Rockville challenges sewerage plant's expansion

A sewerage plant supplying the community of Rockville, north of Pretoria, is leaking. But its reconstruction is being contested in court.

The community, through Lawyers for Human Rights, is in court because they say they were not consulted on the project and the plant began working before it had a water licence.

The current water plant was first built in 1983, when the community was still under the jurisdiction of the Bophuthatswana government. Nobody consulted them at the time, they said in court documents.

The community, forcefully moved there from Pretoria and Johannesburg by the apartheid regime, said the plant was built right across the road from their homes.

In 1996 it was expanded, again without consultation, they said. In 2008 the area got reticulation and plumbing. Anjuli Leila Maistry, the lawyer handling the case, said in court papers the sewerage plant soon collapsed under the strain.

Sewage started flowing out of drains and pipes and into the street.

"The effect of this overflow is a regular coursing of sewage into the resident's streets, gardens and homes. This is intensified when it rains," said Maistry. "The smell is intolerable and the raw sewage in the streets attracts animals such as rats, flies, mosquitoes and large snakes," she said.

The residents nearest to the plant also had to tile their houses in an attempt to stop the flow into their homes, she added.

In August 2011 the residents were told that the plant was being extended – a decision they were told had been taken in 2009, said Maistry. They approached the mayor and public protector for information about the decision, but said they had not received any reply.

Lawyers for Human Rights then brought an application to review the authorisation of the Temba-Babelegi plant to the North Gauteng High Court.

"This application highlights a vast failure on the part of the responsible parties," it said.

Section 24 of the Constitution, which deals with environmental rights, says that any project needs an environmental impact assessment and consult with people before starting construction. This was not done, and the building has already begun, say the lawyers.

The basis for the case, besides the lack of consultation, is the fact that the plant's water use licence was granted two years after the plant itself was authorised. This means that the plant operated without a licence for a considerable period of time, said Maistry.

This means the plant was authorised without someone looking at the implications it would have on water – which is critical given that the plant discharges water into local water sources. The absence of a water use licence is in itself a ground on which to review the decision to grant authorisation to expand the plant," said Maistry.

"This is especially disconcerting in light of the fact that the discharge of waste water would clearly have adverse impact on the environment, and the Apies River in particular," she said.

The municipal spokesperson could not be reached for comment.