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Wits Centenary promotes community partnerships

- Wits University

The Wits community joined hands with NGOs in Tembisa township to clean the Kaalspruit tributary, a feeder to the Hennops river.

The waste, big and small including microparticles journeys from the Kaalspruit river in Tembisa into the Hennops river - the pride of Gauteng, and continues to flow downstream to meet the Crocodile river in Limpopo province before finally resting at Haarties Dam in the North West province. Although seemingly insignificant, the troubles at the Kaalspruit river have a much bigger impact on the health of rivers in three provinces, and thus this seemingly small river upstream cannot be ignored in efforts to clean rivers in tourist attractions and affluent areas.

It was with this in mind that Wits researchers and students working on the Hennops river basin embarked on a campaign to partner with communities located along the feeder rivers of the Hennops to address the accumulating challenges of the basin.

On 15 July 2022 ahead of Mandela Day, staff and students travelled to Tembisa where they met with communities to clean the Kaalspruit. The outreach conceptualised as a Wits Centenary event and highlights the linkages between research and communities as well as the collaborative spirit required in effecting change.

Initiated by the School of Chemistry, the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, the Wits Global Change Institute, the operation is part of a larger project titled A combination of chemical analysis and stakeholder engagement in solving the Hennops river pollution. The project is sponsored by the Water Research Commission of South Africa and is led by Prof. Luke Chimuka, Prof. Mulala Simatele, Dr Heidi Richards who are assisted by their PhD student Lucien James and masters student Thabiso Letseka.

Speaking about the factors that contribute to polluted rivers, Prof. Simatele says he is hopeful that issues of waste management that plague the area will be resolved by stakeholders, especially the municipality. 

“If they are not there to take waste away, people see the river flowing and believe that the river will take their waste away. But the river is a living element and can be overwhelmed and this is exactly what is happening to the rivers.  The municipality needs to rethink their service provision model,” says Sitamele.

The Kaalspruit runs between an informal settlement and an established township.

"We hope that our initiatives will continue in the area, hopefully leading to the improvement of environmental condition. Furthermore, the improvement of the Kaalspruit’s condition will hopefully help the entire basin, now being less polluted."