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Apocalyptic visions - our country’s most polluted river:

The life-sources of our first shared ancestors are being destroyed as pollution spirals out of control!

By Willem Snyman,

The top contender for the dubious honor of our most toxic River is now the Hennops, this can be confirmed in just a single kilometer stretch, where massive volumes of white foam several lie meters high, black sludge a meter deep as well as gigantic volumes of plastic rubbish lie accumulated in a flood-plain.

This riverine area around the Royal Elephant hotel seems idyllic, yet on close inspection it hides dark secrets. Hidden in the nature are the shocking attractions that showcases all that is bad in our wasteful society - pollution on such a scale as to dishearten even the most hardened heart.

This complete destruction of these timeless ecosystems was achieved in under a decade - going from the cleanest River of Gauteng, filled with vibrant life, to a barren lifeless, toxic wasteland. Most of the freshwater life was only wiped out in the last five years by the gigantic pollution spills, so severe as to that turn a hundred kilometer long River pitch black with sludge, raising the water level several centimeters and leaving the fish gasping for air and dying by the their thousands. This was alternated with thick white foam spillages so concentrated as to cover the whole length of the river with a meter high of stinking white foam. These death tides have now turned into the constant massive pollution of both foam and sludge ongoing permanently now for the last four years, even the last life, the hardy Barbel recently dying in droves and succumbing on the banks.

The Hennops is an important, ancient perennial River originating from the timeless fountains of the Witwatersrand, healthy spring-waters that have been a constant life-source here for aeons, creating the stable environment that nurtured and gave life over millions of years to our first ancestors. Their very existence dependent on these waters - their numerous stone tools lie as a silent testimony to their early stone-ages nourished by these rivers. To remind us, their mindlessly wasteful and destructive descendants of the sacred and vital importance of freshwater to all of our lives, to give and sustain life while creating a bountiful natural world.

The Hennops now originates in the heart of densely populated Gauteng, with its massive solid waste pollution and failing sewerage system. Our modern world relies on water-borne sewerage - in our 'wisdom' discovered to flush all of our waste out of sight and out of mind down our rivers and into the sea, destroying all life for thousands of miles while the same toxins are returned to us through our crops to poison us. All of this destruction this for the dignity and luxury of our white 'germ-free' toilets. What no-one wants to realize is the complete inter-connection of our sewerage with our freshwater systems, as well as the organic basis of the remediation process, that is trying to clean the sewerage with micro-organisms and bacteria which are constantly killed off by the sanitizers and huge amounts of chemicals flushed down with it. Some see it as personal waste disposal units, with un-degradable solid waste like disposable nap-pies also flushed down, causing massive infrastructure blockages, with raw-sewerage overflowing into the streets and into the streams of upriver Tembisa.

Plastic bags full of rubbish are dumped into the streams, with no conception that it will all be washed downstream and stay in the freshwater system for hundreds of years, slowly breaking down into micro-plastics to poison our waters and return to us in our drinking water and our food crops, accumulating in our bodies and causing untold suffering and death - without clean water there can be no life.

The plastic pollution is sheer madness, astronomical amounts have amassed in this flood-plain, irretrievably spread across the banks and compacted as giant islands inside the river, one of them over sixty meters long, solidly packed, so tightly that it hardly moves when walking across the water. Buoyed up by the vast amounts of polystyrene pieces from food packaging, as well as the larger blocks of styrofoam and plastic bottles. There is another island busy forming above this one, and yet another trash island lies hidden behind a real island in the river; here we crossed over for the first time with a make-shift bridge into a surreal plastic world of the waste of our modern society. All of these plastics are constantly breaking down and releasing endocrine disrupters, an additional factor in the widespread recent fish deaths. Most of the plastic and rubbish are washed down from where it was dumped in the wetland source areas of Tembisa, like Kaalfontein, Ivory Park and Duduza. The municipal boundaries of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni also meet here, to add to the confusion.

There is a huge amount of rotten water coming down constantly from blocked and overflowing sewerage mains in Tembisa, as well as the malfunctioning ERWAT Wwtw at Olifantsfontein, one of one of its three modules not working for years now, with a third of the sewerage going into the River. The municipalities of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni have been polluting the Hennops and Tshwane on a massive scale for many years, this being above the Sunderland Wwtw, also polluting further. The regulatory body DWS, the custodians of our rivers remains largely absent, they issued a directive to Olifantsfontein, but not enforcing the law.

The giant foam blob below the Royal Elephant weir remains very hectic, still reaching about four meters high in places, it has been shifting and becoming flatter and more spread out, because of a raised water level, the foam bank stretching down for more than a hundred meters at two meters in height. In the areas where it has dissipated, it left behind post-apocalyptic scenes of everything covered with a black tarry substance, hardened over branches, leaves and over the ground, revealing the sewage origin of the foam - a concentrated evil of our society.

The River-bed is thickly coated with a layer of rotting black sludge, over a meter deep in places, the water so putrid that it has turned black in areas like a deeply rotten blocked drain. With the recent increase in the water level coming from the Sesmylspruit, out of the Rietvlei Dam it has loosened some of this massive accumulated sludge on the River bed, accounting for the deathly smell residents have been complaining about. There is so much decomposing sludge settling on and coating the river-bed and sides that large clumps are coming loose and rising up. This mini-flood was a foretaste of what is still to come, after the first rains, when all the accumulated muck from sewerage, that has settled over the winter months is washed downstream, to turn the whole River pitch black for many days while this rot is being pushed downstream, never really leaving the system and keep on poisoning all life.

Truly the Hennops is now even standing out amongst all of our other highly polluted and life-less rivers as one of the worst. How could it have been allowed to happen and get so bad, and how much further and longer will this be allowed to go on before decisive action is taken by the authorities against the polluters? Some of the many millions that should have been spent on sewerage treatment should be used to restore these Rivers that have had to bear the brunt of mismanagement and illegal pollution on a gigantic scale. Our freshwater resources are being wasted and even our groundwater poisoned.

Thanks, Willem Snyman,

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