19 March 2018 Read: 592
Medical waste and raw sewerage is being dumped into the Letaba River from a pump station at the Letaba Hospital. Just a few hundred metres from the site, water is being extracted from the river for consumption by residents in the Letsitele Valley and Nkowankowa areas. This has apparently been the practice since October 2017 when the Letaba Hospital pump station stopped working.
DA Deputy Shadow Minister of Health, Lindy Wilson visited the site on Monday morning, accompanied by Bulletin, and witnessed first-hand how the waste was flowing from the overflow at the pump station, straight into the river below it. There were bloodied bandages, used surgical gloves, cotton swabs and other medical waste spewed across the river’s embankment. The rotten stench of human waste consumed the air around it.
“This is absolutely horrifying! How many people are drinking this contaminated water daily? People can die from this,” Wilson exclaimed. “This is the reason for the DA’s motion to take away control of the water from the Mopani District Municipality. This type of malpractice is criminal and must come to an end. Enough is enough.”
According to a source inside the Greater Tzaneen Municipality (GTM), the pump station stopped operating last year when Eskom removed the breakers from the site due to non-payment by the Mopani District Municipality (MDM). The pump station is supposed to pump the waste from the Letaba Hospital to a water purification plant in Nkowankowa. This cannot happen without power supply and the waste now flows from the station’s overflow directly into the river beneath it.
“There is nothing wrong with the pump station itself. Everything works one hundred percent, except without power supply it obviously cannot run, and now we sit with an environmental disaster. Just a few metres from here, people bathe in the river. They also fetch water from here for drinking and household use,” our source revealed.
Bulletin accompanied Wilson into the Letaba Hospital where we met with the acting CEO, Matron Esther Mashaphu, the acting Senior Clinical Manager, Vinnie Bopape, the Risk Manager, Mr Ngoepe and the hospital’s CFO, Mr Mbalati.
At first, the group seemed open to discussion and willing to ans-wer Wilson’s questions. They however requested ten minutes to caucus on whether or not they should be engaging the media in an unprepared interview. They left the boardroom and returned a short while later and referred any questions on the matter to the Mopani Spokesperson, Neil Shikwambane, and the Limpopo Department of Health’s Derrick Kganyago.
We contacted Kganyago who claimed that the Department was not previously aware of the problem. “We were made aware of this only on Monday after your visit to the hospital,” he said. “We are extremely concerned because this should not have been allowed to happen in the first place and it is a major, major health risk to the community who obviously use this contaminated water daily. We will now pressurize Mopani until the issue has been rectified.”
Mopani has denied responsibility. Their spokesperson told Bulletin that the municipality is not responsible for the payment of electrical accounts of institutions such as hospitals or schools. “We only take responsibility for household services. The waste that is being dumped by the hospital is the hospital’s concern and not ours. The Department of Health needs to give you the ans-wers on the matter as they are responsible for the hospitals in the province,” Shikwambana said.
The DA has in the meantime approached the Human Rights Commission and have requested investigations into the matter. They have also requested water samples to be taken and for the entire section of the Letaba River to be rehabilitated.
“We expected that there would be a back and forth between Mopani and the Department of Health. The Human Rights Commission will now tell us who is at fault and charges will be laid against them,” Wilson concluded.