Msunduzi River Sunfoil spil

Fish wash up dead on the shores of the Msunduzi river near Pietermaritzburg. Photo: Taryn Halford / Facebook

Sunfoil spillage in Msunduzi River escalated to national government

National government has been called in to help deal with the ongoing environmental crisis caused by the Sunfoil oil spill into the Msunduzi River.

Msunduzi River Sunfoil spil

Fish wash up dead on the shores of the Msunduzi river near Pietermaritzburg. Photo: Taryn Halford / Facebook

The KwaZulu-Natal Environmental Affairs Department has revealed that it has escalated issues resulting from the Sunfoil oil spillage in the Msunduzi River to the Department of Water and Sanitation and provincial aqua supplier Umgeni Water.

Claims government has no plan to deal with Sunfoil spill

The move comes on the back of claims that government is inadequately prepared to deal with environmental disasters of this magnitude.

“There is no doubt that this is one of the biggest ecological disasters and it has been allowed to fester because government has failed the people. Government doesn’t have systems to deal with an environmental disaster such as this,” said Bobby Peek of environmental organisation groundWork, according to the Business Day.

Bobby Peek

The flames of this opinion have been fanned by the fact the Sunfoil spillage happened a week previously and the fallout from the incident is still ongoing.

Flushing the contamination down the Msunduzi River

A major issue appears to be an attempt to literally wash the problem away by opening the Henley Dam. Unfortunately, the problem with this plan is that it doesn’t actually fix anything and merely spreads the oil contamination over a larger area.

The Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust claims to have evidence that cattle and other animals have been affected downstream of the original spill site.

Environmental Affairs spokesperson Nathi Oliphant denied that government does not have plans in place to handle issues of this nature and passed the buck on the decision to open the dam by saying it was made by another section of government.

The cause of the Sunfoil spill

The spillage was caused by the collapse, and subsequent damage, of a storage tank on 13 August 2019.

“A vegetable oil storage tank collapsed and, in the process, brought down an adjacent tank. Two other tanks were slightly damaged. One contained sunflower oil and the other diluted caustic soda which is used in the manufacture of laundry soap,” said a statement from Sunfoil’s holding company, the Willowton Group.

“Some product managed to enter the Baynespruit tributary and then into the Msunduzi River.”

Willowton Group

Lack of a plan angers residents

Unfortunately, the company did not divulge any additional details on what may have caused the collapse or details of how it planned to resolve the problem.

The spillage of around 1.6 million litres of fatty oils and caustic soda and has already killed hundreds of fish. The lack of an action plan has caused concern and outrage among the local community and South Africa at large.

“Willowton should be setting up a disaster fund and mobilising the public and business community to assist,” Chairperson of the Happy Earth Environmental Education & Sustainability Forum Pandora Long said.

Pandora Long