Coast KZN

25 Oct 2020

La Mercy residents have had enough of putrid, sulphur-like stench

Mervyn Naidoo (Sunday Tribune: IOL) Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA) -Ward 58 in La Mercy has a huge sewage problem. For a few weeks now several pump houses in the area have stopped working and adversely affected the local community and environment.

Durban – Appeals from La Mercy residents – including the threat of legal action or a rates boycott – have failed to stir a response from the eThekwini Municipality as to how they planned to stop the seepage of raw sewage from various manholes in the area. Residents claimed the spills were due to the constant malfunctioning of some sewage pump houses in the picturesque north of Durban suburb, with one in particular not operational for months.

They’ve gone through the municipality’s channels and registered numerous complaints but those have remained unanswered.

Instead, the fed-up locals said flies and a “putrid, sulphur-like stench” wafted through the area daily, especially in the mornings and evenings, whenever the south-westerly wind blew. They feared that, if the municipality continued to ignore the situation, home sewer lines would soon clog and residents would be subjected to further health risks. Another concern for locals was the sewage that already seeped into La Mercy’s wetland area, which is home to animals, birds and fish, and into the lagoon that continues to attract a large number of water-sport enthusiasts, especially on weekends.

Attorney Tashya Giyapersad, who is also chairwoman of the La Mercy Ratepayers and Civic Association, requested the municipality’s urgent response via an email sent on Monday. Giyapersad gave the municipality two days to respond, failing which her organisation would approach the courts for relief. But the municipality had ignored the ultimatum.

Giyapersad said the next legal steps would be taken and they also planned a rates boycott for early in the new year.

“Residents of La Mercy are frustrated and fed-up with the lack of service delivery, yet they’ve paid their rates and taxes faithfully and on time,” bemoaned Giyapersad.

Given all the other shortcomings in the service La Mercy receives from the municipality, Giyapersad said, when compared to their neighbours, Umdloti, there was a glaring disparity in service delivery.

“This is gross maladministration on the part of the municipality. We and other local civics will be joining together to boycott the rates in the area, which will be placed into a trust account. We will not pay for this form of non-service,” declared Giyapersad.

Sandy Naidoo, who has been a resident of La Mercy for 45 years, agreed: “We will not hesitate to go on a rates boycott, that’s how frustrated we are.”

Naidoo said they knew of four pump stations within a 3 km radius in the area that were often on the blink, but the most problematic one was on Lagoon Drive, and had been out of order for a few months.

“Because the pumps are not working properly, almost all the manholes are filled with sludge that spills over at various points.”

Naidoo explained that sludge had crept into wetland, the sea and dams created by local farmers who supplied major retailers with vegetables. He noticed the municipality had engaged contractors to draw sludge from various points into tankers, and those vehicles had made numerous trips to the area to do such work.

“Wouldn’t it be cheaper to fix the pumps?” Naidoo said.

He feared that soon, because of the load, raw sewage would pour into homes, just as it gushed into the bathrooms and kitchens at some units in a complex on South Road, recently.

Michael Gurven said the stench was worse in the morning and evenings, which forced people to shut their doors and windows.

“When the odour hits, it’s unbearable.”

Raj Ramsumer, another long-time La Mercy resident said he had experts look at a blocked manhole near his home and was told that the overflow was the result of the inactive pump station on Lagoon Drive.

“In the meantime, sewage is flowing into the wetland.”

Ramsumer said many people were windsurfing and canoeing at the lagoon not knowing that it was polluted. Rob Chrystal, owner of the Ocean2air Kitesurfing club said their members often used the La Mercy Lagoon. Chrystal said their membership hadn’t noticed much in terms of smell where they trained, but other enthusiasts had told him that the smell got worse further up the lagoon.

Others said the smell was overwhelming in some parts and had noticed “a film of ugly-looking stuff with bubbles floating on the water surface”, said Chrystal.

Nicolette Forbes, a scientist with Marine and Estuarine Research, said sewage seeping into the Umdloti estuary would compromise the ecological integrity of the estuary, which already had a history of being in poor health. Forbes said it would reduce the water’s oxygen levels and everything dependent on oxygen for survival would suffer. And the bacterial load would also negatively impact those who paddle, fish and play there, including dogs that drank the water.

Ward 58 councillor Geoff Pullan said he had raised the issue with the highest authorities in the municipality.

“As human beings we shouldn’t be putting our sewerage into the environment.”

Pullan suspected infrastructure was not being serviced regularly and the municipality lacked the capacity to do the necessary work.

“When you don’t see things underground, you assume everything is okay. Our infrastructure is old and we should have an appropriate replacement policy in place. Also, corruption is another factor. “Money for fixing infrastructure might have gone into someone’s pocket,” he speculated.