14 July 2020, Durban — Volunteers from Greenpeace Africa are working with the uMbilo River Watch community group and concerned citizens to expose the severity of the pollution in uMbilo River. The groups are demanding action from the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, where the river is located. 

“The uMbilo river system is in a shocking state and the municipality is indifferent,” said Delwyn Pillay, Volunteer with Greenpeace Africa. “Residents wake up not knowing what colour the river will be, not to mention the stench from the river which greets residents coming back home from work. Some residents have become accustomed to it. The municipality cannot be this blasé about such an important river system.”

Years of unchecked pollution have turned the river an unnatural colour and killed off any animal species living in it. 

To bring the ecocide of uMbilo River to the public’s attention, the groups have together started a petition on VUMA.EARTH [1] addressed to various government bodies including the Durban Mayor; the Department of Water and Sanitation; the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; and the South African Human Rights Commission. Over the weekend, almost 1,000 people have signed the petition. 

The following demands are outlined by the groups in the petition: 

  • Management plan of the river system with monthly sampling at multiple point sources song the course of the river to determining which industries are responsible for contamination (a comprehensive test for all types of industrial effluents and sewage waste)
  • Management reports to be made public
  • Implementation of the National Eutrophication Monitoring Programme, which assesses trophic status, risks and trends of single impoundments, river reaches or canals
  • Implementation of the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP) in accordance with the action proposed by the NWSMP (1.4.8) to “identify and prosecute polluters across the country (including municipalities) with a national communication campaign to accompany the action inclusive of reviving the “Blue Scorpions” in dealing with river system transgressions 
  • Implementation of the River Eco-status Monitoring Programme (REMP)
  • Monitor compliance with water-use licences 

Msawakhe Mayisela, Spokesperson for eThekwini Municipality, told The Mercury in December 2019 that the matter would be investigated and the perpetrators of the pollution found. Despite this and other public comments, the problem has persisted, manifesting beyond a worrying change in colour. Residents have complained about a persistent smell of sewage in the area as well.  

“The community has engaged with the Municipality regarding the serious issues and complaints of the Umbilo river pollution which runs past their homes. The pollution affects communities and the natural habitat of local wildlife before entering the Durban Bay Harbour – one of the larger estuaries in South Africa of conservation importance. To date, no response or results. The residents have volunteered to monitor and take river samples for testing at their own risk and cost.”

The petition run by Greenpeace Africa’s Durban volunteers and the uMbilo River Watch community group is calling for greater accountability from the municipality which will serve to protect natural treasures such as uMbilo River.


[1] The petition can be viewed online here.


Chris Vlavianos, Greenpeace Africa Communications Officer, 0798837036, [email protected]

Performers at Esperanza Welcome Ceremony in Matadi. © Pierre Gleizes Get Involved