By Willem Snyman, Fresh.ngo
Water and fire - grave ecological and humanitarian crisis, our smouldering planet. Kaalfontein wetland invasion, dumping of building rubble, household rubbish and raw-sewerage pollution - endangering people's lives, health and poisoning our rivers and water resources.
At the Kaalfontein cleanup day, a hand-full of volunteers stared hopelessly at an impossible task - the pollution in this fountain-stream is drastic, raw-sewage, masses of plastic shopping bags, even numerous animal heads in the stream - a strong stomach and a sense of humor is necessary here.
Standing on the Glassnose street bridge, overlooking the pollution, rubbish and decimated wetland beneath us, while speaking to local residents concerned about the massive build-up of pollution in their neighborhood and the break-down of law and order in their community, which apparently started after 2010. They were reminiscing about what a nice this place this used to be, with its clear streams, large natural areas with orderly houses and clean streets. Just below us we could see the putrid brown, raw-sewage filled stream, huge solid waste accumulation piled up on the banks and inside the water. A health risk to all the people living right on its banks, where hundreds of shacks and brick houses have now sprung up right in the middle of this large wetland.
This area is a natural flood-plain, a channel for all the storm-water of the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as from large upstream areas - a big catchment that drains huge volumes of rain-water. The level of the River can rise rapidly and apparently fills up fast, residents said that two years ago the water level reached right to the top of this bridge. This was before all the illegal houses were built inside of it, and all the rubble dumping took place, to dangerously congest this previously wide and reed filled riparian zone. This high level would mean that a raging mass of water would flow right over these roofs, to completely cover most of the newly built houses in the wetland. Those built along the sides on un-compacted rubble would be severally endangered - overloaded with storm-water the banks can be eroded and turn to mud, sliding the brick houses down into the maelstrom.
The river course has also now been narrowed to a few meters in areas by the constant dumping of thousands of tons of building rubble along the sides, unable to spread out, it will make the water levels rise even faster. Without the natural vegetation to stabilize the banks and slow down the water, a violent torrent will sweep away all in its path. These people will lose everything and be lucky to escape with their lives and children.
Suitable land should be allocated nearby and the people moved soon. Those who have stubbornly built here are all in grave danger of being swept away, many lives can be lost in this tragedy. One wonders who will take the blame, certainly not the EFF who encouraged this land-grab, it will be deemed the fault of government who allowed this to happen and the municipality for failing to enforce the by-laws, for DWS for not stopping this illegal occupation of a river course.The local 'developers' who made their profits out of selling this land to the poor, some still hell-bent on destroying the rest of this wetland should take much of the blame, as well as the illegal dumping trucks who it emerges have been selling worthless building rubble to these desperate people. The poor River will be blamed, but in its damaged and dead condition the life giving spirit of the ancient river-snake is powerless.
A new ray of hope has come from Provincial government, according to the recent directive issued by GDARD to the City of Johannesburg, it stipulates that the wetland must be reinstated, cleared of houses and the rubble removed. It will be a very costly operation to remove all of the building rubble dumped here.
Wetlands are the most valuable natural areas, they soak up rain water and release it slowly, while micro-organisms in the soil and roots purify the water and provide habitat for many creatures - our most productive eco-systems. Here there is little appreciation for them, people see them as places where criminals can hide, rapidly filling them up with building rubble. They talk of putting the stream into a concrete pipe, to level the whole wetland for building. This would further exasperate the flooding risk - these timeless natural forces cannot be tamed and shouldn't be underestimated.
The solid waste problems are enormous, huge amounts of trash now piled up in the open storm-water culvert leading to the bridge. In the middle of all this rubbish it was sad to still see a stream of crystal clear spring-water still emerging hopefully out of the massive pile of trash next to the bridge.These plastic bags, nap-pies and un-degradable objects are also the cause of the numerous sewerage blockages when flushed down toilets, now ready to be washed down-river with the first summer rains, adding to the massive load of plastics already in the Hennops. Like water-borne sewerage which removed out of sight and mind.
No empathy for our waterways or any thought given to where all of this trash ends up, once the inside the rivers no one ever removes it. So densely packed is the plastic in the Hennops that during our cleanup events we have been averaging 150 rubbish bags full of plastic from only 50 meters of river, deeply entangled in roots and branches. There must be thousands of tons along the River, terminally polluted with massive trash islands; where ironically a numerous item is unused condoms - our population is exploding and rivers bear the brunt of consumerism. Plastics break down but never vanish, even bottled water is now filled with micro-plastics, that rain down in remote areas.
It was decided to ask pick-it-up to try and remove these piles with a machine, it’s impossible to do this huge job by hand. Pick-it-up must really wake-up - there are massive piles of rubbish lying all over, they keep ignoring all the trash not on their routes.Huge heaps are accumulate in the streams - this is an emergency it cannot all be allowed to wash down, to pollute our nature irreparably.
The cleanup was moved to the top part of the wetland due to high toxicity and danger to the volunteers, here we had previously done a five day campaign in June. The large raw-sewage outflow from a cluster of houses had at long last been stopped, blackening a whole section the wetland.The 30 trees we planted are already showing green buds and the round eco-brick structure surrounded by trees is sporting a white umbrella, used by a local informal eatery, no longer used as a communal dump. This is the vision we'd like to promote - locals utilizing this beautiful communal wetland and its nature areas for the good of the people, instead of it being destroyed to the detriment of all - land that belongs to the whole community.
Next to this in a last open area more building work had started, on a beautiful strong spring, which he wants to concrete over for a parking area, a long trench for a pipe to channel the water. Large piles of bricks already in the wetland to build another double story rental flat, seemingly without plans on provincial land. It seems like this whole row of houses were built illegally on the wetland's springs. A large pile of building rubble offloaded - bought for R300, another load arrived soon. This priceless spring must be saved, these fountains of the Witwatersrand are the life-blood of our rivers.
Numerous more building rubble trucks were passing by, we followed them to an illegal dumping place, a hundred meters down where a massive project was underway in the wetland. Earlier I tried to explain the importance of the wetland as the Hennops and Limpopo River sources, that it is illegal to dump and build right inside the wetland, I was then threatened and roughly escorted out. Since then building advanced another fifty meters into this permanently wet and soggy peat-land by dumping huge quantities of building rubble onto it.
Here R150 a load is being paid by the builders- a crazy criminal scam by unscrupulous building rubble truck drivers, already avoiding payment at regular land-fills, and petrol to drive there, making the poor people pay for worthless building rubble. Now tax payers will have to pay millions more to remove all of this rubble when the wetland is eventually restored according to the directive of GDARD Fines for illegal dumping have been increased to R 10 000 with the confiscation of the truck on the third offense, yet it still continue unabated, we saw more than six large trucks dumping trucks in an hour - ten tons dumped every ten minutes. Sad to see this callous destruction of our natural resources, putting people's lives in danger and steadily advancing to strangle. At this rate an important source area of our major rivers will be gone within a year.
Meanwhile the Are sebetseng cleanup we were supporting continued with a handful of concerned community members led by Otto Kgeletsane, the DA pr councillor, who has very active, here, they bravely removed sixty bags. So much still around, masses more in the streams, our rivers drowning in trash- we're dreading the coming rain, all this will be irretrievably washed down. We’ll try to put emergency litter traps of wire mesh nets near the pollution sources and larger traps further down to catch, remove and recycle it to prevent it becoming inextricably entangled, irretrievable and breaking down to pollute the water with toxins and endocrine disrupters.
I raced to help with a devastating veld-fire in our nature reserve which burnt down two thatch roof houses next to the River, leaving two families homeless. Natural forces are highly dangerous, poised to destroy everyone's home, as our planet burns due to climate change; already the Amazon and Arctic forests are burning, glaciers and our poles melting due to unprecedented heat waves. Unless we change our destructive ways all will be lost, the earth flooded to naturally cool it down and put out the smoking fires caused by all our coal and oil burning machines.
Our society is worshipping the wrong gods, it is water and not fire that will save us - our incessant burning of fossil fuels will consume us all - addicted to fire, pulling the smoke right into our forest-like lungs. Our Rivers and water spirits poisoned and polluted - sacred springs paved over, the last life left in our rivers killed by human sewage and rubbish. The earth's species are going extinct at alarming rates - we all dependent on clean water and air; the monstrous human machine continues to devour our oxygen giving forests for wood, the Amazon close to tipping point,forest raging across Africa to satisfy an insatiable need for charcoal, two thirds of Mozambican old forests gone in a decade.
Do we really need all these fires that are busy destroying us, fueled by our consumer culture? It is only water that can still extinguish the fires we started and heal our planet. We will be much better off without them - cooking food destroys 80% of its nutritional value, while sprouting seeds increases their nutrition a thousand-fold - enough to feed the planet. Our infernal machinery race us around the globe, suffocating with internal combustion engines, aero-planes burn more fuel and pollute faster, yet bring us no-where. Power plants are massively polluting from burning coal, Eskom now burning millions of liters of Diesel, cities light the sky up to blot out the stars. Heedlessly we are rushing over the cliffs to our own destruction, trampling all life beneath our plastic soles and rubber tires. Our rivers dying, soon there will be no more clean water left; once the coastal cities become flooded we will start to devour each other for living space.
Humankind had a long and noble history before we stole fire to harness its destructive power, made it our god, to worship its machines - traded our natural heritage and our amazing planet for worthless, colorful plastic toys. Our waters, the rivers, seas and oceans that we so pollute so badly with our throw-away culture, treated with disdain as our big blue rubbish bin - are the real source of life on earth. Our plastic world will still melt its wings and bring us crashing down to earth, drowning us in the rising seas of the balance that we have disturbed through our insatiable greed and need for luxury - ignoring the true wealth of our miraculous planet, its life-giving waters.
Thanks, Willem Snyman , Fresh.ngo