The Sihlanzimvelo Stream Cleaning Programme – an initiative started by eThekwini Municipality to prevent damage to infrastructure – is saving the city millions, writes Shirley le Guern.
Video footage and photographs taken from helicopters the day after the April floods showed the extent to which damage was caused by alien vegetation rather than plastic river pollution.
The footage shows that rivers that had been cleared as part of eThekwini Municipality’s Sihlanzimvelo Stream Cleaning Programme had suffered little, if any, damage.
Geoff Tooley, senior manager, Catchment Management for eThekwini Municipality, said Sihlanzimvelo started in 2011 and used an enterprise development model to motivate community clean-ups.
Cities and Climate in Africa – a project preparation facility co-funded by the European Union and Swiss and French development agencies – is now providing R200-million in start-up funding for the programme.
Tooley said that Sihlanzimvelo had created 105 co-operatives with eight to 10 members each who were trained to safely remove alien vegetation and solid waste along river corridors. They were also tasked with reporting sewer leaks, blocked manholes, illegal dumping and pollution. Sihlanzimvelo has also saved the city millions by preventing damage to culverts and associated infrastructure.
What started with 295km of rivers under maintenance had grown to 525km with work completed in KwaMashu, Inanda, Ntuzuma and Umlazi, creating clean public spaces suitable for recreation.
Initial research showed that if the project was rolled out over 1 200km of rivers and streams crossing municipal land, this would cost R92-million, provide R177-million in benefits and create a further 1 500 jobs.
But this was conservative, said Tooley. “We haven’t even costed in the additional green economy opportunities. What this translates to is that, for every rand we spend, we are creating benefits worth R1,92.”
The biggest challenge, though, is that the Municipal Finance Management Act prevents the municipality from using its resources to clean up rivers on privately owned and tribal trust land. Hence the need for both public and private investment.
Research along the Ohlanga River (extrapolated for the whole city) revealed that R7,5-billion in public and private investment was needed to expand the programme to all rivers over the next 20 years.
Tooley said there was a good business case for using the model to manage all 7 400km of rivers and streams across Durban.
According to Tooley, the municipal and societal benefits exclude green economy opportunities, and these opportunities include local communities growing vegetables in newly cleared spaces and waste beneficiation. A paver that is as strong as concrete has been created from plastic, glass and sand retrieved from rivers. It is ready to go to market.
He said the next step was to identify partnerships and role players within three river spaces – Umhlangane, Palmiet and Umhlatuzana.