Sewage spill causes a stink in Cape Town suburb

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The Rietvlei section of the Table Bay Nature Reserve. (Jenni Evans, News24)
The Rietvlei section of the Table Bay Nature Reserve. (Jenni Evans, News24)

A faulty sewage pump is causing a stink among residents of Table View in Cape Town who are concerned about the environment and potential for diseases.

"Our water safety is being obliterated," said Table View Ratepayers' Association chairperson Mandy da Matta. "When does the City want to catch a wake up?"

According to Da Matta, the spill on October 3 showed that the municipality was not keeping up with utility infrastructure and maintenance required for the extremely fast development happening in the area.

However, Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste Xanthea Limberg said the spill was due to a fault at the Table View East sewage pump station.

Limberg added that people blocking sewers with inappropriate objects and "land invasions" in areas without facilities might have contributed to it.

Da Matta expressed concern over the possible contamination of the Diep River, which winds its way through the suburb.

She claimed the City was not investing in more infrastructure to cope with the increased pressure on utilities and services.

Da Matta said that before the spill, a highly publicised protest over taxis wanting more permits for the area also illustrated the fast pace of development, adding the City was struggling to keep up. 

She also questioned whether inspectors were adequately policing people who were building without plans, or landlords who were allowing overcrowding in rented rooms. 

The association was also concerned that the City had taken days to put up signs warning people that the water was not fit for bathing, swimming or drinking.

Da Matta wanted the City to be more proactive to prevent problems, rather than merely react to them. She claimed it would often blame the national government for its woes.

Diep River not contaminated - City

Limberg said mobile diesel pumps were currently being used while the damaged pump was being repaired.

The spill has apparently not flowed into the Diep River or Rietvlei, which is next to the R27 on the way to suburbs such as Dolphin Beach and Bloubergstrand.

The City planned to submit samples from Rietvlei and Diep River as part of a due diligence process. 

Sewage spill at the Rietvlei section

Sewage spill at the Rietvlei section of Table Bay Nature Reserve (Supplied)

It would also run educational campaigns around preventing sewer blockages throughout the metro and has applied for funding to prevent contaminated run-off from entering the river system. 

Limberg added "recently invaded land" was unserviced at first and this had resulted in the pollution of nearby water bodies until municipal services such as sewers and toilets were provided. 

"As mentioned above, the vast majority of sewer overflows are caused by the misuse of the system, rather than capacity constraints," she said.

Dr Jo Barnes, who works at Stellenbosch University's water-borne diseases unit at Tygerberg Hospital, remarked, "that's extremely convenient".

Government spheres passing the buck

Barnes added it was not people blocking sewers, or land invasions that were the problem.

Poor maintenance and upkeep was a widespread problem in South Africa, she said, and the departments of water and sanitation, environmental affairs, and cooperative governance passed the buck whenever there was a spill.

Rietvlei section of Table Bay Nature Reserve

Rietvlei section of Table Bay Nature Reserve (Supplied)

Barnes added sewage spills were happening in established "formal" suburbs and new informal settlements, saying proper municipal oversight was needed to hold the responsible bodies to account.

"In part we have the municipalities doing the least they can get away with, and also, because they are cash-strapped. I am really, really, really worried because we are not even creating channels but highways for the outbreak of diseases."

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