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Fresh life is being breathed into Umgeni River as big business tackles illegal dumping

Just last month, videos of hundreds – possibly even thousands – of dead fish floating in the Umgeni River highlighted the extent of pollution in one of the province’s most important rivers. Having witnessed the wanton dumping of waste nearby and into in the river, Durban-based business Reefer Cold Storage has spearheaded a private-public-NPO river clean-up last week which will continue this week, to mark World Clean-up and International Coastal Clean-Up Day which was on Saturday, 17 September.​

The 232-kilometre Umgeni River, which rises in the KZN Midlands and extends to Durban, is a critical water source for the region. According to WWF-SA and EWT, it’s not only ‘critical for our natural biodiversity heritage but also as a crucial water source for the people of KwaZulu-Natal and the province’s economy’. 

Used for various recreational activities, including the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Umgeni River is the lifeblood of the city. For many residents, subsistence fishing and drinking water sourced from the river are vital for daily living, however, the current water health poses a threat to life rather than supporting it.

Sewage pollution, made worse, as a result of the April floods has pushed E.coli levels to a hazardous range, prompting the closure of 13 swimming beaches again last month. This is only exacerbated by the constant illegal dumping and excessive waste that finds its way into the water source, disrupting the local ecosystem and posing a threat to the health of wildlife and humans.

But there is good news on the horizon.

Concerned about the state of the river, Reefer Cold Storage got in touch with Janet Simpkins from the non-profit organisation (NPO), Adopt a River. Together, they’ve brought on board eThekwini Municipality and other stakeholders, including BMS Foods (Bluff Meat Supply), Multiquip and AlcoNCP to address the existing waste, restore the land and put in place measures to prevent further dumping.

“Every river is important – this interconnected network of water is vital for the survival of various ecosystems, water source to many communities and in some catchments supplying water to dams for potable water use. The uMngeni River is no exception. Sadly, many of these waterways are contaminated with not only solid waste, but sewage too. The uMngeni suffers both,” explained Simpkins.

“It is our responsibility to continue to highlight these factors and do what we can in terms of cleans ups, education campaigns and tracking sewage in the hopes that funding will become available to fix broken infrastructure and stop these spills.”

Stamatis ‘kapsi’ Kapsimalis, CEO and owner of Reefer Cold Storage, said inroads were already being made: “The clean-up this week has been an eye-opening experience, having to come to terms with the level of pollution in the Umgeni River. But it’s also been incredibly rewarding witnessing the positive impact we can make when we all come together for a common goal.

“I’d like to extend our thanks to all the stakeholders who’ve committed to improving the health of the Umgeni River, not just for now but in the long run. This is a moment of change for environmental conservation, because it really is now or never.”

In fact, the extent of the dumping was so far beyond initial expectations that more assistance was needed. Calvin Wright was more than happy to step in and assist, having already supplied a bobcat to help move the large volumes of waste.

The river clean-up campaign’s initial short-term goal was the week-long clean-up of the riverside area between Connaught Bridge and the footbridge along Willowfield Road of waste and alien invasives. This has now been extended by a week due to the volume of waste found on site. The plan is to take this further by establishing a permanent team to conserve and maintain the area as an ecologically friendly environment, while creating awareness about the dangers of environmental pollution. Communities and businesses would be encouraged to monitor and report on any challenges, such as illegal dumping so that measures can be taken. Reports can be made to Durban Solid Waste on 031 311 8804/36 or or walk-in complaints made at 17 Electron Road, Springfield.

Businesses that are interested in joining in with this project or projects similar to this or in sponsoring Adopt a River will enjoy significant benefits, including meeting corporate social investment requirements, qualifying for tax deductions, media exposure, team branding rights and showcasing a commitment to community upliftment and conservation.

To find out more, visit: Reefer Cold Storage:; Adopt a River:; BMS Foods:; Multiquip:; and AlcoNCP: