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Westdene Dam receives a community makeover

Canoes were used during the cleanup at Westdene Dam in Johannesburg.

Canoes were used during the cleanup at Westdene Dam in Johannesburg.
Image: Mark Napier

Westdene Dam in Johannesburg is receiving love from members of the community, who joined hands for a weekend cleanup after rain washed a mountain of litter into the water.

Residents started cleaning the dam at weekends as algae multiplied, damaging the water.

Mark Napier, a community member, said his heart breaks at how the dam and surrounding park are “disintegrating”.

“The place has a big problem, especially with safety. People are scared of going there because it’s a hangout spot for criminals. It’s not used by the community. We want it to be used by children in the community and we would love to see it embraced by joggers and elders.

“It’s a beautiful space. The cleanup happened on Saturday. We got assistance from the Soweto Canoe Club and youngsters who came to help. I have encouraged the city to upgrade the park. I run a small group of people who lock and unlock the gates at the dam in the morning and afternoon,” said Napier.

Joburg City Parks and Zoo has been approached for comment and this article will be updated when it responds.

Soweto Canoe Club members assist with the cleanup of Westdene Dam.

Soweto Canoe Club members assist with the cleanup of Westdene Dam.
Image: Mark Napier

A resident, who asked not to be named, said it hurt to see the dam dirty. 

“Looking at the dam and seeing the litter is heartbreaking. We have been trying to get the city to look after the dam. It doesn’t sound like they have the time or the budget,” she said.

Residents of the suburb and fishermen who use the dam for recreation have been cleaning up the water on a quarterly basis.

However, that was interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdowns. Since then, it has been filled with litter, green algae and plants due to suspected sewage leaks upstream.

“There are two main inlets into the dam that are storm water pipes coming from Brixton and Auckland Park. Every time it rains, they wash refuse into the dam,” said Napier.

He said they tried to pull the algae out of the dam.  

“While the condition of the Westdene Dam seems like a local problem for a local community, it has an impact on the health of communities downstream, as well as the environmental health of a large part of the Gauteng river systems,” said Elmien du Plessis, convener of the cleanup.

Steve Jourdan, from Adopt a Project Foundation that runs the Soweto Canoe Club, said the cleanup was a “fantastic” show of community partnership.

“We received a note from the residents of Westdene asking if they could borrow canoes to try to clean the waste that had accumulated in the dam. Nkosi Zulu, the chairperson of the club, said the club would assist.

“They wanted to assist from an environmental and community perspective. It was the most amazing day. I was pleasantly surprised. There were neighbouring and community residents and everyone worked together. By the end of the day we took about five tonnes of waste and weeds out the dam,” said Jourdan.

He said the initiative should continue.

“Children are happy to come back.”