A steady flow of filth

2014-09-26 00:00

USED condoms, dirty water-logged nappies, dead animals, an array of litter and other assorted objects are among the flotsam flowing down the Msunduzi River at Pietermaritzburg on any given day.

Ahead of the World Rivers Day on Sunday, KwaZulu-Natal academics and river ecologists paddled over three kilometres through tons of rubbish dumped in the river from the Low-Level Bridge to Darvill Sewage Farm to assess the river this week.

The river and its tributaries run through many areas that pollute it. Waste from industrial companies, sewage from informal settlements near the river and dumping from other areas are the main causes of the shocking levels of pollution.

Plastic, scrapped cars, a discarded pram, light bulbs, plastic toilets and households appliances that have been dumped in the river are choking the water flow.

Industries produce oil and chemical waste which are harmful to flora and organisms. In some cases heavy metals such as copper and mercury are added to the toxic mix in the river.

The Dorpspruit, which runs through Jika Joe informal settlement, the Slangspruit above the Duzi River confluence, and Baynespruit, which runs through Sobantu Township, are the worst affected.

Health concerns have been raised as communities use the filthy water in their households, cattle drink it and fishermen cast their lines among the tons of waste.

Environmental field manager at Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), Bart Fokkens, said the situation is indicative of communities having no respect for the environment.

“The river is polluted horrendously. People lack respect for the law and the environment,” said Fokkens.

“This is a matter of education and people need to take the responsibility to keep rivers clean.”

He said it is also important to bear in mind that citizens bear a responsibility and cannot rely on the government to address this.

Dave Macleod of Gameplan Media said, “People’s perspective is that the river is clean, but in reality it’s horrific.

“Everyone should have enough pride that no litter lands in the river. Pietermaritzburg is choking to death because communities don’t take responsibility,” Macleod said.

“We use this river in summer for canoeing. The Dusi Marathon happens during the rainy season so often there is more pollution being washed into the river. The race was moved from January to February because there is too much rain [in January], with pollution and sewage spilling into the river.”

Macleod slammed the municipality for not taking responsibility. “There is a dump next to the river and there is no proper plan to manage it.”

UKZN environmental and pollution control laws Professor Michael Kidd said people must change the way they dispose of waste. “The quality of water is totally bad,” said Kidd.

“People either are not aware that what they are doing is wrong or, more likely, people just don’t care … The problem with the water for human use is the pollution one doesn’t see — the pathogens in the water.”

He said the municipality needs to keep its area clean, prevent or punish people littering and service those residential areas (formal and informal) near the rivers. The national Department of Water Affairs is doing very little to address this kind of problem, said Kidd.

• khanyisani.dlomo@witness.co.za

Msunduzi Municipality pollution control co-ordinator Clive Anthony said environmental health could carry out health education in the areas where the problems occur and disinfect the areas.

“It is also important to establish where the waste was found and whether it was dumped into the water course or near a water course; also where the possible sources of the waste could be from.

“If we cannot identify the culprits, then the security sub-unit and other peace officers [must] monitor the areas concerned.”

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