A subsistence fisherman, on a raft made from polystyrene, throws a net out into Blue Lagoon. Picture: Duncan Guy.
A subsistence fisherman, on a raft made from polystyrene, throws a net out into Blue Lagoon. Picture: Duncan Guy.

A year of raw sewage

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Jan 1, 2022

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Often this year, the smells around Lavender Creek, where city centre water enters the bay near Point Yacht Club, has not lived up to the name of the herb known for its fragrance.

When sewerage works have been dysfunctional, raw sewage has poured out, even prompting authorities to ban fishing, diving and other activities.

On the other side of the city, cyclists who normally remove their face masks during their vigorous exercise sessions, sometimes put them on again while pedalling up the inland extension to the beachfront promenade along the shore of Blue Lagoon.

Fishermen have risked hauling out contaminated catches.

This, as “clumps and lumps” of raw sewage have made their way from further up the Mgeni River into the sea, joining more of the same vile muck believed to have entered from stormwater drains via overflowing manholes.

Subsistence fisherman Sifiso Duma throws his net off the M4 bridge, into Blue Lagoon. Picture: Duncan Guy

Fingers have been pointed at the city for poor maintenance of infrastructure as well as load shedding. The latter causes a build-up of untreated sewage that treatment works are unable to cope with, leading to quantities of it apparently returning to natural water courses untreated.

It took a little army of young surfers returning from a Sunday “Nippers” session falling violently ill in September before the eThekwini Municipality got around to closing several beaches. It spoiled part of the Heritage Day long weekend for many beachgoers, including visitors from outside of the city.

The tourism industry warned the city to “sort your sewage out” ahead the current tourist season, which as far as can be established, has so far been free of problems.

Among the sewerage works that have been under the spotlight are the Joanna Road pump station and the Mahatma Gandhi treatment works.

Joanna Road, close to an informal settlement, is reportedly particularly problematic because its illegal electricity connection had been attached to its infrastructure.

Staff trying to fix it have allegedly even been shot at.

In November, urgent repairs were carried out at the Mahatma Gandhi Pump Station with teams working through the night.

At Blue Lagoon, when E Coli levels have been through the roof, canoeists made the best of a bad situation by planning races close to the mouth and at high tide, to ensure that paddlers were in areas of water with maximum dilution of sewage.

Steve Cohen, a veteran canoeist and founder of the advocacy group Durbanites Against Plastic Pollution, warned that if Durban’s sewerage infrastructure crisis was not turned around, most of the city’s rivers and many of its beaches would be closed for recreational use in the next five years.

Meanwhile, further up the river and beyond the city sewage belt, a UKZN masters degree student has found that in Nagle and Inanda dams, fish have continued to be poisoned by metals, including mercury, arsenic and selenium.

“We saw from the livers of fish that some had liver damage, mainly from polluted waters,” said Ashish Misra, noting that the liver is the organ for detoxification of the body.

Misra added that the highest levels occurred in the invasive bass because they are carnivores, and also high in omnivorous catfish, but less so in yellowfish, which are also omnivores, and herbivorous tilapia.

He further noted that the metal poisoning affected the reproductive health of fish.

Older fish appeared to have higher amounts of metals in their tissues owing to them having accumulated there over time.

Misra further noted that the Mgeni River catchment area had a history of toxins leaking into the water, notably involving Thor Chemicals, which was closed down after having been suspected, along with other factories, of releasing toxins that were disastrous for both people and the environment.

Misra said that if the metals went further up the food chain, into people, it could cause cancer, neurotoxic disorders, pulmonary damage, liver damage, bone damage and a reduced compromised immune system.

Desmond d’Sa, co-ordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said that a few years ago his organisation was able to get dead fish analysed and found mercury in the fish.

“Also, through talking to fisherfolk at Cuttings Beach, they found that the hair on their legs turned white,” he said.

Independent on Saturday

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