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Kaalfontein Wet-land-grab: the tragedy of our River sources.

By Willem Snyman,

Wetlands destroyed by massive amounts of illegal rubble dumping, huge ongoing sewerage and plastic pollution - political casualties.

The Kaalfontein or naked fountain, is one of the major spring-water sources of the Hennops, and by extension of the Crocodile and the Limpopo Rivers, it is being rapidly destroyed and polluted, with dire consequences to the life along these rivers and all who depend on their fresh waters. Thousands of people are now living dangerously inside this flood-plane - many lives will be lost when flash-floods come - made even more unpredictable and severe by climate change.

Huge amounts of building rubble has already been dumped inside of this riparian area to 'develop' it, level and make building on this permanently wet ground possible.The streams and their wetlands are being used as rubbish dumps, gigantic amounts of plastics are now lying in the streams and on the banks - ready to be washed down-river with the first rains, to be spread out over many kilometers and become almost impossible to remove from the riverine nature, to add to the already massive plastic pollution making our Rivers look like a dump sites.

An ancient and important fountain-source area of the Hennops is being rapidly destroyed - the water sources of many are being poisoned. The River is being killed, along with all its freshwater life.

Most traditional cultures revere river sources as sacred places, yet these fountains of old that have been nourishing our land for eons are now being treated with complete disdain. The personal dumping ground of a large group of people. This public land has been invaded, houses built and the wetland vegetation cleared, fences put up to demarcate their yards. Even brick houses are now being built right inside the wetland - dried up and leveled with thousands of tons of building rubble, all illegally dumped for free inside of it.

Half of this iconic and highly important wetland has now been destroyed, much of it virtually irreparably so - it would be very difficult to remove so much rubble from the riverside. We must now save what we can and stop this mad destruction going on.

The large Kaalfontein wetland is divided into three parts by the bridges crossing over it, the top section and half of the middle one is still in fairly good shape, while the bottom and middle half has been invaded - the lower part destroyed in a year's time. Illegal dumping is eating away along the sides and still happening at an alarming pace.

The authorities have turned a blind eye to the plight of this poor wetland, they have been largely absent and ignored the problems. The people left to their own devices to sort out their housing crisis, allowed to develop and destroy this national treasure on which the health of the whole River system depends.

It started in 2018 with the EFF telling people they can now build anywhere, many other wetlands have also been invaded. Notably Diepsloot, Alexandra and in the South along the Klipriver tributaries where it is the worst.

Johannesburg under whose municipality this area has been incorporated, after another smaller one went bankrupt, hasn't been enforcing the by-laws. DWS has stayed away, saying that it is too difficult to remove the people and since it is their decision they must bear the consequences of living inside a river course, GDARD came, tried to impound a dumping truck and shouted at the driver that they are killing the children with this illegal development. We even had a high-level site meeting with members of the Gauteng legislature, yet more than a year later the issue remains unresolved, the dumping and invasion of this wetland continues unabated, pollution has escalated to extreme levels. In a positive step recently, GDARD has issued a directive to Johannesburg to restore this wetland, giving hope that it can be saved.

Everyone living inside this wetland area is unsure of their fate, afraid of what may happen to them. They know that what they are doing is wrong, but some say they are sick of waiting for RDP houses and want to force the government to relocate them to proper places, most just want to avoid paying rent and to squat for free. These shanty towns have no planning or services, some houses now even built with brick on un-compacted building rubble, dumped there to try and raise the houses above the water line. Proper land should be provided on the outskirts of Kaalfontein, rather than to allow it to expand inwards and destroy this last central green area and the most precious part of this whole neighborhood; which was well planned and mostly quite affluent before the influx of so many new poor people. Taps and some portable toilets have now been provided to seemingly legitimize these developments inside the riparian zone.

Lives are in danger and many will be lost when floods come down, numerous people are now living dangerously inside the flood lines - these fifty and hundred year flood lines were made for a reason, as big torrents occur inside of them, with climate change increasing the risks and magnitude of flash floods.

People have unwittingly bought here from unscrupulous 'developers' stealing provincial and municipal land, now they are staying on un-compacted rubble which can erode and collapse. Riverine vegetation has been removed and the banks are now unstable and open to erosion, the plants which would have held the soil together and provided flood attenuation to slow the water down are all buried under rubble. All along the banks of the Kaalspruit new houses encroach, most with their sewerage pipes going straight into the stream.

It is very unhealthy living right on these streams, so highly polluted with raw-sewage from overflowing mains, children play in these streams filled with rotting garbage. There is no trash removal and all waste is thrown straight into the streams along with sewage, huge rats living in the rubbish heaps - the people say they hope for rain so that it can all be washed clean. This pollution is also very unhealthy for people downstream using the water, a large part of the massive solid waste problems that can now be seen along the entire length of the Hennops River.

The rubbish and plastic pollution is so bad in the stream that the children laughed at being told that we want to restore it, seeming like an almost impossible task, with pollution added to every moment. As we stood there on the bridge, sopping bags full of rubbish were carelessly being flung into the stream, forming huge piles next to the bridges and banks, even dropped straight into the water. These plastics are never removed by pick-it-up and left to rot, to eventually wash downstream.

Consumerism is drowning our natural treasures, yet another new mall has just opened next to the wetland and the massive new Tembisa Mall is under construction on the banks of the Kaalspruit. The people are being fed on unhealthy addictive junk foods, while huge profits are being made and little thought given to the disposal of all the plastic packaging, much of it ends up in the streams, washed down-River to end up polluting our natural freshwater areas. Manufacturers must take responsibility for what they sell, make packaging bio-degradable, set up recycling points and eliminate single-use plastics - our planet is drowning in human waste.

A litter trap urgently needs to be set up to catch the plastics currently accumulating in the streams, before it all washes downriver. A net installed at the right place that can form the basis of a thriving recycling business for many.

A volunteer cleanup will be held on the 17th, 9 - 11am at one of the worst hotspots, a rubbish dump next to the bridge at Glassnose street to try and turn the tide and overcome the scourge of public dumping. Set an example to the youth, who are sent out with the garbage, to dump it into the streams.

It seems that many people who live here come from elsewhere and other countries, they don't regard it as their home but only as a place to come and work, hence they are not caring for their environment. Through education people's eyes, blinded by the idea of suffering could be opened, and the beauty and magic of this fountain-stream system in their midst can be realized before it is too late, so that it can be restored.

This wetland can become a haven of peace and tranquility with healthy attractions next to clear fountain streams, uplifting the people and providing parks and natural places to relax. It can provide a livelihood for many residents, through market places, small scale farming and attract even tourism with walking trails - action must be taken fast to save what is left of this natural wonder.

If all sewerage leaks can be stopped permanently, as many have already been, the wetland and its life can be restored with indigenous micro-organisms, the streams will become sparkling clean again and their spring-waters filled with natural life. A system of parks can be made around the wetland to improve the health of the people living here, and instill civic pride in a clean and beautiful environment.

Instead of destroying our natural world, turn the chaos into order and work along with nature to receive her bountiful gifts of freshwater life. By treating these River sources with the respect they deserve, they will uplift the lives of everyone and realize the hope for a better future for us all.

Thanks, Willem Snyman,

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