Stench warfare: family’s sewage spill battle rages on
For six years they have put up with the stink and health hazard - but Joburg Water has dug in its heels
Years after sewage spilled onto his Joburg property, causing extensive damage and a health risk, the fight for compensation is still causing quite a stink.
Gabriel Mpato of Kelvin, north of the city, is demanding R3.5m for damages after his house was “engulfed” in spilling sewage for “six years”.
His only recourse now is taking the fight to court – but it’s a fight he cannot afford.
Johannesburg Water, the city’s water utility, is offering compensation of R514,875, but Mpato’s refusal to accept the offer has left the two parties in a deadlock.
Mpato lodged a complaint with the city’s Office of the Ombudsman in 2015, after he refused the offer of R478,953 on his public liability claim with Johannesburg Water.He told Times Select he was forced to move his family from their home at the time when the stench from the murky streams edging his house and flowing all the way into the swimming pool had made it “inhabitable”.
“Our misery started in 2009 when, suddenly, sewerage water started shooting through our perimeter wall from the back of our property. A spillage from a neighbour’s property was reported to Joburg Water and for years it was never permanently fixed until January 2015,” Mpato said.
“We could not live a normal life at home. We could not invite friends and family over. Despite not being able to use the swimming pool or the garden area, the stench from the sewage alone was unbearable.”
In his liability claim to Johannesburg Water, Mpato listed damage to the pool, gate, carpets, garden and paint on perimeter walls, among other things.
“My family was exposed to a health hazard, given the entire sewage spill that found its way into our swimming pool and around other parts of the property,” he said.But his biggest worry was “my fear that the sewerage which has left clear marks inside and outside at least one room, have now seeped through the foundation of the entire house and structural damages can only show in future”.
“I can’t afford structural engineers to assess the extent of damage to the structure or determine what can happen in the future,” Mpato said.
For this reason he believes the R3.5m compensation is “justifiable”.
When he first lodged his liability claim, Mpato asked for R310,000, which was an estimated amount to cover cleaning up (R5,000), damp-related services (R90,000), the pavement (R125,000), and pool repairs (R25,000).
“I know the R310,000 was not sufficient because I didn’t know the extent of spillage and the structural damage it may have caused. Now I think R3.5m is justifiable to cover all damages, including consequential, and for the suffering we have been through,” he said.The city’s ombudsman has recommended that Johannesburg Water “assist (Mpato) and facilitate the finalisation of the claim with the insurance company within 21 days of signing this report (signed on December 15 2017). In finalising his claim and taking into consideration the amount of time that has lapsed since the sewerage spillage, the office recommends that the principle of fairness, justice and equitable be considered. In relation to the claim for general damages, (Mpato) is advised to pursue the claim through courts.”
The Office of the Ombudsman’s spokesperson, Vukile Madlala, said that according to the law, “in the event of the recommended corrective action not being implemented, the Office of the Ombudsman may refer the matter to the City Manager and relevant management structures for intervention’’.
However, that was “not necessary at this stage as there is compliance on the side of Johannesburg Water to implement the report but refusal to accept the offer on the side of the Complainant (Mpato)”.“The office will be organising a meeting with (Mpato) to communicate the response received from Johannesburg Water.”
Johannesburg Water spokesperson Isaac Dhludhlu said the utility has sought legal advice since Mpato “has no claim in law for general damages and if such claim was pursued in court Johannesburg Water should oppose it”.
“Johannesburg Water has observed the loss adjuster recommendation that this offer is based on the costs to repair damages caused; therefore, the offer does not include the R3m that the client is claiming for pain and suffering,” Dhludhlu said.
“The loss adjuster has indicated that the increased offer was final and would not be further increased. Thus, even if Johannesburg Water had actively tried to persuade the insurer to increase the patrimonial loss/damages offer it appears very unlikely that this would have happened.”