Midmar Dam will be contaminated, experts warn

2008-07-30 00:00

Despite doubts over funding, poor location, a land ownership dispute and the potentially disastrous effect on water quality of building 4 000 low-cost houses too close to Midmar Dam, the uMngeni Municipality says the project has been approved and will commence as soon as they have the budget for it.

“We have got very astute … people who have approved building, and as soon as we are ready we will go ahead,” said uMngeni municipal manager Dumisani Vilakazi.

The municipality started the Khayelisha Housing Project six years ago with plans to build 4 000 low-cost houses on Hollywood Farm, situated on the Boston road between Mpophomeni and Howick. The farm is about 500 metres from wetlands, small dams and Midmar Dam.

Each house will accommodate about five people. If all the houses are occupied, this will translate into 20 000 people staying on a few acres of land close to natural sites that need to be conserved.

Environmentalists object that building so many houses so close to the dam and other wetlands will seriously affect the quality of water in the dam and contaminate the drinking water of residents from Howick all the way down to Durban.

Vilakazi said a new settlement has to be built as Mpophomeni has reached its limits and cannot be expanded.

Lin Gravelet-Blondin, deputy director of water quality management at the Water Affairs and Forestry Department, said: “Although we fully support citing of development further away from the dam, the implications of a sewage spill or storm- and rainwater runoff into either the wetlands or the dam are that the quality of the water will be spoiled.

“The dam will become as unclean as the Duzi, only the negative consequences will be on a much larger scale … swimming in the dam will not be safe and this will rule out annual events like the Midmar Mile.”

Vilakazi reacted to criticism that the municipality has failed to maintain sewage systems in Mpophomeni and the Prospect road settlement, saying: “We have had occasional bursts and leakages; you cannot call that failure.”

Another obstacle is funding.

Nottingham Road councillor Moira Grueneberg said the uMngeni Municipality already owes uMgungundlovu District R23,9 million.

“In order for the building to be approved, they need to upgrade sewerage facilities. They do not have this money and will have to borrow it from the district.

“But the district will not loan them any more money until they repay the money that is still outstanding,” said Grueneberg.

Advocate and bird lover Rob McCarthy says Hollywood Farm was unlawfully acquired by the municipality.

Advocate Keith Khoza, who was also head of the KZN Housing Department four years ago, is alleged to have acquired 17 properties without the department’s authority.

Hollywood Farm, a former dairy farm, was allegedly one of them. Though Khoza was arrested, Hollywood Farm is now owned by the department. “The transaction was unlawfully acquired with the help of advocate Khoza … I don’t see how they can build land on property that isn’t lawfully theirs,” McCarthy said.

Local Government and Housing Department spokesman Lennox Mabaso told The Witness that he would have to check on the legal ownership of the land, but said that issues relating to properties acquired by Khoza are currently being dealt with.

“I don’t want to talk about it, but building has been approved and I can promise you that we are definitely going ahead,” he said.

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