Bathing has been banned in South Africa’s surf city, writes Fred Kockott. This report was updated on 11 May.

Durban’s beaches are off limits for bathing, surfing and fishing after hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage began flowing into the harbour.

The eThekwini municipality parks, recreation and culture unit department banned bathing on the city’s beaches.

A  number of pumps at its Mahatma Gandhi Road sewerage pump station had failed leading to  a discharge of about “20% of flow” into the harbour at Lavender Creek, near the Point Yacht Club, according to a statement by the city on Friday .

Municipal spokesman Msawakhe Mayisela said the city hoped to install a repaired pump on Monday, July 13.

“The municipality is embarking on a process to dose the overflow and aerate the polluted area until the repaired pump is reinstalled and the spill averted,” said Mayisela.

Mayisela said an investigation by the Water and Sanitation unit had identified the failure of  the mechanical rakes at the entrance to the pump station was the main cause of the spill.

Rakes progress

The rakes were meant to prevent foreign objects from entering the pumping system, but once they had stopped working an ever increasing amount of foreign matter began entering the system.

“The pumps became imbalanced and the consequential vibration caused the pumps to fail mechanically. The pumps are fully imported and consequently their spares parts are not available locally which has caused a delay in repairing the pumps,” Mayisela said.

The mechanical rakes have since been repaired.

Meanwhile the city asked residents, tourists and business owners to avoid contact with the contaminated water.

Transnet National Ports Authority has suspended diving operations, essential to ship repair, as well as  fishing in the port


IGNORANCE IS SIS: Some bathers including children seem blissfully unaware of the health risks following the sewage leak at the Durban harbour.


“Given the potential threat of infection to diving personnel, we have taken the decision to suspend all diving operations,” reads a statement from Transnet’s Acting Port Manager, Nokuzola Nkowane. “We apologise for the inconvenience but remain committed to the protection of human and marine life the port.”

An international surf contest, the ZigZag Durban Surf Pro, which was due to begin on Friday, has been called off to protect the safety and health of about 120 top South African surfers as well as a dozen international contestants vying for entry into next year’s world championship tour.


“This is a serious marine and environmental disaster,” said contest organiser, Tasha Mentasti who heads  the surfing division of Accelerate Sport. “I have never seen the city in such a diabolical state”, added Mentasti who grew up surfing on Durban’s Golden Mile.

The  sewage discharge followed massive amounts of rubbish piling up on Durban’s streets after municipal workers went on an unprotected strike,  protesting against salary hikes awarded to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) veterans.

It emerged last month, on the eve of this week’s national and provincial elections, that some MK vets employed by the city had received pay increases of R9 000 to R20 000.

Many were employed in eThekwini’s dysfunctional Durban Solid Waste department.


CONFUSION: Not all the signs on North Beach are giving the same message. Picture: Fred Kockott
FLOOD DEBRIS: As the beach clean-up continues in Durban after the April flood, a severe sewage spill has made the sea unsafe for bathing.


The strike, including blockades and dumping of refuse in the city centre, took place amid Africa’s biggest international tourism conference, the Tourism Indaba, taking place in Durban.

Early on Friday people were still bathing and signage on the beaches were giving mixed messages, with some indicating a problem and other signs saying the water was safe.

A red flag warning people not to swim was also flying, but to the naked eye the sea does not look polluted. — Roving Reporters



FEATURED IMAGE: A sign informs people that Durban’s North Beach is closed. Picture: Fred Kockott

This story was first published in GroundUp.