Msunduzi has been blamed for its “lax response” in addressing the problem of sewage in city streams.
This resulted in those occupying the neighbouring properties having to live with a suffocating stench wafting into their homes day and night.
Some of the areas that were severely affected were Pelham, where ward councillor Vic Winterbach said the pollution was also posing serious health risks for school children and university students who were exposed to the Pelham Spruit.
The stream, which was once the main attraction at the Pelham Primary’s award-winning conservation project, had hundreds of litres of raw sewage flowing through it from the City’s sanitation network.
Winterbach said in addition to timeously attending to blocked drains and burst pipes, the City also needed to be tougher on unscrupulous companies who were flouting the bylaws on the disposing of effluent.
“The Cleland, Meadows area residents are subject to constant smells from the contaminated and discoloured Mkondeni Spruit … One day the water is snow-white and the next it’s blood-red. These companies keep doing this because when they are caught they only pay a fine of about R5 000, which is not much for most of them,” he said.
Pelham principal Lorrel Wissing said the school took over the upkeep of the park as part of the City’s “adopt a spot” programme several years ago. pupils planted all the trees around it. She said the park was not just for the public to enjoy, but also used as an alternative classroom to break the mundaneness that children had to deal with due to lockdown.
“It’s very sad that we can’t do that now because it’s an ideal place to bring kids to so that they get some fresh air.
“This park is really a wonderful facility but the pollution has actually turned it into health hazard.”
Former Pelham headmaster Louis Botha, who retired in 2014, said the sewage pollution has been around for about eight or nine years, but it worsened every time it rained.
“We are now left with this putrid mess because of the inefficiency of this municipality ... This stream runs into the Duzi and the Duzi runs into Umgeni. In two months we are going to have the canoe marathon and they have do the test to check the water quality. Imagine what’s going to happen if the event is cancelled because of the pollution?”
Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust’s (Duct) pollution officer Sanele Vilakazi confirmed that water testing in tributaries around the Pietermaritzburg area over the years continued to indicate ongoing pollution from industrial effluent discharges, sewage spills and leaks.
“In some instances, surcharging manholes have continued unabated for long durations, spewing their contents into an already strained river system. Duct’s river care teams report and monitor these incidents on a daily basis.”
City spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said theft and vandalism — stolen metal manhole covers and even vandalised concrete ring manholes — resulted in dirt and grit entering the sewer systems. She said this inadvertently resulted in blockages to the City’s sanitation systems and caused stormwater to enter the sewer system, which ended up overflowing downstream.
“Sewers rarely ‘leak’, however, they do overflow at manholes where lids have been stolen for their scrap value and where residents put liquids and solids into the sewers which should not go in,” she said.
Mafumbatha said the industry effluent discharged into sewer systems was regulated by a trade permits as per the water and sanitation bylaws. The monitoring, she said, was done on a monthly basis in the form of sampling of the effluent by Umgeni Water on Msunduzi’s behalf.
She said Msunduzi was aware portions of its sanitation systems required funding for complete rehabilitation, replacement or relocation.
“E. coli monitoring of our streams and rivers have increased over recent years which correlates to the number of blocked sewers that are reported over the same period. Within the confines of our budgetary constraints we are trying to ensure that this vital and essential service is prioritised accordingly.
“This priority goes beyond just the capital investment, but also internal operational resources (staff, tools and specialised fleet) and protocols.”
Mafumbatha said the City also had an agreement with Duct, whose team was assisting to locate sources of pollution or overflowing systems and to clear areas that needed to be monitored regularly.