Submitted by:  James Barnes 

South Africa’s waterways are critically important natural resources.  Hennops Revival is a non-profit organisation dedicated to clearing the Hennops River (Tshwane) catchment area of pollution and working with local communities to ensure sustainable management of the waterway, with plans to extend the project to the Crocodile and Limpopo catchment areas.  Founder James Barnes shared his story.

How did Hennops Revival come about?

The quality of water in the Hennops River is of great concern to me, and to many people who live in its catchment area.  In November 2019, along with two other founders – Tarryn Johnston and Casper Kruger – I registered a non-profit company to be able to carry out the cleaning of the Hennops River on a sustainable basis.  Since then we have successfully cleared 90 tons of solid waste from the river, through several clean-up operations in which we engaged teams of volunteers. 

The background to the pollution problem 

Firstly, the morphology and context of the river need to be explained to emphasize why this work is so important:  The Hennops River has several smaller tributaries upstream that flow into the main river.  One example is the Kaarlspruit, which starts in Kempton Park and travels through Tembisa.  Environmental pollution that enters the Kaalspruit, upstream, flows into the Hennops River.  

Secondly, many parts of Gauteng and Tshwane are affected by failure or over-capacity of sewerage treatment systems.  Untreated sewage flows into the river constantly.  Effluent that enters the river upstream, ultimately ends up in the Hennops River.  This is a fundamental cause of river pollution. Fecal coliform counts of 28 million parts per 100ml sample are often recorded. 

Thirdly, there are many industrial areas located along the river, as well as hundreds of stormwater drains.  Industrial waste runs off into the river. Added to the untreated sewage, as well as other types of solid pollution (plastic and other discarded waste material) that run off into the river from settlements in the catchment area, it is a highly toxic mix.  Solid waste in large quantities blocks river channels and stormwater drains, leading to flooding. 

The role of Hennops Revival in solving our river problems

Hennops Revival has a long-term plan to solve these problems: 

  • Treat the water with an enzyme that consumes faecal matter. 
  • Train and employ 20 teams of five people to clean the banks of the river daily. 
  • Install specially constructed nets over stormwater drains to catch the rubbish before it enters the river system.  This has two positive effects: Firstly, PET plastics could be collected and recycled before they enter the river (where they become too dirty to be suitable for recycling).  Secondly, plastic and other solid waste could be collected with a lot less effort. We would also be able to sell the PET plastics to recycling companies to help in raising funds to sustain the project.

The role of volunteers who serve the project

Volunteering is a key aspect of our success to date.  Currently, we have around 400 volunteers who help with river clean-ups.  We have various channels that we use to communicate with them, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and email.  Volunteers sign a disclaimer before they start working with us. This is where we get their cell numbers, and other details.  We have found that we are attracting a huge number of people from Centurion who want to be part of this project; it grows every time we initiate a clean-up!  People want to make a difference in their communities, and they want to restore rivers to a clean, safe state. Schools, church groups, and other organisations are increasingly keen to be involved.  We have started developing a school training programme, which will be implemented as a train-the-trainer type of lesson for school children. Our intention is that if we train the children well enough, they will go home and train they family members in caring for the local waterways. 

Funding the project

Hennops Revival is currently completely reliant on donations from individuals.  The project requires financial resources to operate, purchase resources, and ultimately to grow and be able to set up similar projects in other areas and rivers, based on our lessons and trials.  

We are in the process of obtaining corporate involvement.  We approach this is in different ways, from a range of perspectives, including the health benefits of cleaning up the river.  I am a personal success story for the health benefits of cleaning up rivers!  I have lost seven kilograms since we started this project and have had to cut off 10cm from my belt, and make another two holes in it, so that I can continue to wear my trousers!  

We came up with the phrase Riverobics.  We hope that medical aid companies will adopt this idea and run with it, so to speak, especially companies that offer benefits to members who engage in healthy lifestyles.  The idea would be for members to come to the clean-ups and log that they are there, in order to gain points for being active.  Then, for every point that their members get, the company could pay the NPC an equivalent Rand value.  Ideally, this concept would extend to all NPCs that work to restore river systems in South Africa.  It would also help in keeping South Africans fit and healthy.  Ultimately, we hope this would allow for more organisations such as ours to gain the financial resources they need to boost their efforts and effectiveness in cleaning the rivers.

Working partners

We are very fortunate here in Tshwane, as we have great people in the area that partner with us on the project in many ways, such as collecting all the bags of rubbish that we collect on our clean-ups.  We also have a close relationship with CCBC (Capital City Business Chamber) who is in the process of setting up a corporate forum for us to raise the funds needed for us to take this project to the next level.  

Water is critical for the survival of all life on our planet.  Our rivers are literally life-giving resources, if they are managed and cared for properly, and we have a duty to do this.  Hennops Revival has the vision and overall plan to restore our waterways to a clean, safe condition, and to uplift and engage communities and enhance human health and well being in the process!