A challenge to Cape Town’s new administration: please fix the sewerage system

This is one thing which affects all of us

By GroundUp Editors

20 January 2022

Photo of algae in Rietvlei

Blue-green algae blooming in Rietvlei. The algae, fed by nutrients in sewage, produces a toxin and reduces oxygen levels in the water, which can lead to fish die-offs. Archive photo: Steve Kretzmann

Cape Town’s new Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has many challenges on his hands but few are more urgent than fixing Cape Town’s sewerage system.

The system is in crisis. Rietvlei, Zeekoevlei and Zandvlei are (in theory) closed for recreational use because of sewage spills. Dirty water is seeping onto our beaches.

This is one problem that has got noticeably worse under the DA’s watch. While the City often blames the national government for its problems, that won’t wash here.

The previous administration gave unclear answers about the sewage problems and appeared to be floundering. Mayco members Grant Twigg (waste management) and Zahid Badroodien (water) need to tell us what precisely the problem is, what needs to be done to fix it, how long it will take and how much it will cost.

We need less talk about how the system is clogged up because people throw things into it, and more action to make it easier for people to dispose of their rubbish. We need better rubbish collection in informal settlements and other densely populated areas, better sanitation for those who don’t have flush toilets, and, in time, the systematic recycling of rubbish across the city.

We should be spending more money employing people to clean up the rivers and coastline to stop the rubbish reaching the ocean. But in the end the answer is to stop the pollution at source, by making rubbish disposal and recycling very easy for everyone.

A “world-class” city cannot allow its beaches, rivers and vleis to be polluted with sewage and garbage. Nor can it allow its people to live in unsanitary conditions. The broken-down sewerage system affects all of us and it’s one thing the new Mayor should prioritise.