Poisonous chemicals have been dumped into the Mlumati River in Swaziland/eSwatini killing hundreds of fish and affecting more than 3,000 people who rely on its water.
It happened near Lufafa Gold Mine. The Mlumati River supports communities at Lufafa, Hhelehhele, Mbasheni, Ntfonjeni, Zibonele, Emvembili, Matsamo, Timphisini and Driekoppies. It also serves parts of neighbouring South Africa.
According to the Swazi Observer poisoned waste entered the river on Monday (7 January 2019).
Hhelehhele caretaker chief Prince Nkhosi Mankenya said children gathered dead fish, cooked and ate them. He said, 'It is a sad truth that people, mostly children, are collecting and eating the dead fish. I have asked community police to try and remove as much of the dead fish as possible from the community for disposal into dug up pits.'
The eSwatini Environment Authority has collected water samples for testing. Communications Officer Belusile Mhlanga told the Observer, 'These samples are to be analysed in a laboratory to identify the cause of death in the fish. After establishing the cause of death, we will then approach the suspects with evidence in hand. At this particular point, the suspects will be given time to explain if the toxic water dumping was intentional or an accident.'
She added, 'After this grace period, the suspects are then arrested and brought before court for the illegal disposal of toxic waste. If found guilty, they face a fine of E250,000 [US$18,000] for their reckless disposal of the waste. It is important to note that most organisations have government permits to dispose of their waste after treating it.'
National Disaster Management Agency Communications Officer Wandile Mavuso said currently the incident could not be labelled a disaster but people should be careful and avoid eating the dead fish until all information is collected.
The poisoning highlights the poor state of water provision in Swaziland. According to WaterAid almost one in three of the kingdom's 1.3 million people do not have clean water and two in five have nowhere to go to the toilet. More than 200 children aged under five die each year from diarrhoea.
According to the eSwatini Environment Authority the main sources of pollution in rivers in Swaziland are agricultural activities. Pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other agrochemicals is thought to be increasing. Another source of agricultural pollution is livestock excreta.