Hammanskraal communities volunteer to pick up the (litter) pieces and clean the rivers
On Monday, 26 June Hammanskraal residents will be taking a solution to the sewage and unsafe water crisis into their own hands by mobilising about 500 local volunteers and residents from nearby communities like Atteridgeville to clean up areas plagued by illegal dumpsters.
A potent hydrogen sulfide smell fills the air as you walk down the main street in Hammanskraal. A thick layer of raw sewage flows slowly into water streams, littered with illegal dumping. The town is still trying to recover from the deadly cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of at least 26 residents, according to the health department.
But just like the potent stench of sewage in the air, the problem of water pollution continues to linger in the community.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Hammanskraal cholera outbreak: ‘She was crying out: ‘Help me!’
Daily Maverick took a drive through the small town visiting several points where the water supply has been clearly contaminated by raw sewage and litter. Used baby nappies, clothing, plastic bags and food are some of the items that end up in the water streams.
In some areas, raw sewage bubbles into the same water sources.
“It’s so sad that it had to take a lot of people to die, for the government to know that water is a basic need for life. As a community we must stand together, we must start cleaning. There is a lot of money in dirt, like recycling. We have a recycling hub here in Hammanskraal, but I don’t think residents know about it,” said Mmaletsatsi Kgafela from the NPO Greater Hammanskraal Environmental Forum.
Kgafela buried her uncle just three weeks ago. The family was informed that he had died of cholera.
She believes one of the reasons that residents have resorted to illegal dumping is a shortage of bins.
“We used to have trucks to collect the rubbish twice a week. But they stopped. They don’t collect the rubbish regularly, so people have resorted to illegal dumping. All the nappies are in the water and are going to continue contaminating the water.”
MMC for Environmental Affairs in the city of Tshwane, Ziyanda Zwane, said illegal dumping cannot be justified, no matter the circumstances. “We do have some challenges especially in the Hammanskraal area in terms of rubbish collection. You’ll remember that the city had a financial crisis, so some of the service providers were not paid.”
Zwane agrees with residents that overpopulation in certain communities is a huge contributing factor to this problem.
“The issue of backyard dwellers is the problem. You can’t have an 80-litre bin but there are six or seven people in the household.”
Deliwe Khanzi is mobilising the community as part of the Greater Hammanskraal Environmental Forum. She believes the locals’ efforts to rid its water sources of litter won’t stop after Monday’s campaign. Khazi is working on projects to introduce recycling opportunities to the community.
“I think it is going to be a solution. We are still finding the bags, and a big spot where we will be able to put the recyclables and then take it to the scrapyards.”
On the opposite side of the Tshwane border, some 75 km from Hammanskraal, is Olievenhoutbosch, which has also been plagued by illegal dumping that ends up in the Hennops River.
Last week the community teamed up with the Hennops Revival NPO, collecting more than 750 bags of rubbish from a stormwater channel in Olievenhoutbosch which eventually ends up in the Hennops River.
Founder of the NPO Tarryn Johnston said that after the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal, more communities and corporates had realised they too could help, even in small ways. “If we wait for government, we will wait forever.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Deployment of citizen science could have helped avoid the Hammanskraal cholera crisis
Johnston is working closely with waste pickers and residents living on the Hennops River banks, to help minimise water pollution. She found that waste pickers have resorted to washing recyclables in the river to get a better price for their collectables. “Residents should clean out their items and separate it from their general waste. If you can, if you have a garden, make compost.”
Olievenhoutbosch resident Andile Mbhem, a volunteer cleaner who believes overpopulation is a huge contributing factor. “There are too many backyard dwellers. The landlord does not have enough black bags and rubbish bins for the people living here.”
The city of Tshwane has urged residents to report illegal dumping of waste.
“We encourage them, once they see littering, don’t hesitate to take the car registration number, take pictures, and report illegal dumping,” said Thabo Tshukudu from the mayoral office. “We can try our best, but as long as we don’t have the support from the communities it’s not going to work.” DM/MC