Volunteers fight to save Westlake River

Every Saturday morning, the Westlake River Friends volunteers do a clean-up along the Westlake River.

An environmental volunteer group is appealing to the public to help it look after the Westlake River and stop illegal dumping there.

For two months, the Westlake River Friends has been working to clear the river of waste and pollution.

Westlake River is one of the three river systems feeding the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve and will form part of the City’s Liveable Urban Waterway Programme to rehabilitate waterways in the Sand River catchment area.

The programme is in the concept-design stage following a series of public workshops earlier this year, according to acting mayoral committee member for water and sanitation Siseko Mbandezi.

More detailed design and regulatory approvals for the programme are expected to follow next year with implementation planned for 2024, but the Westlake River is a long way from resembling the sort of waterway envisioned by the programme, according to Meshack Nchupetsang, chairman of the Ithemba for Westlake Co-operative, which the Westlake River Friends group forms part of as a sub-committee.

“The river is facing pollution challenges from the community. We have removed dead dogs, mattresses, chairs, beds, plastics, toys, tyres, cans, plastic bottles and blankets. The river also has a high volume of sewage and E coli. We are putting our lives at risk and have had to go for tetanus injections just to be safe,” said Mr Nchupetsang.

“We decided to start cleaning the river with a bottom-up approach and hope to change the mindset of our community about land, water and air pollution.”

But more volunteers from the community are needed, and, in an effort to lay foundations for the future, the Friends group has started an eco club with 75 Westlake children.

“We are educating them about the importance of looking after the river ecosystem and pollution, hoping that they will share this info and educate their parents too,” Mr Nchupetsang said.

In the two months since the Westlake River Friends was established, it has received support – including protective gear – from the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, Nature’s Connect and the Westlake United Church Trust.

Ward councillor Carolynne Franklin said an upstream main sewer line behind the Steenberg Village Shopping Centre regularly became blocked, causing sewage to overflow and run into the river.

“I have asked that the City visit the restaurants in the area to ensure their fat-trap compliance and that the sewer line that is most responsible for the overflows be cleaned and actively maintained,” she said.

Ms Franklin said she had also asked the City to give the river an urgent deep clean. Finding the budget for that had been “tricky”, she said, but it was likely to happen by the end of the year.

The Westlake Friends does a river clean-up on Saturdays, from 7am to noon. Call Meshack Nchupetsang at 078 279 6460 if you would like to get involved.

The Westlake River Friends, in partnership with Nature’s Connect, took 34 children from Westlake Village to the Westlake River, at the end of October, to educate them about the river and it’s ecosystem.
All sorts of rubbish has been cleared from the Westlake River, including beds, tyres, even a dog’s skull.