The eThekwini municipality’s health unit, on Thursday, ordered the City’s parks, recreation and culture department to ban all bathing on Durban’s beaches until further notice.
An associated letter circulated by Transnet National Ports Authority, states that the “severe sewage discharge” stems from the “failure of pumps at the eThekwini municipality’s Mahatma Gandhi Pump Station” – one of the deepest and biggest waste treatment facilities in the city.
Diving operations, essential to the port’s ship repair precinct, as well as all fishing in the Port of Durban have also been suspended.
“Given the potential threat of infection to diving personnel, we have taken the decision to suspend all diving operations,” reads the statement from Transnet’s acting port manager, Nokuzola Nkowane.
“We apologise for the inconvenience but remain committed to the protection of human and marine life at the port.”
An internal Transnet letter circulated on Thursday (that GroundUp has had sight of) said the City had taken out damaged pumps from the affected sewage works, pending the arrival of spares. As a result, approximately 720 000 litres of raw sewage is now flowing into the harbour each hour, reads the notice.
An international surf contest, the ZigZag Durban Surf Pro, which was due to begin on Friday, has since been called off to protect the safety and health of about 120 top South African surfers as well as a dozen international contestants vying for entry into next year’s world championship tour.
“This is a serious marine and environmental disaster,” said contest organiser, Tasha Mentasti, who heads the surfing division of Accelerate Sport.
“I have never seen the city in such a diabolical state,” added Mentasti, who grew up surfing on Durban’s Golden Mile.
The severe sewage discharge follows massive amounts of rubbish on Durban’s streets after municipal workers embarked on an unprotected strike to protest against the employment of scores of people claiming to be Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans when there was no vetting of their credentials.
Most were employed within eThekwini’s already dysfunctional Durban solid waste (DSW) department.
In the run-up to this week’s elections, the ANC-led municipality awarded the “MK vets” 100% salary increases, sparking the latest protest action.
This took place amid Africa’s biggest international tourism conference, the Tourism Indaba, in Durban.
While the City has yet to respond to queries on the sewage spill catastrophe, a senior DSW official said bad mechanical design of the Mahatma Gandhi Pump Station was the root cause of the problem.
On Friday morning, people were still swimming and signage on the beaches were giving mixed messages, with some indicating a problem and other indicating that the water was safe.
A red flag warning people not to swim was also flying, but to the naked eye the sea did not look polluted.