South Africa is the first country in the world to adopt water as a human right. A large group of Kayamandi residents gathered at the Kayamandi Economic and Tourism Centre on Human Rights’ Day to celebrate Water Week. They were entertained by the Department of Water Affairs’ own personal choir and inspirational speakers who urged them to take ownership of the Eerste River. The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, could not make it to Kayamandi due to last minute plan changes.
‘This year’ theme for National Water Week was ‘Water is a human right issue’. It is enshrined in our constitution that everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water and subsequently everyone should have access to safe drinking water,’ Mabudafhasi said. ‘South Africa is faced with a huge challenge that is likely to become a future threat if our water resources are not well managed, protected, used, conserved and developed in a sustainable manner.’
Mabudafhasi launched the Adopt-a-River programme a year ago in Stellenbosch to improve the conditions of our rivers. The programme was designed as a means of creating awareness amongst South Africans of the need to care for our scarce water resources.
Eerste River needs urgent help
The Eerste River, which flows through Stellenbosch, was the ideal launching pad for this countrywide initiative as it is a particularly polluted river, especially from where the Plankenbrug River, a tributary, flows into the Eerste River. This means that urgent awareness needed to be created amongst the residents of Kayamandi, who live on the banks of the Plankenbrug.
‘We need to enforce a better culture of cleaning our environment,’ said Mr Guy Preston from the Department of Water Affairs. ‘We encourage active participation in the protection of our rivers. We had a good training session with about 30 kids from a school in Lynedoch at the Sustainability Institute. Students walked beside the Eerste River and had to identify problems,’ Ms Wilna Kloppers, Coordinator of the Adopt-a-River Programme, told Kayamandi residents.
‘Since March this year we have employed 70 people to clean up the river. Our biggest problem is the sustainability of jobs. We don’t want it to be short-term.’
Adopt-a-River directly employs Stellenbosch Night Shelter residents to help clean the river.
New river carers being trained up
A group of 50 unemployed local people (focusing on women and the youth) from the Stellenbosch Municipality’s database is currently being trained in basic river monitoring and rehabilitation initiatives. They are split up in five groups of ten that will implement their new-found knowledge at different stretches of the river.
‘The locals should feel like they have ownership of the river, especially the youth. We have planted a seed here in this community, now we must show them how to keep the river clean and healthy.’
Mabudafhasi added: ‘There are more water challenges coming with climate change. If we manage it properly, the next generation will have access to water. It is up to each household to conserve water and to give attention to how they consume it.’
Mabudafhasi announced that the Department of Water Affairs is also working on a new project called Adopt-a-Catchment.
‘We must look at things holistically. Are we protecting our springs from top to bottom?’
Knowledge needs to be shared
‘You can get involved by sharing your knowledge of the area and the issues concerning the river. Also, speak up about pollution, keep your area clean and talk to those around you about pollution.’
According to Mr Gerald Esau, assistant director of Environmental Affairs at Stellenbosch Municipality, we should be using innovation and knowledge from South Africans to find solutions for our rivers. ‘Without you any programme in Stellenbosch doesn’t work. We need your support,’ he told the Kayamandi community.
The Stellenbosch community is also pitching in. For example Paul Roos Gymnasium parents took ownership of the stretch of the Eerste River passing the school and is making valuable progress with a landscaping plan to improve the river bank.
River polluters must be reported
‘Whose river is the Eerste River? Does it belong to you?’ asked Mr Rashid Khan, Regional Officer of the Department of Water and Environmental affairs. ‘This is our river. We must look after it. We must respect each other by not polluting the river.’
‘Let nobody come here and say you are dirtying it. The department works for you, you must tell us who is polluting and how we should stop them. We can only look after the river if you help us. We can only progress with river cleaning once the pollution has stopped.’
‘If the river is polluted we die and we get poor. Nobody wants their families to get sick. We want it back like when we were young and able to play in a clean river. It’s not just the Kayamandi people who are polluting the river. We must also stop the farmers, shop-owners, industries and services from throwing their rubbish into our river, by reporting them. You are our eyes and ears here in Kayamandi,’ Khan said.
Root out the causes to illness
‘It costs you R200 to visit the doctor when your child is sick. Why not rather stop giving your money to the doctors and spend your time fixing the cause of the diseases – the dirty water – instead?’
Khan also encouraged them to pour their dirty water down the sink so it will be disposed of properly, instead of pouring it down the street.
‘Be careful what you throw down – everything ends up in the river. It can be dangerous.’
He also encouraged them to discard of solid waste in bins if they have access to them.
‘Plastic bags will be swept away into the river when the rains come.’
Human Rights Day ended with a river clean up and training session in Die Boord area. The group of 50 employees met with municipal assistant Dana Grobler from the Water Institute of South Africa (eWisa) and analysed samples according to the River Health Programme’s requirements for a healthy river. The group showed up with enthusiasm in their yellow Adopt-a-River shirts and Grobbelaar took them through the samples step-by-step.
To read more on what a healthy river should look like click here.