The Gauteng area of South Africa - which encompasses Johannesburg and Pretoria - stands on the brink of a water supply crisis caused directly by overpopulation, the pollution of existing water tables by raw sewage from shantytowns, and incompetent maintenance which has put almost all the water recycling plants out of operation, it has emerged.
According to a report published last year by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the “challenges” facing South Africa include a growing population, contamination of rivers, leakage from collapsing infrastructure (including wastewater treatment facilities in disrepair).
The government has already deployed the South African army to try and help repair treatment plants which have collapsed and which are letting tons of raw sewage flow into the Vaal River, which supplies water to the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
A recent report in the Businesstech news service in South Africa revealed that residents in Gauteng residents consume over 300 liters of water a day–the highest in the country.
The polluted Hennops River in Gauteng, that province’s largest river
The province also has the highest population – 14.7 million out of 57.73 million people living in South Africa, according to Statistics SA – and is growing by almost 300,000 annually, as blacks from all over Africa flock to the city in the hope that its dwindling number of white residents can supply them with jobs.
The report went on to say that “raw sewage is the biggest contributor to water pollution, with drinking water from Lesotho [being] used to flush pollution out of the Vaal River System.”
It also noted that only one of Gauteng’s three water treatment plants is operational. The army was “currently working to fix these facilities,” according to the report, which it described as being similar to those in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A report in South Africa’s IOL news from November 2018 revealed that the largest river in Gauteng, the Hennops River - dubbed the “river of faeces” - is covered with an “evil” sludge caused by failing wastewater treatment works and continual sewage spills from broken municipal infrastructure.
The failing wastewater treatment works in the river’s heavily-urbanised catchment area have contributed to turning the river into a “lifeless wasteland,” a local activist told IOL, adding that “there have been long periods of almost a year when [a major water recycling] plant was mostly not functioning, with sewage rotting further while flowing through the plant and being discharged untreated”.
“Ageing infrastructure and numerous debilitating cable thefts have reduced capacity drastically,” the report said, pointing out that the “cable thieves struck again the previous night.”
Another recent IOL report revealed that the same problem was afflicting the Jukskei River, in Johannesburg, where the water is “murky grey-brown and reeks of sewage.”
The report quoted water expert Dr Anthony Turton as saying that not only is the Jukskei one of the country’s most polluted rivers, it’s also one of the “saddest”.
“Its demise, he believes, is a metaphor for “all that is wrong in our society. Its malady is a complex amalgam of state failure upstream, including the hijacking of buildings by criminal syndicates that has resulted in the coupling between the sewage systems and the stormwater systems.
“The grease and fat in the system is so massive that it will have to be mined out, and until this is done, the drains will continue to be unable to carry the volumes.