Plans by a lobby group to lay criminal charges, owing to an alleged lack of progress in attempts to remedy water pollution at the Hartebeespoort Dam, north of Pretoria, were described as "unfortunate" by South Africa's Department of Water Affairs (DWA) on Monday, which insisted that progress is being made.
A group known as the Environment and Conservation Association is reportedly preparing to bring criminal charges against Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica and President Jacob Zuma for their failure to uphold section 24 of the Constitution, which requires the government to protect water resources.
But acting DWA DG Nobu Ngele said that the Harties Metsi Ame Remediation Plan, which was implemented by the department in 2006 to tackle the challenges of water pollution at the dam, as well as the effects of illegal waste discharges, was making progress.
She, thus, called on stakeholders to work with government to deal with the problem rather than taking up an adversarial stance.
Ngele said that several short- and medium-term actions had either been taken or were under way to deal with the pollution.
The first phase of the programme had focused on removing exotic sediment, establishing shoreline and wetland conditions in the dam and, the introduction of biological and mechanical harvesting of algae and hyacinths.
"Progress is being monitored by two ecological surveys that show that the fish composition in the dam has already improved since the implementation of this programme."
A second phase had extended the focus to the broader catchment impacts and included improved storm water management, as well as the protection and remediation of wetlands and in-stream river habitats with more stringent standards of compliance and enforcement.
Ngele said that the department's enforcement unit continued to take legal steps against officials that neglected their duties and the Madibeng Municipality, in particular, for allowing sewage from its wastewater treatment plant to pollute the Hartbeespoort dam.
The DWA had also allocated R500 000 to the Madibeng Municipality to enhance institutional capacity to deal with the problem.
It had allocated a further R27-million for a bulk water project, which included the expansion of the water purification works to meet current demand in the area.
Ngele pointed out that DWA also expected a technical assistant and engineer to be deployed by its emergency response facility to the Madibeng Municipality to assist with the implementation of their water services projects.
"The issue of pollution in the country's water source is complex," she said, arguing, too, that the current challenges afflicting the dam were historic in nature and has been in the making for more than 80 years.
But the environmental lobby group insisted that their stance was necessary, owing to the fact that government had failed, for years, to take action against polluters, including mining companies.
It has been reported that the organisaiton plans to open a docket would before the end of this month.