Dusi threat

2008-01-31 00:00

There are three sporting events in and around this city which have put Pietermaritzburg on the national sporting agenda. The first is the famous Comrades Marathon, run between Durban and the capital city every year. The second is the increasingly popular Midmar Mile, swum on the nearby dam of that name. The third is the annual canoe marathon, contested over three days on the Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers as they flow towards the Indian Ocean. There was special jubilation this year when Michael Mbanjwa was the first black South African canoeist to come in as a winner with his paddling partner, Martin Dreyer.

News has now broken that over half the paddlers who participated in this year’s race have suffered from gastric illnesses, such as diarrhoea, as a result of contaminated river water. “Dusi guts” has been a well-known phenomenon over the years, but not to this extent. The organisers are threatening that if the problem is not adequately resolved, the race could be cancelled next year.

There were acknowledged problems ahead of this year’s race, with unacceptable E. coli levels caused in part by recent heavy rains which washed sewage from the Edendale valley into the river. Efforts were made to rectify the problem and a difficult decision was taken to go ahead with the race. Now it seems that this decision was probably unwise.

It is clearly important that all interested parties, including the municipality and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, should get together with a view to resolving this problem before next year’s race. Socio-economic deprivation and an absence of proper sanitation in portions of the city lie at the heart of the problem and this needs to be addressed with vigour. For here is an opportunity for a focusing of the mind in microcosm just as, in macrocosm, the nation as a whole, electricity outages notwithstanding, is seeking to focus its mind around the hosting of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 and all the infrastructural work that this will entail.

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