HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Marcus Pawson, Head: Local Government at AfriForum, South African...

Exclusive interview with Marcus Pawson, Head: Local Government at AfriForum, South African civil-rights organisation

Marcus PawsonLet’s start with some background on AfriForum and the work that you do.

AfriForum registered as a NPO in 2005 with a specific focus on Constitutional Rights and minorities in particular, in essence a civil rights organisation. From AfriForum’s inception until 2009, the organisation achieved several successes in campaigns that had a national influence.

The most important successes were name changes, against race-based legislation, government sports interference, hate speech, racism, farm murders and crime in general and to safeguard property rights.

Since 2010 AfriForum started creating community structures in every town and city in South Africa. The aim was to help communities focus on local government issues, community safety and importantly environmental issues.

AfriForum’s environmental portfolio has developed community projects that focus on water quality (blue and green drop), sustainable water supply, auditing landfill sites, planting indigenous trees and auditing the cleanliness of cities and towns to clean up our towns and cities. AfriForum currently has 170 000 members and branches in 125 cities and towns in South Africa.

What kind of projects is your department of Local Government involved in?

AfriForum’s Local Government portfolio has a twofold strategy. The first is to have government of all spheres held accountable for government services and environmental responsibilities. The second is a “do it ourselves” approach where we reach a point that communication and good relationships with government have not delivered on promises and AfriForum then takes on the responsibility of fixing the immediate problem. In both strategies a legal strategy is applied to ensure that the best outcome is achieved.

AfriForum Environmental Affairs is responsible for the following annual projects:

  1. The Blue and Green Drop Project – Every branch receives a water test kit along with training to test potable water (blue drop test) at schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. This ensures that clean drinking water is provided by testing samples on the SANS 241 standards. The AfriForum branch tests the treated sewerage outlet from Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTWs) into our water systems to ensure that government does not pollute the environment. AfriForum then compiles the test results in a report (since 2013) and this report is made public. This report has become even more important to communities as the Department of Water Affairs has not released their blue and green drop report on since 2011.
  2. Sustainable water supply – All AfriForum branches report water leaks and sewerage overflows to the relevant authorities and even act to fix the problem themselves. Regular meetings with senior management of municipalities are held to discuss these issues and followed up on progress.
  3. Auditing landfill sites – All AfriForum branches are trained and given an easy to read audit form that scores landfill sites on their compliment of minimum standards for licences landfill sites. Results are captured in a report and made public and AfriForum places pressure on municipalities to improve and/or fix areas of non-conformity.
  4. Tree planting Month – AfriForum and AfriForum branches plant indigenous trees during September month every year. A project plan is provided to all branches and members involved detailing indigenous trees and the suitability and various climates these will thrive in. This ensures that only indigenous trees are planted yearly in public parks, schools and inner cities and towns to make these spaces green and clean.
  5. Auditing the cleanliness of cities and towns – This project aims to identify polluted and littered areas in towns and cities where AfriForum then cleans these areas with municipal assistance or by doing the work ourselves. All rubble is removed to landfill sites and streets are cleaned.

Can you share any success stories/case studies with us?

The AfriForum Blue and Green Drop Projects were started in 2015 and identified five towns where potable water was unsafe for human consumption. All affected municipalities were notified and placed on terms to fix the crises. All five affected towns where cleaned after a second round of water tests were done a week later.

The AfriForum Green Drop Project revealed major infrastructure and management problems in Standerton regarding sewerage water polluting the Vaal River which flows into the Vaal Dam. AfriForum’s local branch was unsuccessful in discussions with the local municipality to budget for repairs and do upgrades on infrastructure. Eventually in October 2015, the branch contracted an engineer who installed a concrete pipe for sewerage flow to the WWTW and not directly into the Vaal River.

Annually AfriForum plants 2000 indigenous trees across South Africa during September.

AfriForum in partnership with Treasure the Karoo Group (TKAG) has campaigned for the prevention of fracking in the Karoo. The campaign proved to be strong and successful. The partnership is ready to take government to court in 2016 regarding imperfections within the regulations to give prospecting rights in South Africa.

Any upcoming projects in the utility sphere that you can share?

AfriForum is ready with a court application that will ensure government management of WWTWs are fully qualified and staffed with the necessary variety of personnel that is needed on sites of every WWTW.

If successful the result will greatly improve the management of the WWTWs in South Africa.

What in your view are the main challenges in South Africa’s electricity and water sectors today?

The proper planning of future demand for infrastructure and management of current infrastructure supported by sufficient budgetary planning. Water is cheap in South Africa, which is one of the 30 most water scarce countries in the world and is in need of an independent custodian.

How important is it for civil society to have its say/contribute?

Water affects us all and every aspect of our lives. Thus every citizen should be active in water preservation and management thereof. We all should be active watchdogs when it comes to water. It is therefore very important to make a contribution and have a say.

What will be your message at African Utility Week this?

The difference active communities can make in their respective towns and cities when they act as a united group to hold government responsible and apply the “do it yourself” principle to prevent pollution and preserve water.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.