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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.

The Tshwane University of Technology Enterprise Holdings (TUTEH) has recently partnered with Plastics SA to transform the plastic market. Plastics SA plays an active role in the growth and development of the SA Plastics Industry as a Federation of Associations. Employing an estimated 60 000 people, the industry’s combined turnover is some R70 billion per annum, contributing 2,2% to the national GDP.

The two entities signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that will see them collaborating in terms of training and up skilling individuals in the sector. One of the main focuses of the partnership will be to look at modernising the plastic industry while finding suitable solutions that are environmentally friendly but don’t stifle the plastic market.

TUTEH CEO, Mr Nicholas Motsatse said it was a no brainer to partner with Plastics SA because the company has an advanced skills development programs for the industry. He said they are looking at transitioning those skills more into managerial and general skills and that the training of some of those people into managerial skills and supervisory roles part of it.

“The other part is really looking at opportunities for the development of new enterprises, sector and activities within the plastics industry, either by way of identifying the markets that we can collaborate and work with some of the current small businesses to explore those markets or where we can jointly set up ventures that can look at creating value in those industries. The move also affords us an opportunity to partner with other universities,” he said.

Executive Director of Plastics SA, Mr Anton Hanekom said it is important for industries to collaborate in order to help grow the economy and upskill people. He said the collaboration is ideal for helping the industry to take the next step in terms of growth.

“Collaboration is important and this is the first step in bringing parties around the table where we can debate, discuss and find new solutions that are fit for purpose in the South African context within plastics industries,” said Hanekom.

Hanekom added that TUTEH also comes with a good background in terms of academics and that they are well connected, internationally as well, with various institutions.

“These are all resources that we can make use of. I think it is a good partner with the right skills and the right make-up to make this a successful partnership. It creates the link in terms of different thoughts and skills and it will help us to take the work that we are doing to the next level in terms of the highest skill level that are required – it will really help create a platform at the end of the day that will bring the industry together but will also create a platform where people can find skills and can link up with opportunities that exist,” he said.




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