Published:  2015-10-17 Views:  1801
Published in:  Critical/Kritiek
Killing A River Quickly

From bad to worse to disastrous.  A Jukskei River, sometimes polluted with sewage from the Northern Wastewater Treatment Works, to a “Yuck-skei” River, continually polluted with sewage day after day, week after week.

 “This is the worst state the Jukskei River has been in for 30 years,” said Terry O’Donoghue, a long-standing Vlakfontein resident, referring to the stench and dark colour of the water flowing past his home in recent weeks. 

A helicopter flight along the river and over Northern Works on 30 September, arranged by Lukas and Wendy van Niekerk of Monaghan Farm, revealed a turgid, black stream of sewage emerging directly from the Works into the Jukskei and snaking for kilometres through the green countryside.  All of Joburg’s sewage north of the ridge close to the city’s centre is treated by these works situated on the Jukskei, next to Steyn City.

A black stream is discharged into the brown Jukskei water (not healthy-looking either).  The brown water disappears just before the second discharge takes place into the river.

“The Jukskei used to be something to be proud of - it was a privilege owning a piece of land on its banks,” says Roman Kőnig of Hills and Dales. “Today it’s an embarrassment and a liability.  It stinks! You can see the disgust on visitors’ faces when the smell hits them and they see the litter and rubbish hanging metres high in the trees along the banks. I am ashamed to take anyone down there!”

Prof Antony Turton, University of Free State expert in the sociology of water, reports that "4-billion litres of partially treated or untreated sewage flows into SA’s rivers every day".  It means, he says, the State is the single largest polluter of water in the country and has failed us in a fundamental obligation.

Vlakfontein is 12 to 15 kilometres downstream from the “treatment” works.  Several kilometres further down from Vlakfontein, beyond the confluence of the Jukskei and the Crocodile, is Paul Scherpenhuyzen’s Riverside Estates home. In early August he sent a photo of the river to VeldTalk.  “Even here the foaming water smells foul,” he said.  “Surely there must be something we can do?”  Not far from Paul’s home the Hennops River joins the Crocodile, which flows into Hartbeespoort Dam. “The Dam really stinks,” commented a cyclist riding in that area. Water from the Dam irrigates vast vegetable farms further along the Crocodile.   “What are people eating?!”

The Jukskei in Vlakfontein, several kilometres downstream from Northern Works, still stinking and flowing black.

Paul’s concern resulted in a petition, signed by local residents and also by a large number of HeronBridge College parents.  This prestigious school is just around the bend from Northern Works and gets the full blast of the stench coming from the river.

According to the Department of Water Affairs 98% of the rivers it assessed in the past year were at “high risk” because of the levels of faecal coliform - raw sewage.  The three rivers flowing through the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy - the Jukskei, Hennops and Crocodile - are severely polluted.  Recent malfunctions in the Blair Atholl Estate’s sewage treatment have resulted in spillage into the Crocodile and the Hennops is receiving tons of sewage and phosphates from upstream Pretoria and Thembisa.  And it all runs into Hartbeespoort Dam - in the heart of the Magaliesberg Biosphere.    

“Most of South Africa’s 821 municipal water treatment plants are releasing raw sewage into the country’s rivers,” writes Sipho Kings in the Mail&Guardian. “Water affairs department officials say they have been told to look the other way until after next year’s local government elections.”  A water affairs enforcement official, who insisted on anonymity, said:  “We have been led to understand that until the 2016 elections there should be less focus on exposing any wrongdoings at municipal plants.”  Water affairs is under the leadership of Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

The last major report into the plants, the 2012 Green Drop audit by Water Affairs, found that 317 were in a “critical state”. Only 40 were in an “excellent situation”.

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