The Kuils River rises in the Kanokop Hills of Durbanville just outside of Cape Town, as a trickling stream. Looking at where it originates, one would never imagine the multiple beings and things it affects, nor the deep vast history this river has, not only in shaping Cape Town’s landscape, but also the politics, infrastructure technologies and economics of the day.
Urban river management in Cape Town is dominated by scientific and engineering approaches and solutions to water quality and quantity problems which emanate from what are claimed to be “objective” standpoints. However, these are not neutral, but are a result of a social, political and cultural imagination of the urban rivers as an extension of Cape Town’s sewer network, and the interventions on the rivers for improvement are done by just attending to technical aspects.
Prevailing environmental management policies should be re-examined to protect communities and their environment as much as possible. We explore how certain areas are regarded as cheap and disposable in the interests of economic and political opportunity. These spaces become ‘sacrifice zones’ where the well-being of people and the environment are side-lined in the name of ‘economic development’ and ‘progress’, often brought about by technical proposals and responses assumed to be objective and neutral.
The community living along the banks of the Kuils River paid the price of the upgrades of the river infrastructure and, particularly of the Zandvliet Waste Water Treatment Works. But there was also a cost to the endangered sand dunes of the False Bay coastline, which have been mined for decades to manufacture the cement that has built South Africa’s colonial and current-day architecture. These mineral-rich dunes have been extensively depleted, leaving a fraction of what was previously there along the coast.
Chemical and faecal contamination is the focus of a long-term study coordinated by the South Africa/Norway Cooperation on Ocean Research, whose scope included persistent organic pollutants, the blue economy, climate change, the environment and sustainable energy. In March 2023, the scientific team held a stakeholder meeting to discuss their findings.
What happens when you bring artists, scientists, city officials and aquatic ecosystems together? What unfolding ideas, discoveries or new images arise out of collective thought and action across different disciplines? This was the premise and provoking statement of the EITZ / SANOcean art meets science workshop.