Petition takes City to task over Zandvlei pollution

Dead crabs surfaced in the Zandvlei estuary on Monday April 5.

The public mood over what is happening in Zandvlei has changed. It is no longer just four or five disgruntled environmentalists muttering about the waterways – there are now 4 158 (and counting) residents from Marina da Gama, Muizenberg and Lakeside.

And they are angry.

They are no longer satisfied with platitudes from the City of Cape Town, they say. They want a site visit from the top brass, and they want changes made to what they say are insufficient policies.

Marina da Gama resident Ross Devenish bought in the area precisely for the profusion of waterfowl and wildlife. Dying fish and suffocating crabs on Easter Monday April 5 were the proverbial last straw.

“It’s becoming a wasteland,“ he said. ”Watching living creatures asphyxiating in front of one’s very eyes is incredibly distressing. And this, while enduring the stench of sewage leaks, and then watching seagulls and coots eating this carrion. The denialists point to the latter scene as an example of bird life in the area, but they don’t know what they are looking at. It is too much to bear.“

Mr Devenish assisted Charles Whaley, Mike Ryder and Gregory Higgins in creating the Save the Zandvlei Nature Reserve for the People of Cape Town petition on Change.Org, and, to date, it has 4158 signatures.

“We keep being told the water quality is acceptable; our contention is that this situation is decidedly not acceptable, and those standards need to be updated,” Mr Whaley said.

Dead fish float to the surface of the Zandvlei estuary.

People should understand that ruining the pristine mountain and sea connection that Cape Town tourism was heavily sold on would have dire economic effects, he said.

“Ruin this, and who would want to visit Cape Town? So then, this situation becomes not just about preserving nature, but also people. Either way, the value cannot be over-stated.“

The petition holds that pollution and sewage spills are degrading the waters of Zandvlei so badly that immediate and serious action is needed to save it. It calls for water and waste mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg and executive director Michael John Webster to meet the communities that surround the vlei.

The petition notes that Zandvlei is a nature conservation park; a wetland habitat for some 166 species of birds; a breeding ground for many types of fish, which then replenish stocks in the sea; home to several species of frog and other amphibians; and a recreational area for residents from all over Cape Town.

Also, over 5000 homes in Muizenberg, Lakeside, Steenberg, Capricorn, Vrygrond and Marina Da Gama are on or near its shores

The petitioners say it is unacceptable that no effective barrier protects Zandvlei from industrial pollution spills and illegal dumping. And that despite the rivers being canalised, there are no diversion tanks, no sluice gates, nor a simple pile of sand that could be bulldozed in as a dam and later removed.

The petition demands a written undertaking outlining the short term achievable actions by the City to protect Zandvlei from future sewage and industrial spills.

Residents want the City to resolve the silting problem, clean the canals and use effective litter traps. They say the existing traps are poorly designed, decrepit and dysfunctional. They want confirmation from the City that a contract for the clearing of the canals will be finalised before April 30 this year and that it will be renewed annually. They want canals cleared monthly and the City to prohibit public access to known dumping hot spots.

Kevin Rack, who holds the environmental portfolio for the Muizenberg Lakeside Residents’ Association, said people had become disconnected from nature, resulting in increased stress and pollution.

“We are nature, there is no separation, therefore the pollutants found in our local environment will be found in us too. The idea of separation allows us to pollute without consequence.”

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Ward councillor Aimee Khul said: “While many a day it appears as if the vlei is constantly filled with sewage and litter and is about to completely deteriorate, the water quality of late has been good.“

The petition, she said, showed how the collaboration between the various City departments responsible for managing the vlei could be improved.

“It also shows how the City isn’t the only stakeholder that has to take responsibility for the health of this well-loved natural space.

”Deterioration of our water bodies in the city reveals how disconnected humans have become from the natural environment and how little they value this heritage. We all need to do our part in keeping these spaces clean. I will continue to do my utmost to get the City to do its part.“