''Army pollution patrol'' for Vaal River and region

News that the South African National Defence Force will be deploying in Emfuleni to both stabilise and turn around the environmental and economic disaster caused by sewage pollution in the once-magnificent Vaal River system will be welcomed by all communities and stakeholders.

The timing and proposed yearlong duration of the military intervention again emphasises the importance of Emfuleni to the electoral ambitions of the ruling ANC in next year’s general election - and again underlined in a top-level SA Army briefing to Golden Triangle Chamber of Commerce (GTCoC) members at Stonehaven-on-Vaal last week.

Because the ongoing pollution of the priceless and irreplaceableVaal River system is literally everybody’sbusiness - not only thatof tireless GTCoC water and environmental
activists whose advocacy is now bearing fruit in unprecedented levels of Government involvement in this and other service delivery issues.  The GTCoC leadership and
membership has in 2018 been instrumental in leveraging a broad swathe of funding, service delivery capacity-building and infrastructure enhancement at all levels of Government for all communities in Emfuleni, culminating in the present crisis and military intervention.

Yet for all the benefits that an incisive and clearly-defined military intervention should bring to Emfuleni and the Vaal environment, both practical and perceived success will clearly hinge on the quality of stakeholder engagement and level of transparency adopted by the SANDF with key roleplayers such as the GTCoC and others.  Success in such operations will be defined by not only how well the military can temporarily stabilise and turn around the present situation in the short term, but to what extent they can create sustainability - and that means empowering and taking along partners and stakeholders every step of the way.

And the prerequisite to physically secure and protect some 46 infrastructure pump stations and other strategic assets - even before tackling pollution - will create a new and potentially fractious front for both community and the SANDF.  Fighting infrastructure crime and sabotage with soldiers could tempt both municipal officialdom and the SA Army to make the classic military miscalculation of cloaking social development operations in secrecy and acting in isolation.

It is both a political and military maxim (and yes, also applicable to domestic situations) that Truth is the first casualty in any conflict, but with the appropriate engagement and co-operation fora and platforms with the media and GTCoC and others, there is every reason to look forward to measurable and beneficial resultsfor all concerned. - Editorial comment by Craig Kotze