Durban - No bathing, drinking, swimming or fishing along the uMhlanga River and estuary - that’s the “urgent” warning issued by the eThekwini Municipality following yet another sewage spill.
Sunday’s warning comes one week after the spillage further upstream in Waterloo.
While it is now being felt - and smelt - in Durban, nauseating everyone from residents to canoeists, the municipality has urged people to be cautious at the uMhlanga River and to avoid activity there.
“We are still attending to the emergency at the uMhlanga River following the sewage contamination. The public is warned not to drink river water, swim or fish along the uMhlanga river and estuary until further notice,” the municipality posted on its Facebook page.
Municipal spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa said in a statement that the “emergency” was being attended to.
However, top surfski paddler Matt Bouman, who often rides his bike and walks his dogs in the area, said: “The municipality needs to warn people of issues like these before they happen, or at least as soon as they do happen. Communicating that there’s a problem a week later is just not on.”
The uMhlanga resident described the smell as “horrendous” even from 400m to 500m offshore and was concerned about the health implications the spill would have.
“This week, I saw people swimming and fishing there. I had to warn friends - who sometimes harvest mussels from the river - not to eat them. Lots of people are going to get sick.”
Brian Wright, project leader for the uMhlanga Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP), told the Daily News on Sunday that a municipal team had been dispatched last week when a malfunctioning pump at a sewage substation in an RDP settlement caused a large amount of sewage to be washed into the river.
“The municipality has done a good job in trying to fix the problem. Today (Sunday) I drove just over the M4 and there was not much of a smell,” he said.
“This kind of problem reminds you that we are all connected by the river systems. Even though this malfunction happened many kilometres away, people in a much larger area were affected.”
Wright added: “Even though the smell has dissipated, the raw sewage is still in the river.”
Because the problem had been contained, the beaches had not been closed.
“The lifeguards have told us that they are monitoring the area so we’re employing the use of a ‘wait and see’ approach,” he said.
“The spill has been well-managed, but we need to work on preventing them altogether. Things like this don’t only affect residents, but tourism as well,” said Wright.
He said as far as he knew this had been the first spill in the uMhlanga area in 10 years.
“If this were an ongoing problem, then we’d be asking for a stricter maintenance programme. This has not happened in many years so it wouldn’t be fair to blame anyone.”
Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trust field manager Bart Fokkens said on Sunday he had been receiving reports from canoeists regarding the stench.
“The river system is a closed system and does not get much tidal action and so does not flush out properly. “The area becomes anaerobic (without oxygen) because of the decomposition taking place, resulting in the smell,” he said.
Lee Lewis, of Toti Conservancy and the eManzimtoti Community Policing Forum (CPF), said on Sunday that she and other residents would be meeting the local ward councillor to resolve the problem of untreated sewage being flushed into the area’s waterways.
A “technical fault” at the KwaMashu Waste Water Treatment Works caused untreated wastewater to flow into the uMhlangane River on July 23.