20 February.