And while the eThekwini Municipality has denied that the Hillcrest Wastewater Treatment Works was failing to process sewage properly, as was being claimed, a city spokesperson said discarded fats, oils and greases (FOGs) were going through unprocessed.
The raw sewage, foam and scum travels down to nearby communities where it is used as drinking water - and children swim in it.
Denzil Bazley, of the nearby Giba Gorge Environmental Precinct, said the municipality had declined invitations to go on a site visit to the treatment works plant. He maintains that the plant, “for many months, probably a year”, has not been maintained and thousands of tons of raw sewage was being discharged into the Umhlatuzana River as a result.
“We are considering taking legal action against individuals in the city for failing to do their part,” he said yesterday.
Bazely, a mechanical engineer and director of the precinct, was appointed by the city to manage the maintenance of the plant from 1997 to 2008.
“In 2008, the plant was in good working order and had been upgraded, though it was still at the limits of its capacity.
“The plant is failing to process sewage from Hillcrest, which mainly comes from restaurants, takeaway outlets and homes.
“Maintenance contracts for the plant expired a year ago and have not been renewed, and limited efforts by municipal artisans have not yielded a restoration of functions,” he said.
Bazley said members of the precinct had visited the plant in the last two months and found that the water leaving the works was brown, and fat and raw sewage was accumulating in the river.
“No amount of chlorination, which appears to be non-functional anyway, can mitigate this health hazard.
“It was clear that the high fat and solids loading was not being treated effectively and there was a solids carry-over from the discharge into the Umhlatuzana River, as evidenced by foam and scum in the river,” he said.
Bazley took samples of the water being discharged into the river, which he said was meant to be clear and not brown, and sent them to be tested by an accredited laboratory. They are still waiting for the results.
Raw sewage was flowing through Giba Gorge as well as to communities downstream, which included Itshelimnyama and Ekukhanyeni, he said.
Itshelimnyama councillor Sifiso Ngcobo said he had not received any complaints about the water quality.
However, a resident of Ekukhanyeni, which falls under Ngcobo’s ward, said they had never had running tap water in their area and relied on water tankers delivering water to them.
“We live further up the river and don’t have direct access to it, but the water those tankers bring is from the river. Before we started boiling the water we used to have scabies; my whole family had it, and we had diarrhoea as well,” he said. “Now we boil the water before using it, but for two years we suffered.
“We noticed, after having the water in the house for a couple of days, there were little creatures in it,” he said.
Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the Hillcrest works was not failing to process sewage and that the problem was with FOGs.
“These go through the works unprocessed, as the works was not designed to handle this. This is evident in the final effluent discharged from the plant. A local business has been engaged to reduce FOGs coming to the works,” he said.
Mayisela said they were unaware of the alleged sewage flows and said the plant was being serviced.