Open letter to City of Cape Town: Fix our vleis!

“It is common knowledge that there are regular sewerage spills into Zandvlei”

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Photo of a vlei

Zandvlei (above), Zeekoevlei and Rietvlei in Cape Town are closed to the public.

I write to you as a ratepayer and as a long-term volunteer stakeholder and participant in the Zandvlei Sports Club, the Peninsula Canoe Club and the Western Cape Canoe Union.

I note also that the Peninsula Canoe Club is the largest paddling club in the Western Cape and is a centre for South African paddling excellence. Currently some of the best paddlers in the world train out of our club and historically in terms of world medals in paddling disciplines we are one of the top achieving clubs in the country. There has also been a tremendous long-term volunteer effort in this club, which translates into powerful social capital.

The City closed Zandvlei for recreation after a sewerage spill on Sunday 23 May 2021. Currently the City continues to keep Zandvlei closed. It is now 72 days since Zandvlei was closed.

The impact on Zandvlei users, stakeholders and Ssports clubs is profoundly negative.

Of particular concern is the impact this has had on the training efforts of our five athletes who have been selected to represent Team South Africa at the 2021 ICF World Canoe Marathon Championships in Romania, starting on 30 September 2021.

The motivation for this letter is that it is the City’s water and sanitation department’s failure to conduct their operations in terms of its own by-laws, South African environmental laws, and our environmental rights as set out in Chapter 2 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights that has caused the pollution of Zandvlei.

Further to this, the City’s Biodiversity Management Branch notice of complete closure of Zandvlei I challenge in terms of section 33 of the Constitution.

Substantially our understanding is that the City justifies the closure on the grounds of safeguarding the health of potential users. After enquiring, I was informed that the closure was legal in terms of: R6(1)(d) and R20(2)(a)(iii) of the Regulations for the Proper Administration of Nature Reserves (GNR 99 of 8 Feb 2012) and Sections R6(1)(d), 12(2)(a)(iii) and 12(2)(e) of the City of Cape Town: Nature Reserve By-Law (2020).

However, the City’s authority to make decisions is not unfettered and is subject to the requirements for Just Administrative Action as set out in Section 33 of the Constitution and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

I have paddled on Zandvlei almost daily for the last 16 years. I know fellow paddlers who have even longer histories on Zandvlei. It is common knowledge that there are regular sewerage spills into Zandvlei.

In addition, the Zandvlei Sports Club-initiated clean-ups around Zandvlei perimeter have demonstrated the substantial levels of litter in and around Zandvlei.

The point is that there is a long (sad) history of Zandvlei pollution and stakeholders having no option but to work around this and having to live with potential health risks if they are water users.

There is also a long history of the City, both water and sanitation department as well as the environmental department doing very little constructive to address these long standing pollution problems.

In the last four or five years the City started closing Zandvlei for brief periods after substantial sewerage spills.

For a user, a substantial sewerage spill is absolutely obvious. There is a powerful smell and the water looses clarity and becomes cloudy. (Common sense dictates that as users we stay clear of polluted water in these conditions.)

From historical observation, regular users know that major spills normally take at most seven to ten days to clear. The current 72 days of closure far exceeds any previous closure and is unprecedented.

To the seasoned Zandvlei water user, the current closure is now totally unnecessary.

Simple visual and olfactory observations demonstrate that the Zandvlei water currently has clarity, is free of powerful sewerage odour and there is abundant evidence of healthy fish, aquatic and bird life.

In terms of Section 33 of the Constitution and my right to expect rational, proportionate, constructive, transparent and well balanced decision making from City Officials, I respectfully request that the City answer the points below or repeal the current compete closure of Zandvlei:

  1. Please will the City provide a detailed breakdown of their decision making regarding this 72 days and counting closure of Zandvlei.
  2. Please demonstrate that the decision is rational, precedented and proportionate to the problem.
  3. Please demonstrate that the decision has considered the interests of the various invested Zandvlei stakeholders, particularly the sports clubs.
  4. Demonstrate that the stakeholders were consulted regarding the impact of closure on their financial viability, daily operations and sports programmes.
  5. Demonstrate that the potential health risks outweight the alternate risks to stakeholders and sports clubs’ operations, ongoing sports and training programmes and their financial viability and social capital investment.
  6. Please provide copies of the water quality test results for the period since 23 May 2021 and explain on what basis these test results have been evaluated as regards potential risk to health for secondary level recreational users.
  7. Please also provide copies of water test results for the previous five years and demonstrate that these test results support this current 72-day closure relative to far shorter closures in previous years after substantial sewerage spills in the past.
  8. In terms of section 36(1) and 36(2) of the City of Cape Town: Nature Reserve By-Law (2020), as well as in terms of Chapter 9 sections 51 & 52 of the Regulations for the Proper Administration of Nature Reserves (GNR 99 of 8 Feb 2012), Demonstrate what action the City’s Environmental Management Department have taken against the City’s Water and Sanitation Department to ensure that they stop their repeated sewerage spills into Zandvlei.

P. Robert Hart is Co-chair Western Cape Canoe Union, Ex-chair Peninsula Canoe Club, and Canoe South Africa Canoe Marathon Selector

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

TOPICS:  Environment Sport

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