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Tue, 31 August 2010

Tamlin Wightman examines the smelly issue of poor effluent management in East London, and the effect this has had on Nahoon, one of South Africa's most beautiful beaches and sought-after waves.


For many, the best part of East London is Nahoon – the river, the beach, the surf. As a visitor to this part of the country earlier this year I did the customary tourist thing and asked around as to where the best place to go was. Everyone said Nahoon. We camped at Sugar Shack and headed down to the beach to board in the sand dunes and warm (for a Capetonian) ocean. Go there now, however, and in most parts you’ll find signs up telling you to go away.

Sewerage spills are not new to East London. It’s been a problem here for more than five years and on several occasions the renowned Nahoon beach has been closed off to the public. No one wants to swim in a brown sea, which, according to locals, has waste matter such as condoms and sanitary pads floating in it. Not even the fish. It’s not just unsightly, it is noxious – for humans and marine life – and dire for tourism.

According to Buffalo City Municipality spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya, the sewer system overflowed (what with foreign objects jammed into the pipes) causing the contents to spill out into the Nahoon River and the ocean. “The sewer system has overflowed because of other matter deposited into manholes, so these other things block the flow of sewage and result in an overflow,” Ngwenya said in a Daily Dispatch report on 26 August 2010. “We are conducting tests to determine the suitability as per guidelines. We will let the public know when the water is safe to use. We encourage residents to report uncovered manholes. We are consistently monitoring water quality.”

He said that the dilemma could be curtailed if manholes were properly covered. If the problem lies just with manholes, then surely a solution must be possible? Except government seems unable to stop thieves from stealing the manhole covers to sell for scrap. Times are tough; it’s free money. This is a long running problem across the country and in fact world.

The covers are there for a reason – to stop people falling into the sewers, which let’s face it, only the Ninja Turtles could survive in, and to prevent waste water flooding out into the streets or other water systems.



Former Cape Town mayor Helen Zille said, as far back as 2007 at a crisis meeting with scrap metal dealers, that the wholesale marauding of manhole covers, along with insulation cables and wires, could bring tourism “to its knees”. “Nobody will invest in a city if you can't rely on something as basic as an electricity supply,” she said. “The entire infrastructure, from sewerage substations to electricity generating points, are being vandalised for the sake of a few bucks.”

If government can’t prevent such theft, measures have to be put into place to hinder or minimize the waste polluting our waters. Such is the complaint of East London residents, who’ve started a petition called the Nahoon Beach Blue Flag Beach Lobby. There is – of course - a Facebook group too (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=83271166497&ref=search&sid=785648922.3585408132..1). They believe it’s not just a missing manhole cover hitch, but a general “ailing sewer system”. They are calling to: “increase the momentum of protest against systems causing major damage to our beaches and estuary in Nahoon. Stop all attempts at the BC Development agency to develop any further plans and waste our money on any further scoping until they can prove that they are attending to the sewer system and doing all to get Blue Flag Status.”

The seventh edition of the Mr Price Pro Open surfing competition held in the Nahoon reef this past weekend (28 - 29 August) should - fingers crossed - highlight the matter better, through the exposure of media covering the event, such as Supersport and professional photographers. As always, we wait now for word as to when the situation will be brought under control. While our president hangs out in China “for business”, his attention is very much required in his home country right now. Let’s hope his PA lets him know.

 

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