Province issues directives warning Municipal Manager Sebola to Comply

(Picture: Environmental Law Enforcement Director of the Provincial Government, Achmad Bassier and Knysna Municipal Manager Ombali Sebola.)

All eyes will again be on the Knysna Municipality in the next few weeks, but now with a more hopeful outlook. This after council members unanimously approved the diagnostic report and support plan presented to them by the Western Cape Provincial Government at a Special Council Meeting held on Friday 1 March.

The assessment involved municipal officials and a multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts from the Western Cape Government, Provincial Treasury, and the National Department of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs (CoGTA).

But whilst it was frequently mentioned in the presentation that the much-needed assistance in the form of a detailed and financially supported plan for Knysna’s recovery (see Mayor’s report on page 3) was being given in the spirit of Section 154 of the Constitution (which states that National Government and provincial governments, by legislative and other measures, must support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage their own affairs, to exercise their powers and to perform their functions), two directives issued to the Municipal Manager Ombali Sebola on Thursday 29 February left no doubt that the Provincial Government means business, and that as Knysna’s top official he could face dire consequences for non-compliance.

Both directives were issued by Achmad Bassier, the Environmental Law Enforcement Director of the Provincial Government, in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, and both include the following points:-
6.4 In terms of section 49A(1)(g) of the NEMA failure to comply with a Directive is an offence. A person convicted of failing to comply with a Directive is liable to a fine not exceeding R10 million or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment .

6.7 The NEMA makes provision for the criminal prosecution of officials of an organ of state, such as national or provincial government departments, municipalities or public entities.

The first of these very pointed directives was issued to both Sebola and Randall Bower, the Municipal Waste Manager, due to the appalling state of the Waste Transfer Station in Knysna.
“Whilst the Department acknowledges the Knysna Municipality’s efforts to address the situation in terms of the KM’s Action Plan (dated 28 November 2023), the Knysna WTS remains in an appalling condition, resulting in numerous nuisances (i.e. visual, windblown litter, excessive foul odours, etc.) emanating from the WTS, thus impacting negatively on the health and well-being of the general public and business owners in the area,” the directive states, later adding “… the KM are causing significant pollution and/or degradation of the environment and have not taken reasonable measures to prevent pollution and/or degradation from occurring and continuing, in respect of the WTS.”

The directive points out that a site visit by Environmental Management Inspectors revealed that there was no access control, thus allowing unauthorised access to the WTS; several vagrants were still present and living in informal structures on the property, as well as actively involved in the reclaiming and sorting of waste; these vagrants are living in unhygienic conditions with no basic sanitation or ablution facilities, thus contributing to the pollution of the stormwater channel which flows into the adjacent Knysna Lagoon. Large volumes of uncovered waste have been dumped/stored outside the WTS resulting in nuisances such as windblown litter occurring on the adjoining properties, excessive foul odours, and the presence of vermin and flies.

The second directive referred to Knysna’s crumbling sewerage infrastructure and its effect on the Knysna Lagoon in particular.

After again acknowledging the Municipality’s efforts to address the situation in terms of the 18 December Action Plan, the directive states “The Knysna Estuary remains highly polluted from continuous overflows emanating from pipeline and manholes in the Hunters Home and Hornlee Residential area into the Bigai River, as well as the overflows from the conservancy tank at The Woods, Lake Brenton.”
Further, it leaves no doubt as to where the Director’s department felt the blame lies.
“… your Municipality is causing and has caused significant pollution of the environment and the Knysna Estuary and its respective aquatic and marine/coastal ecosystems by failing to take reasonable measures to prevent such pollution from continuing or recurring.

“The current state of pollution within the Bigai River and the Knysna Estuary, as well as the inadequate sewerage infrastructure and lack of maintenance at the Woods, Lake Brenton, is not only causing significant pollution of the environment and the Knysna Estuary and the associated aquatic and coastal environment, but may also impact negatively on the health and well-being of the public and the residents residing along Bigai River and the affected areas within the Knysna Estuary.”

Both of the Provincial Law Enforcement directives issued a comprehensive list of actions that need to be taken by the Knysna Municipality, under the leadership of the Municipal Manager, within strict time-frames should the recipients wish to avoid prosecution.

These actions will be closely monitored by the provincial authorities through regular site visits and compulsory updates / feedback meetings.