Sewage contaminated rivers; Gauteng’s rivers are dying

Gauteng’s rivers are dying

“4.3 billion litres, of untreated, or at best partially treated sewage, is allowed to flow into our bulk water resource ever single day.
Prof Anthony Turton

In 2008 I was keynote speaker at a conference run by the CSIR. I used that position to raise concerns over water quality and human health. I asked whether people would become angry after they realized that their family members were being harmed by toxins and / or pathogens carried in water. I made particular mention to the significantly large population of HIV positive people that we have, and I asked if they were not particularly at risk? I raised the issue of duty of care, and as a scientist that prescribes to the Russel-Einstein Manifesto that good science should always have a moral conscience, I felt it my duty to speak out on behalf of those unable to.

The rest is history, because what I said was not appreciated by politically appointed cadres, who we now know generally ignore what scientists are saying. Significantly we also now know that the military is being brought in, with tasks including the restoration of law and order among angry people venting their frustration by rioting. History will be the judge of the position I took in 2008.

Today we are dealing with a new problem – sewage contaminated rivers. I have raised this issue ad infinitum, stating clearly that our bulk water treatment facilities are not designed to remove toxins from blue-green algae contaminated water. I stand by that position.

What I did not raise as an issue of concern, is parasitic infection that come from human faeces. The issue had simply not raised its head above the parapet at that time.

Please watch this entire video clip, because its about just such a scenario. It speaks of a world class water treatment plant in Malwaukee, Wisconsin. It explains the scientific detective work that was needed, as well as the responsible political leadership that enabled those scientists to do their work. It refers to the role of independent third party laboratories to either verify or refute reports by government run utilities.

Watch this and then reflect on what is happening in the Vaal as we speak, where raw human sewage is being discharged every second of every day into the rivers that become the bulk water supply to somebody somewhere in this country. Watch it as the military begin to restore law and order among angry citizens.

If you are impatient then cut to the chase and jump to minute 21 or thereabouts where the detective work is described that determined the source of this specific incident to be human sewage discharged from a functional waste water treatment plant. Then ask yourself, if this can happen in a first world country like the USA, where no raw sewage is ever allowed to flow into rivers, from a functional sewage plant, then what is the likely footprint in our own country where 5 billion litres of sewage is processed daily, only 15% of which is safe enough for discharge back into the nearest river. The rest, a staggering 4.3 billion litres, of untreated, or at best partially treated sewage, is allowed to flow into our bulk water resource ever single day. Sewage contaminated rivers is now our biggest single water-related risk, and might even be one of the most pressing national security risks we currently confront.

Please think about what this means.

This raises a question that I want to start elevating to one of national debate in the near future. Watch this space….. as we get our ducks in a row.”


The effects of Gauteng’s pollution on the state of the Limpopo River:

With so much focus on the state of the Vaal, and the Jukskei, and the Hennops, and the Crocodile – what about the Limpopo?

“A shocking revelation came from FRESH associate Axon, when I showed him the fishless state of the Hennops River,” says Willem Snyman, who spearheaded the recent 10-day Hennops River Restoration Project.

“He said the damage now stretches all the way down the Limpopo River. A keen observer, he has a house 400 km downriver and stated that 2-3 years ago all the fish suddenly died and were lying on the river banks. This coincides with the huge pollution tides coming down the Hennops at that time. The fish haven’t recovered and no more fish are being sold on the markets.

“This is a giant eco-disaster – with many other animals now struggling to survive. According to another colleague, Steve, who was further down the river, the mighty Limpopo has been reduced to a trickle by over-pumping and one can walk over the border through a dry river bed.

“Madupi power station will also soon be extracting from the Crocodile River.

“Restoration in Gauteng – here at the sources – would have to look at the health of the whole river system. The Crocodile-Limpopo system is one of our country’s major waterways and is fountain-fed. It appears to be in dire trouble.

“The system supports millions of people and animals in three bordering countries – for many the only source of drinking water and used for crops. Everything is harmed by the high levels of pollution emanating from Gauteng. Aquatic life must be restored soon. I believe a lifeline is Effective Micro-organisms and we will appeal to Japan for help.

“In a meeting with Prof Prinsloo, local EM expert, we heard of the amazing results when used in agriculture – increase in productivity, size and yield while eliminating pesticides and chemicals. EM can help increase the health of our people, the soil and our environment. It can help save and restore the bio-diversity of our river system, break down toxicity in the water and make wastewater treatment plants function more efficiently.” Willem Snyman

Join ARMOUR (Action for Responsible Management of Our Rivers) on Facebook for more information

Calling Water Warriors
! There is an extraordinary number of individuals, groups, NGOs etc involved in river and water issues. Often working unseen, unheard and isolated.

The response to Willem Snyman and his small team’s 10-day Hennops Restoration campaign has been tremendous. We can learn from one another, and we can support one another and become a strong “voice for water” in Gauteng where the rivers are dying.

You are invited to a networking gathering on Tuesday, 20 November, starting at 13:00 at the Royal Elephant Conference Centre in Centurion. If you would like to come, email Helen for details: hduigan(at)