South Africa: Raw Sewage Flows Into Sundays River, Possibly for Years Already

17 February 2020

Municipality says mechanical and electrical failure causing spillage

Raw sewage from a municipal sewage works has been flowing into the Sundays River near Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape. A flood of excrement runs from the Kroonvale Brug Sewage Pump Station through a grass morass before it enters the river.

The untreated waste can be smelled in the town.

Acting media liaison officer at Beyers Naude Municipality Edwardine Abader said that mechanical and electrical failure of the pumps was causing the spillage. The pumps were sent for repairs. "We are awaiting their return in order to install them again," she said.

Abader could not say how long the sewage has been flowing into the river neither could she give a timeline as to when it will be stopped.

"We have appointed a contractor to come and clean the affected areas," she said.

Abader said: "We conducted a long-term assessment project on what we could do to rectify the situation ... The municipality would require R139 million to replace all sewage systems in towns under us. There is a need to apply for funding for the programme to take place."

Liz Buisman, secretary of the Graaff-Reinet Residents and Ratepayers Association, blamed the municipality for failing to upgrade the sewer system.

"This breaking down of the pumps has been happening on and off for more than five years. We have engaged the municipality on several occasions but they just don't heed our advice," she said. "The municipality told us they have problems with vandalism and that they didn't have enough money to buy better performing engines."

The pump station was badly vandalised in 2014 and appears not to have been properly fixed since then.

"We tried to intervene but our efforts are not welcomed. In the past, we used to write petitions but the municipality ignored those petitions. We hope the departments of Water and Sanitation and that of the Environmental, Forestry and Fisheries will come to rescue us," said Buisman.

"There are children who swim in the river, [who are] at risk of contracting diseases. There are also farmers and some municipalities downstream who use water from the river, not to mention various animals that depend on the river for survival. All these get polluted by the sewage."

Kroonvale resident Marvin Klaas said: "Our houses are about one kilometre from the river but the heavy pungent smell affects us."

A security guard who works at the Margery Parks TB hospital in Kroonvale said patients complain. "It is worse when there is heavy wind. It blows the smell right here."

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