UASA's much publicised water security campaign will reach its final and decisive stage on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, when the union will lodge a Section 77 application in terms of the Labour Relations Act at NEDLAC through the good offices of FEDUSA, the labour federation to which UASA is affiliated.
This means that UASA's grave concerns about the devastating threat of acid mine drainage (AMD), the lack of provision of potable water to everyone in South Africa, and the quality of waste water, will have to be debated in terms of the law by the relevant government departments, organised business and organised labour.
UASA is particularly concerned about the apparent dragging of feet by the authorities when it comes to taking timeous preventive measures against the AMD threat. Everyone has acknowledged by now that AMD will cause a crisis if it starts decanting, but the authorities still maintain that there is no threat at present. That may be true – but they don't seem to realise the urgency of the matter. When the acid water reaches the environmentally critical level (ECL), it will be too late to take proactive steps. And reactive remedial action will be infinitely more costly.
The problem of AMD is not limited to the Witwatersrand only, but can raise its ugly head wherever there is or was mining activity. In eMalahleni (Witbank), for instance, there is a full-blown crisis; AMD flows through suburban streets and gardens, causing incalculable damage.
In preparation of its submission to NEDLAC, next week, UASA held a final workshop in Johannesburg on 23 September to consolidate the information and evidence accumulated during the preceding water security seminars, and to hear additional evidence by well-respected scientists and academics, and to listen to first-hand accounts by well-known activists who have been campaigning for proper water purification and improved service delivery.
Speaking at the workshop, Prof Terence McCarthy of the School of Geosciences at Wits University, warned that time was running out fast to prevent the looming catastrophe of AMD flooding the inner city of Johannesburg.
Mr Adrian Viljoen, an engineer involved in the design and construction of the Aveng Group's fully operational AMD purification plant at eMalahleni, proved that the technology is readily available to avert a disaster on the Witwatersrand, but warned that immediate and undelayed preventive action should be taken, as it takes 15 to 18 months to construct the required purification plant.
Dr Jo Barnes, an epidemiologist at the faculty of Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, warned about the deadly health hazards of polluted streams, rivers and dams, and said that it is possible to trace pollution to its source where it should be rectified.
Ms Carín Visser, intrepid activist for clean water and proper municipal services from Sannieshof in Northwest, illustrated with visual material the appalling conditions of the poorest of poor people in her area who are compelled to consume water polluted with the deadly e.coli bacteria, because the local authorities don't provide them with potable water – one of their constitutional rights.
Ms Mariëtte Liefferink, well-known activist for the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, pointed out the immense damage already caused by decanting AMD on the West Rand.
While UASA is encouraged by the introduction of the Blue Drop (drinking water) and Green Drop (waste water) certification system, we are disappointed by what has been achieved thus far. The Blue Drop 2010 report on the quality of drinking water shows that only 55% of all municipalities scored higher than 50% in the set criteria.
In respect of waste water, more than R3,5 billion is spent annually on the operation of these works. Despite this, the latest Green Drop report stated inter alia that “the municipal waste water services business is generally considered to be far from acceptable”, as 76% of the works scored less than 50%, and 47% of the works scored, in effect, zero.
It is evident, therefore, that although the national government has identified and acknowledged the existence of drinking water and waste water problems, the majority of local and provincial authorities simply are not equipped with the knowledge and expertise to overcome those problems satisfactorily.
UASA is of the opinion that NEDLAC should order a macroeconomic supplyside impact study to determine the impact of South Africa's comprehensive water problems on economic growth, socio-economic conditions, job creation, poverty, and competitiveness.
It is sincerely hoped that our Section 77 application will serve as a catalyst to ensure a future of clean, safe water for all in our country.
*Click [here] to visit our Water for Life website for further details regarding the water crisis.