The Western Cape Department of Health is appealing to the public to take extra care to protect children from diarrhoea.

South Africa's rivers of sewage

Our water in rivers and dams are becoming increasingly polluted with human and animal faecal waste, runoff from agriculture and industrial pesticides, herbicides and toxic chemicals. Municipal water treatment plants are battling to cope to provide clean safe water for human and animal consumption.

News Articles

Sewage pushes E.coli levels in Vaal to dangerous levels, environmental group says – 18 October 2019

Sewage pouring into the Vaal River system is having a major ecological impact and creating a heath risk – and resulting in dangerously high E. coli levels.

‘No end in sight’ to Vaal River sewage problem, environmental group says – 04 January 2022

“There is no end in sight to the Vaal sewage pollution crisis, just a long trail of broken promises, lack of political will and lack of government funding for the repairs to the Emfuleni wastewater treatment system,” said Save chair Maureen Stewart.

In February, the SA Human Rights Commission said the river was “polluted beyond acceptable levels” for the estimated 19-million people who rely on it as their primary water source.

The biggest problem facing any contractor are the decrepit wastewater treatment works. “If you don’t get those right, you not going to get the river right, and nobody seems prepared to tackle that,” said Stewart.

Emfuleni residents fed up with Vaal River pollution inertia – 29 Oct 2021

Like many areas in South Africa, there are ongoing sewage spills into the Vaal River, predominantly from the Emfuleni Municipal wastewater treatment system, which have affected human and animal health, the environment and ecology – with many yellowfish dying.

More than half of SA’s treatment works are failing – 26 Apr 2021

Billions of litres of poorly treated or untreated sewage, industrial and pharmaceutical wastewater are spewed into our rivers and oceans. By the government’s own admission, 56% of the country’s 1,150 treatment plants are ‘in poor or in critical condition’. But this investigation reveals further that 75% of 910 municipality-run wastewater treatment works achieved less than 50% compliance to minimum effluent standards last year.

Treatment plants ‘dumping sewage into our rivers’‚ AfriForum study finds – 25 November 2021

Water pollution is still a headache‚ with most rivers in SA being polluted daily‚ mostly with raw sewage that flows unhindered from manholes‚ canals and pumping stations‚ according to an AfriForum survey.

Tshwane failed to maintain wastewater plants, leading to pollution of rivers, dams – SAHRC – 27th October 2021

Freshwater sources in Tshwane, including the Hennops river and Roodeplaat dam, are being polluted with untreated and partially treated sewage and sludge with devastating effects because of a failure to maintain wastewater treatment works in Pretoria.

Sewage poisons the Vaal River – 2 May 2021

In February, the South African Human Rights Commission released its long-awaited report into the sewage contamination of the Vaal, finding that it has violated a number of constitutional rights, including the rights to human dignity. 

Millions of litres of untreated sewage enter the Vaal river system daily from the collapsed wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Emfuleni municipality, which is under partial administration. This affects 19-million people who rely on the polluted river for drinking, domestic and commercial use — and ultimately threatens Gauteng’s water security. 

Water pollution is a major threat to South Africa

The South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Gugile Nkwitini, has revealed that water pollution poses the single biggest threat to the country’s water security and quality. The abundance of informal settlements that have been established along South Africa’s rivers is a major contributor to this pollution, due to the lack of formalised waste management services at these communities, says Nkwitini.He shared these sentiments at the launch of the Development Cooperation of Partners Platform. This launch took place at the Department of Water and Sanitation’s commemoration of World Water Day 2019. Nkwtini has called on all South Africans to change their thinking and behaviour around water issues.

Creecy beefs up Zululand rivers pollution probe after coal waste collapse – 17 Jan 2022

 A team of Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) from the national Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal to boost a multi-department investigation into the collapse of a waste slurry dam at the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) anthracite coal mine.

An estimated 1.5 million litres of liquid coal waste poured into the Black Umfolozi and White Umfolozi River system after the 24 December slurry leak, raising concern about the health of people, animals and the broader environment exposed to toxic and acidic wastes. 

Jukskei River in Gauteng Province

Billions needed to fix failing water infrastructure on KZN North Coast – Mar 26, 2021

According to the DA, the infrastructure in the province is collapsing and KZN needs about R11 billion just to address the backlogs. The province needs a further R100 billion to modernise the water system.

Zululand mayor sees red over river pollution – Jan 9, 2022

A MINING company in northern KwaZulu-Natal has come under fire after being accused of polluting a river.

Total lack of accountability as South Africa’s rivers choke on waste – 11 Oct 2021

There are 52 million E. coli counts per 100ml water within the Kaalspruit, one of the sources of the significant Hennops River in Gauteng. The acceptable limit is 400 to 600 counts — without the millions.

Originating in Tembisa, the Kaalspruit is at its birth abused by builder’s rubble, human effluent from at least 1,400 illegal shacks on its banks as well as by chemicals from factories. As it gathers pace, it winds its foamy way through lifestyle estates and more illegal shacks on the river’s banks, en route to the Hartbeespoort Dam, ultimately flowing into the Limpopo River.

Some way southeast, the water at the Rietspruit in Sebokeng has E. coli counts of 9,188,000 per 100ml, according to the quarterly water-quality results of the largest water utility in Africa, Rand Water.

There is shit in the Hennops River: ‘No way you can call this water’ – 20 Jun 2021

Water-quality results have revealed that the amount of E.Coli bacteria in a tributary of the polluted Hennops River reached a staggering 52-million per 100ml between October 2020 and February this year. 

E.Coli counts are used to assess faecal pollution in water sources — and the regulatory limit for drinking water is zero counts per 100ml, and between 400 to 1 000 counts of E.Coli per 100ml for river ecosystems.