In the wake of another successful River Mile, SPAR Eastern Cape has committed almost a quarter of a million rand over a three-year period to assist with the clean-up of the Swartkops River.
The retailer, which marked its 20th year of trading in the province and 14th as title sponsor of South Africa’s oldest open-water swim, will contribute R80 000 per annum towards clean-up operations by the Zwartkops Conservancy (ZC).
According to SPAR Eastern Cape marketing director Martin Webber, the investment followed the relocation of the event from Redhouse to Sundays River due to high Escherichia coli (E. coli) levels in the water.
E. coli and faecal coli forms have reportedly exceeded two million per 100ml at times, whereas the acceptable standard for recreational use is 130. “As longstanding sponsors, we need to do what we can to assist in getting the river clean, not only from an environmental perspective but also from a desire to have the River Mile returned to its rightful place,” said Webber.
The event was established at Redhouse in 1924 and was previously only disrupted by the Second World War and 1974 floods. It was moved to its current venue in 2010. “As a prominent business in the Eastern Cape with our main Distribution Centre close to the Swartkops River, we feel that it is our responsibility to ensure that we look after the environment in our area.”
Mike Spearpoint, chairman of the ZC, said the trust was proud of its relationship with SPAR as fundraising for environmental initiatives was challenging. He said the money would be used mainly to cover the costs of the ZC litter collection team, which included wages, boat fuel, maintenance and safety equipment.
“We have a supervisor and team of three ladies who work for us. We collect the litter in bags and place them at a central point for the NMBM to remove.”
Spearpoint said the ZC had collected more than 110 500 bags of litter over the past five years. Last year alone, they removed 30 470 bags from the river. He said the conservancy, which is the oldest of its kind in South Africa, had three core focus areas.
“The first is pollution and litter collection and the second is education and recycling of waste. The third is our application for Ramsar status (as a protected wetland) for the river and surrounding reserve.”
Spearpoint said the ZC had identified the Motherwell and Markman Canals, Chatty River, Kelvin Jones Waste Water Treatment Plant in Uitenhage and an area above the Niven Bridge known as the Kat Canal as significant contributors to the pollution.
“In addition, there have been many specific instances of what we term ‘point pollution’ sources (such as sewage pouring out of open or blocked manholes) leaking into the storm water drains and ultimately into the river.”
Although the conservancy had been monitoring these sources for five years and reported the findings to the Department of Water Affairs and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, he said little progress had been made in finding a solution.
“Serving on our committee, we have people with inside knowledge of these problems, are well versed with the system and know how to address the issues. Although we have offered our services, we have largely been ignored.”
Spearpoint said the SPAR River Mile was unlikely to return to its original venue for its 90th anniversary next year. He said the ZC currently had three applications under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to force the metro to release the water quality results as of the end of December.
“We do not expect any improvement in water quality over this period and as a result we are taking legal advice and will take the matter further, to the Supreme Court if necessary, where we will seek relief.”
With provincial government placing the metro under its administration, Spearpoint said their hopes had dimmed even further.
Image: Bags of rubbish removed from the Swartkops River by the Zwartkops Conservancy’s litter collection team. Photo: Zwartkops Conservancy