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Sort your sewage out, tourism industry tells Durban. We can’t have the beaches closed for Christmas

Tourism industry insiders are demanding eThekwini Municipality sort out its sewerage treatment plants to ensure our beaches are pristine for the Christmas holidays.

Tourism industry insiders are demanding eThekwini Municipality sort out its sewerage treatment plants to ensure our beaches are pristine for the Christmas holidays.

Published Nov 6, 2021


Warning’s come after surfers spotted patches of mystery green slime off Durban beaches this week, and environmentalists warned of ’extremely bad’ ecoli readings in the uMngeni River

TOURISM stake holders have one message for eThekwini Municipality: sort your sewage out or we’re going to have a bad festive season.

This was after surfers spotted mystery patches of green slime off Durban's beaches this week, others fell ill from using the water, and environmentalists warned of "extremely bad" e-coli readings in the uMngeni River.

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The municipality has a month to sort out its sewerage treatment system before the start of the holiday season and has been told to use the time to avoid a similar disaster to the Heritage Day weekend which began with beaches being closed because of sewage pollution.

“The City has the time and space to get the problem rectified before the December rush,” said Brett Tungay, East Coast chair of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa), adding that the tourism sector had been engaging extensively with the municipality.

“It is critical not only for tourism, but also for the city. We remain hopeful that the issue will be sorted out. This month gives the city leeway.”

Tungay said tourism across the province “is not looking pretty for November”.

Bookings indicated that the holiday season would start around December 15, the day before Reconciliation Day, which this year falls on a Thursday, he said. Schools break up on December 15.

Recent reports of polluted water by surfers surfaced this week at around the time of the latest round of load shedding.

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The city denied any knowledge of it and questioned whether it was indeed water pollution that caused some to reportedly be “man down”.

“We wish all those surfers a speedy recovery,” said municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela.

He acknowledged that load shedding had a negative impact on sewer pumps, so the city was looking into buying generators to assist in providing power during load shedding.

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Unable to offer further details, he said the city had close to 200 sewer pumps. “For obvious reasons it will cost a fortune to have a generator installed in each one of them.”

Load shedding was “not expected to be so unrelenting”, he added. “Hence the City is looking into the issue of generators.”

Janet Simpkins, director of Adopt-A-River, questioned why the city was only now recognising the need for generators. “They have known about this problem for how long? And now it’s an issue,” she said.

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She added that serious and ongoing vandalism had also existed at three problematic pump stations along the uMngeni River.

“At one of them it’s been longer than two years.”

Simpkins also said that recent water tests at four places in the lower reaches of the river showed “extremely bad” e-coli readings.

Blue Flag project manager Morgan Griffiths said there had been “no red flags on the blue flag” issue recently, except for beaches affected by the UPL chemical spill.

He noted that there had been recent issues on the Bluff and that vandalism had also been a factor the municipality had to deal with.

Beach users spoke of how it was often a case of “hit and miss”.

Craig Chapman said friends had managed to escape unscathed when he was so ill, his doctor had to administer a drip on him three times before he could recover from dehydration brought about by diarrhoea.

“And R5 000 in medical bills, which is the cost of a second-hand surf board,” he quipped, referring to surfer economics.

Chapman added that on Wednesday this week he escaped getting sick after making his way around green slime on the surface of the water near New Pier.

Surfer and oceanographer Lisa Gaustella added: “Once again, all we want is clean water.”

In September, 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.

The Independent on Saturday