SA more than capable of fixing sewage crisis, says expert

A sewerage pipe overflows in Mayville, Durban, after heavy rains. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

A sewerage pipe overflows in Mayville, Durban, after heavy rains. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Oct 19, 2022


Durban – Head of South Africa’s Research Chair Initiative (Sarchi) for Climate Change and Waste Management, Professor Christina Trois, says the country has the technical and technological capacity to solve its sewage woes.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal alumni spoke to IOL on Wednesday, as we sought to find a solution to the sewage problem in Durban and other parts of KZN.

Trois said the country’s expertise in water purification and other waste management techniques have pioneered the industry and that there is no doubt the country can fix the problems.

She said, however, that the problem must first be understood.

“At the moment, we need to have a better understanding of the problem that is causing the current situation. It is a combined effect of failing infrastructure, not fully maintained infrastructure.

“From an engineering point of view, the situation is very complex. Because we are dealing with areas where there is formal infrastructure that can be engineered but there are also parts of the municipality where there are informal settlements. That sewage also needs to be taken into consideration,” Trois said.

Professor Cristina Trois. Picture: UKZN

On Tuesday, the DA’s spokesperson on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Heinz de Boer, who had toured the province, identifying areas with sewage disposal problems, said the issue was not confined to Durban.

He revealed that during his time as a councillor, the municipality had taken them to Namibia and other countries to learn about methods of service delivery.

It was discovered that Namibians recycled their sewage water, mixed it with their fresh water supply, which is stored underground because of the heat, and pumped this to taps around the country.

He said in this way, they dealt with sewage disposal and water supply in one system.

“How do islands like Mauritius and Seychelles deal with the sewage? Tourism is their only form of sustainable income. If their beaches close their economy will be in bad shape. We need to start looking outside SA and adapting some of the best practices.

“We know what needs to be done, I think it just needs to be implemented,” de Boer said.

But the burden should not fall on the shoulders of the state alone, as residents around the city and province had also designed their homes in such a way that their stormwater leads into the sewers, he added.

“You will find when it rains, sewers quickly start overflowing. What I’ve noticed is that when people build their homes, they do not channel their stormwater properly, so when it rains, that waters goes into the sewer, instead of a Jojo tank or soak patch, for instance,” de Boer said.

Trois said she was aware of this and that South Africa was responsible for pioneering some of the leading technology in the field of waste management and water purification.

IOL asked Trois if she thought the system would work in South Africa.

“Absolutely, there is no doubt it would work here,” the first woman dean of engineering at UKZN said.

“The technology is available in South Africa, most importantly, the technical competence is available in South Africa. We have the competence and technology to implement such recycling processes.”

Residents across the City of eThekwini and other parts of KZN have been living for months, in some cases years, with the unbearable stench of raw sewage that has leaked from pump stations and pipes in their areas.

This sewage flows downriver and ends up at beaches, which has forced the municipality to close several of these.

While some beaches have been reopened, experts have warned residents to stay clear of rivers and beaches as their contamination levels are still being monitored.

In Isipingo and Blue Lagoon, two areas along the Durban coastline, dead fish were seen floating in the murky green water, allegedly killed by the high levels of contamination.

This has had an impact on the provincial tourism statistics, according to a DA report, as well as the city’s subsistence fisherman, which is likely to impact the country’s already struggling economy.