SEWAGE: Sewage overflow next to the Klein Jukskei in October last year.

Despite only being founded a year ago, the Action for Responsible Management of our Rivers (Armour) group was awarded the Greening the Future’s Water Efficiency and Management Award.

The award was created by the Mail & Guardian newspaper and receives dozens of entries from across the country each year. This year, the judges were particularly interested in the issue of water in South Africa, as the country is still reeling from the consequences of the drought.

“We were absolutely flabbergasted that we won first place in our category because we’re so new, but we were also delighted,” said Helen Duigan, who along with her husband Anthony founded Armour in November of last year.

The campaign was started after concerned residents noticed that for a period of two or three weeks between July and August last year, the Northern Water Waste Treatment Works dumped raw sewage into the Jukskei River almost daily. This was combined with a more general concern that pollution had been an issue in the area for many years.

“Armour actually came about because we started a petition, which received more than 400 signatures, for something to be done to protect our water [from this raw sewage],” explained Anthony.

“We got an incredible response, and so the next question we asked ourselves is ‘how do we maintain sustained pressure on institutions to care for our water?’ and that’s where Armour started.”

Official response to their petition was swift. The Green Scorpions, environmental enforcement officials from a number of governmental departments, were sent to visit the works plant, and Armour was contacted by the chief operating officer of Joburg Water to be notified that the pumps at the treatment works would be upgraded, and the sludge dams emptied, so that further overflow would be prevented.

The Duigans said Armour was less of a project and more of a sustained campaign to ensure that water had a voice. Its four-person committee has monthly meetings, which are also open to the public, where problem areas are identified, and ideas about what should be done and by whom, are brainstormed.

“What someone who wants to change something in their community needs to remember is that a lone voice [speaking out about an issue] rarely has an impact. Many voices are needed to make the maximum impact,” Anthony said.

“You need to find ways to mobilise civil society, find a way to get everyone involved in finding a solution.”

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