By Keamogetswe Thomas
The Karoo town of Noupoort in the Northern Cape has been hit by a severe case of sewage pollution, which has had a significant impact on the local environment and community.
One farmer, Pieter Langenhoven, has been particularly affected by the incident, as his livestock has fallen ill and died due to the contaminated water supply.
In February 2023, the local municipality of Umsobomvu was fined R10 million by the court for failing to take swift action to resolve the issue. However, the pollution has had long-lasting effects on the region, including the loss of seven lamb and 13 sheep for Langenhoven. The sewage pollution was caused by a malfunction in the local sewerage treatment plant, resulting in raw sewage being released into the nearby river.
Langenhoven reported the issue to the local police, who referred the investigation to the Green Scorpions in the national Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. He recalls the scene, stating that there was sewage debris on his farm and untreated sewage water was flowing into Noupoort drift and Van der Heever drift, which is a water course. The water had a strong sewage smell and was dark green, indicating severe contamination.
Rural Action for Climate Resilience spoke to Dr Luther King Abia Akebe, an environmental microbiologist from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He explains that “raw sewage also results in bad odour and destroys the aesthetics of the affected rivers. Although this may not have direct health consequences, they could negatively impact water-based recreation.”
“Direct sewage discharge from wastewater treatment plants is the primary cause of river pollution. To address this issue, municipalities have a responsibility to ensure that their treatment plants are operating effectively,” Akebe explains.
“However, due to the rapid growth in population, many treatment plants are facing significant pressure and are being forced to operate beyond their intended capacity. As a result, there is a need for municipalities to upgrade these systems to ensure they function properly,” he says.
Michelle van Wyngaard, a concerned community member, expressed her disappointment and frustration with the situation, saying: “This is not just an issue for Langenhoven, but for everyone who relies on the river for their livelihoods. It’s concerning that such a preventable incident has had such devastating consequences. We need to hold our local officials accountable for ensuring our environment is protected, and our resources are managed sustainably.”
Langenhoven has asked for assistance from the local municipality following the loss of his livestock. Unfortunately, his efforts to secure help have been unsuccessful.
* This story was produced through the Youth Citizen Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project which is co-funded by the European Union and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.