Swimming in the dirty Vaal River to raise awareness of its contamination.

Four open water swimmers swam two stretches of the highly-polluted Vaal River near Standerton in Mpumalanga to raise awareness of its contamination and to help seek solutions.

Andrew Chin and Craig Bishop from Cape Town, along with Mandy Uys and Joy Roach from East London bravely took on the challenge as part of the “Swim for Rivers” campaign, which highlights the deteriorating state of SA’s waterways and the urgent need to restore them.

The four set off near the Blesbokspruit confluence with the Vaal and swam downstream for around 10km to the entrance of the Grootdraai Dam. The swimmers encountered better-than-expected conditions along the river and signs of a relatively healthy ecosystem. They entered the river again on the Saturday, from a local farm, and swam almost 5km to the outskirts of Standerton, as locals had warned them about sewage flowing into the river in the town just ahead.

This section of river was fast flowing with ample bird and aquatic life, although the high-water levels reached in the weeks prior to the swim had left many trees sporting plastic bags in their branches.

The swimmers had originally planned to swim a longer stretch of the river. However, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recently reported the Vaal River system was “polluted beyond acceptable standards”, mainly because of “kilolitres of untreated sewage” entering SA’s second largest waterway. For this reason, a decision was made by the swimmers to avoid the worst affected sections of the river around Standerton.

The four hope the swim will trigger more urgency in finding solutions to the state of the Vaal River in the Mpumalanga area.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the water we encountered in the swim, although we exited the river before the town of Standerton where we witnessed sewage running in the streets and pollution that left us feeling despondent about the river health downstream,” said Chin.

On Sunday, the swimmers and support crew led a clean-up of the Vaal River Park in Standerton, supported by Lekwa Clean Up Crew and local MP Angel Khanyile. They removed 90 bags of trash which would ultimately have made their way into the river.

The event was the seventh project in the “Swim for Rivers” challenge launched by Chin, one of SA’s most respected extreme swimmers, in 2015. The initiative involves swimming long distances in a distressed river in each province to create awareness and spark debate about saving the country’s life-giving rivers.

The Vaal River swim was supported by the Bronkhorstspruit’s Catchment Forum, Impact Adventures Africa, Plastics SA, the Standerton Ratepayers’ Association, Lekwa Cleanup Crew, Die Kliphuis in Standerton and the 8 Mile Club.

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