Years of waiting for Merewent’s sewage mess to be fixed

A MEREBANK resident on his hands and knees trying to clear raw sewage seeping into his yard. | SUPPLIED

A MEREBANK resident on his hands and knees trying to clear raw sewage seeping into his yard. | SUPPLIED

Published Dec 17, 2023


Durban — Fed up with raw sewage seeping almost daily in their homes and neighbourhood and unpleasant odours, residents from Merebank and Wentworth have threatened authorities with legal action if the mess was not fixed.

Letters of demand have already been sent by the lawyer representing residents to the eThekwini Municipality and the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

Authorities were expected this week, to provide the Merewent Pollution Action Group, represented by advocate Kuben Samie, with feedback and a plan of action to address the challenges that have plagued them for about five years.

The failing sewer reticulation system and pump stations in the area and the malfunctioning of the local wastewater works treatment plant were the main sources of their discomfort.

Hardest hit were families living in “Navy”, “Chinatown”, streets near the shopping centre and the wastewater works treatment plant.

Two weeks ago, residents staged a protest outside the plant and handed over a list of demands.

However, the municipality remains firm that 90% of the problem was due to “consumer abuse”, where residents dispose of foreign materials into the system, vandalism and illegal connections, according to Gugu Sisilana, their spokesperson.

Residents have denounced that suggestion and accused the municipality of not maintaining infrastructure effectively enough and questioned the work done by some subcontractors.

Neville Moodley, a resident of Umarkot Crescent, near the wastewater plant, said existing sewerage lines were in dire need of attention.

“When it rains – like the past weekend – we are hardest hit, sewage seepage occurred again on Monday.”

A MEREBANK resident on his hands and knees trying to clear raw sewage seeping into his yard. | SUPPLIED

Moodley said they had repeatedly followed the steps to lodge complaints, but that the municipality’s expected turnaround time to handle complaints (two to 48 hours) was a fallacy.

“Sometimes assistance takes weeks to arrive.”

He said the strong odours from the plant was another challenge.

“It has been a huge struggle for my family for about five years. I also have grandchildren living with me.

“Our dignity has been lost. We are worried that this problem will never be resolved. All our demands were included on the list that we handed over during the recent protest.

“We are ratepayers in good standing. We want assistance,” appealed Moodley.

Samie said he had initially addressed a letter to the municipality, which highlighted the residents' pollution challenges, in October.

He said in the letter that the municipality’s handling of the situation was unacceptable and that they had the duty of care and responsibility, according to the Constitution and the Section 28 of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (Nema).

Having received no response from the city, Samie approached the department, demanding an urgent directive be issued to the municipality to address the issues raised.

He said he found it ridiculous that, in response, a team from the department visited the area to investigate the complaints, but without engaging with the community.

Instead, the department reported on November 21 that their team had found no evidence of seepage, odours, and the breakage of sewerage pipes in the areas they had visited, and that the Himalayas Road and Sialkot Crescent pump station were in working order. Therefore, there was no environmental pollution.

Samie said the report showed “serious ignorance of the situation” on the part of the department and was a “dereliction of duty”, not to conduct a proper investigation.

He said the department produced a report having only gone to two areas without consulting residents, who would have pointed out problem areas.

The department indicated on November 29 that an intensive investigation would be conducted and their preliminary findings were to have been made known on Thursday (December 14).

The Sunday Tribune received no response to the questions submitted to the department.

Sisilana said foreign materials like rags/cloths, hardened cement, oil/ fats, diapers etc. caused blockages in this area, and the issue persisted because the attitude of residents had not changed.

“Consumers have also caused siltation due to lack of maintenance of their internal pipework in private properties.

“The Himalaya Road pump station is now fully operational and the Sailkot Road pump station, which was severely vandalised, should be restored by Friday (December 15).”

She said the short-term solution was to dedicate jetting machines to desilt the pipes and clear blockages.

“Merebank being an old suburb the infrastructure will be prioritised in the pipe replacement programme,” she said.

Sunday Tribune