Original Research

Emfuleni’s wastewater crisis, 2018-2021: The history of a Vaal sub-catchment problem

Johann W.N. Tempelhoff
New Contree | Vol 86 | a23 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/nc.v86i0.23 | © 2023 Johann W.N. Tempelhoff | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 January 2023 | Published: 30 July 2021

About the author(s)

Johann W.N. Tempelhoff, North-West University, South Africa

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In 2018 the collapse of the wastewater infrastructure of Gauteng’s Emfuleni Local Municipality was responsible for a severe fish-kill in the Vaal River Barrage. Even communities downstream of the Barrage were affected. The disaster was most evident at the riverside holiday town of Parys, tourism operations on the riverbank in the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site and the Bloemhof Dam. Emfuleni’s crisis was the result of almost two decades of delays and underinvestment in the maintenance and upgrade of a local wastewater system earmarked for regional service delivery.

Today’s Emfuleni has an illustrious history, dating back to the founding of the industrial towns of Vereeniging (1891) and Vanderbijlpark (1943). Both are situated downstream of where the Klip, Blesbokspruit and Suikerbos rivers fork into the Vaal River. Thanks to local coal mining, electricity generation and copious water supplies, industrial development thrived in the twentieth century.

The 1994 demise of South Africa’s white-ruled governance system paved the way for a post-apartheid non-racial democracy. At this time there were significant changes in governance, demographics and economic development. Local population growth and the concomitant regional post-industrial development continue to have a profound impact on the Vaal River Barrage and the downstream communities.

This study highlights the Integrated Vaal River system, the historical origins of today’s Emfuleni, and culminates with a discussion on the disaster of 2018 and its aftermath up until 2021.


Integrated Vaal River System (IVRS); Vaal River Barrage; Emfuleni Local Municipality (ELM); wastewater infrastructure; Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW); Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE); Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS)


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