South Africa’s Water Is Polluted

What Experts Say About SA Water

Dr Anthony Turton – Vice-president of the International Water Resource Association

“Five of South Africa’s major dams are contaminated with toxin levels that are among the highest in the world, and there is no current engineering solution to the problem. Because wastewater treatment plants are not
functioning properly, thousands of tons of raw sewage are being discharged into rivers, some of which flow into the Vaal River which provides 87% of Gauteng’s Tap water.

By 2013 an abundant supply of drinking water to municipalities, and the industry would not be guaranteed.”

In SA, water resources are comprised of the following sources: 77% from surface water (eg. dams and rivers) 14% from return flows (E.g. sewage and effluent purification and 9% from groundwater).

The major sources of water pollution are uncontrolled sewage, poorly managed wastewater treatment works, agricultural chemicals seep down from farm fields. Bacterial contamination from livestock defecation entering rivers and streams is widespread in SA.”

Prof. Carl Albrecht – Main Researcher of the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA)

”SA’s standard for uranium deposits in water is 70 microgram per litre, which is bizarrely high”. “The World Health Organisation’s standard for uranium deposits is 15 micrograms per litre. Surely it is irresponsible to differ so largely from the world standard”.

Marius Keet – Regional director Department of Water Affairs

”Pollution of rivers by raw sewage is probably affecting most rivers in SA. The biggest problem in the Vaal is not the metals but nitrates and phosphates, which comes from sewage flows. Extracting nitrates and phosphates is difficult and costly”.

Dr. Peter Ashton – Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

”The water in many of the country’s dams is becoming more enriched with…sewage, industrial waste, mining waste, agricultural return flows, garbage, and seepage from waste dumps, which is slowly, gradually, building up over time.

That makes it more and more difficult for water treatment companies to take raw water, treat it and supply it to people to drink or industries to use.

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is one of the greatest threats to South Africa’s water because the waterways are already heavily burdened”.

Dr. Jo Barnes – Epidemiologist at the University of Stellenbosch

“Little is known about the potential effects stemming from the mixing of AMD and already contaminated water. There is total ignorance about what is going to happen when (mine) water hits the other problem we have, which is sewage-laden water. What the toxic compounds in the mine drainage will do to the sewage and the resultant health effects in the short and the long term will come from this unholy mix, nobody knows”.

“We are not very good at protecting the low-level, long-term uranium exposure,”. “If you contract little bits for every day for five years, 10 years, 20 years … will we see a drastic rise in cancers. We have to start preparing now.”

Dr. Frank Winde – The North-West University in Potchefstroom.

It will not be strange if uranium starts flowing out of the taps in Potchefstroom. There is so much uranium in the sediment that I cannot imagine the uranium level in the water to be safe. The department of Water Affairs does not require the uranium level in the water to be tested”.

Mariette Liefferink – CEO Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE)

”Waste from gold mines constitutes the largest single source of waste pollution in South Africa.”


Vaal River

About 80% of the wastewater treatment works in South Africa are “on the verge of collapse,” according to a report recently released. The report on the quality of sanitation in the country was set up by the department of water affairs, housing and co-operative government and the department of performance evaluation in the presidency and the national treasury.

According to the report, “particularly worrying” was the discovery that only 40 of the nation’s 826 water purification plants functioning properly and that 11% households of the country’s 50.5 million inhabitants have no access to sanitation.

The authors of the report believe it will require in the region of R44,75 billion 

to provide infrastructure to those who have no access to sanitation and to restore the plants that do not function properly.

The report said one of the main causes of the situation is that the responsibility for fragmented between national, provincial and local authorities. “The result is that no one has accepted responsibility for it.”

They point out that technical capacity at local government level is lacking to maintain infrastructure. There is also a complete lack of ability to properly plan for maintenance and expansion of infrastructure.

Money allocated for sanitation is often used for other tasks, such as to build roads. The report was compiled by order of the Human Rights Commission.


Potentially the biggest water quality issue in South Africa, Acid Mine Drainage occurs when water collecting in disused mines dissolves minerals in ore seams and becomes highly acidic and radioactive as a result. The contaminated water drains back into wetlands and rivers.

Acid Mine Drainage water is also pumped into SA’s water sources. It is a hazardous toxic waste; a heavy metal toxic soup…SA’s own Chernobyl.

30 million litres of Acid Mine Drainage every day from Pomodzi gold mine.

This water is biologically dead, the sediment is radioactive and the pH is so low that it has dissolved a range of metals including Arsenic, Uranium, Iron, Manganese and Nickel.

Acid Mine Drainage facts:

  1. The current Western Basin untreated decant is 30 million litres per day. (pH-3 & radioactive).
  2. Wits decant potential is 350 million litres per day. This is 10% of  Gauteng’s water consumption
  3. 140 million litres per day is expected to decant in the next two years.
  4.  AMD will continue for centuries.


The maximum Uranium level in South African tap water is set at 70mcg/l, but that is much higher than the 15mcg/l stipulated by the World Health Organisation. Cancer-causing levels start at levels from 40mcg/l.

[mcg/l – micrograms per litre]

Deformed child; her mother ate clay from a river contaminated with radioactive Acid Mine Drainage.

Radioactive acid mine drainage will contribute 5% of the flow of the Vaal river and 25% of the salt load from January 2012. The impact will be catastrophic; SA’s own Chernobyl.

Dr. Frank Winde from the North West University in Potchefstroom confirmed that we should acknowledge that our uranium levels in the water are way above what they should be and that something should be done about it. Uranium only does damage, and all agencies state that our knowledge about the health effects of long-term, low-dose exposure to uranium-polluted water is not well understood.

The truth has been staring at us for a long time in the pages of scientists’ reports (funded by taxpayers), but most of these reports are difficult to access.

Uranium has been linked to lung, bone and other types of cancers, including leukaemia, kidney failure, neurological defects including learning disabilities, immune suppression, birth defects, respiratory infections, and skin and eye allergies, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Most recently, uranium was found to be an endocrine-disrupting compound, it disturbs the natural activity of hormones, potentially affecting reproductive and immune function and acting as a carcinogen.