The former municipal manager of the Moqhaka Local Municipality, Sonnyboy Mokgatle, and three other former managers of this municipality appeared in the Kroonstad Magistrate’s Court on 2 June 2022 on charges of sewage pollution. This investigation has been ongoing since 1 November 2019 after the community organisation, Moqhaka for the people (MFP), opened a criminal complaint against Mokgatle for the dumping of raw sewage. MFP has also previously filed criminal charges against the other three former municipal managers for sewage pollution.
Since AfriForum also lodged a criminal complaint against Mokgatle on 19 May 2022 for sewage pollution, he has made his first appearance in court. The case against Mokgatle was added to that of the other three accused who appeared in connection with the same charges. Shortly after AfriForum’s criminal complaint was lodged, Mokgatle resigned as municipal manager.
Mokgatle’s legal representative told the court that his client was no longer involved with the municipality. AfriForum is of the opinion that this is a tactic to avoid liability. However, the relevant legislation is clear that personal liability is required for non-compliance with duties and therefore the complaint against Mokgatle was lodged in his personal capacity and not against the municipality.
The Green Scorpions are investigating the cases against the accused. Because the cases have the same origin and municipal managers resigned or have been transferred to other municipalities for some time now to try to avoid liability, there are now four accused in this case. The case has been adjourned to 4 July 2022 so that the prosecutor for Regional Court can consider the content of these cases and thereafter the case can be transferred to the Regional Court where the trial will take place.
AfriForum and the MFP community organisation have been trying for years to solve the sewage problems but have not received any cooperation from the municipality. MFP even sent an expert report to the municipality with suggestions on how to get the sewerage works back to standard, but this was apparently rejected. In September 2021, several government leaders visited Kroonstad to investigate the extent of the problem and to address it. Deputy President David Mabuza, the Free State Premier, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, the Cogta Head of Department and other leaders were there to find solutions, but since the visit nothing has changed.
According to Spiro Khoury, the Chairperson of MFP, less than 40% of Kroonstad’s sewerage works is functional and this harms the health and quality of life of residents. “The raw sewage that is dumped pollutes the Vals- and Vaal River. No chlorine is used to treat the water and some of the sewage works are dysfunctional. The sewage problems countrywide are heading for a national crisis.”
Chris Morgan, AfriForum’s District Coordinator for the Highland, says he is happy that the persons who are believed to be responsible for the pollution have finally appeared in court. “Raw sewage that flows out into a public area or pollutes the environment is against the law and a criminal offense. Therefore, we demand that these former municipal managers be held accountable in their personal capacity. They were aware of the problem and had the opportunity to work together to solve it, but rather chose not to do anything about it and therefore they should be prosecuted.”
Furthermore, Morgan also added that the tactics of municipal officials to change position or municipality to evade justice are illegal. “The tactic used by municipal officials to move from office or municipality every time the water gets hot, is cunning. The cases are opened against the person himself and not against the municipality. Therefore, we are glad to see all the accused in court. We hope that this case will be an example for other cases so that municipal officials can be held responsible for poor and negligent management.”
AfriForum will follow the case closely to ensure that justice is done.
Get involved with AfriForum today. You can help solve problems in your area: SMS “Kroonstad” to 45344 (R1).