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Acting Rhodes VC accused of ‘hatred of Jews’

“As an alumnus of Rhodes University … I take umbrage at the stance by the university to include me in this biased and one-sided view which sadly reflects ignorance of the tragic situation currently in both Gaza and Israel.” So wrote a frustrated Linda Gordon to Rhodes’ acting vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, who she accused of making statements so “one-sided and inflammatory,” and “evidently fuelled by a baseless and unsubstantiated hatred of Jews.”

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Linda Gordon had read the words of Rhodes’ acting vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela which appeared in an article “World fails Gaza’s children” in the East London Daily Dispatch last month. She responded with a letter to the editor in her capacity as an alumnus of Rhodes “and a proud South African Jewess”, stating that she was “appalled” that Mabizela had “issued such one-sided and inflammatory statements, evidently fuelled by a baseless and unsubstantiated hatred of Jews”.

Dr Mabizela had “expressed his utter disgust at the killing of Palestinian children at the hands of the Israeli Defence Forces”, wrote the Daily Dispatch in an article posted on the Rhodes website.

Ordination - HOMEMabizela had been speaking at a candlelight vigil held at the university in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The acting VC said “the Palestinians were enduring one of the most atrocious attacks ever visited on a people.


RIGHT: Dr Mabizela, centre, leads a protest through the streets of Grahamstown


“We are here to express our utter disgust with the systematic extermination of the defenceless people of Gaza,” he said. “How is it that innocent children can be deemed as legitimate targets by the Israeli Defence Force?”

Mabizela also condemned the Obama administration for what he termed its support of the killing of the Palestinian people. “We demand the immediate cessation of indiscriminate and brutal attacks on the defenceless people of Gaza.

“We condemn the senseless irrational and inhumane collective punishment of people of Gaza and we demand the immediate unconditional lifting of the blockade.”

 


Readers please note: SAJR has persistently tried to reach Dr Mabizela for comment between Monday morning and Wednesday midday. “Please can you call so we can discuss this matter and balance the story with your input,” SAJR said when sending the draft story to the acting VC on Monday evening. He was given cell numbers but chose not to contact SAJR. 


Statements appalling

Linda Gordon, who lives in Durban, was appalled, rebutting Mabizela in the Dispatch: “While every life lost in Gaza is a tragedy,” she said, he failed to mention any of the following:

  • Hamas’ charter seeks the destruction of Israel and murder of the Jewish people in blatant anti-Semitic language;
  • The greatest systematic extermination of any people was the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War;
  • Hamas initiated the conflict with Israel years ago and has broken every ceasefire;
  • Israel has offered to withdraw from the Palestinian territories for secure and recognised borders and the end of conflict;
  • In fact, Israel withdrew from Gaza nine years ago, leaving behind much agricultural infrastructure and equipment which Hamas, after staging a coup d’etat to seize power from Fatah, used to build rockets and tunnels to attack Israelis; and
  • Between 1948 and 1967, when Gaza was controlled by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan, nothing was done to improve conditions in those areas or to create a state.

Ordination - Julia proudly displays her certificateDr Mabizela’s statements were so “one-sided and inflammatory,” saidGordon afterwards, “evidently fuelled by a baseless and unsubstantiated hatred of Jews”.


LEFT: Dr Mazibela – whose statements were very one-sided according to Linda Gordon. The acting VC chose not to comment on the story.


A media worker from East London, whose name is known to Jewish Report, even wrote to Gordon after the publication of her letter in the Dispatch: “It saddens me how one-sided this has all become. My heart bleeds for the people of Israel and how they are treated by the rest of the world. All I can say is G-d bless Israel and may they stand united and stay strong.”

 

No sympathy from Dr Mabizela

But the acting VC was far less sympathetic. Gordon wrote to him saying: “It was with grave concern that I recently read about the Rhodes University Open Letter, from which I quote as follows:

“…The attack on Gaza by the Israeli state violates the most basic human rights of the people in the area… and the escalating catastrophe is part of a persistent and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people.  As staff, students, honorary graduates and alumni… we feel a moral obligation to take a clear public position against the ongoing violence of the Israeli state…”

Gordon was commenting on an earlier story in the Daily Dispatch titled: Rhodes campus outraged at Israeli action which said: “A petition condemning the ongoing violence in Gaza has been signed by more than 300 members of the Rhodes University community. The list of 318 names includes acting vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, honorary doctorate holder Zackie Achmat and Rhodes alumnus and journalist Niren Tolsi.”

An open letter accompanying the petition read: “The escalating catastrophe is not an isolated incident, but part of a persistent and systemic oppression of the Palestinian people.”In light of this, we take the view that solidarity with the people in Gaza needs to move from expressions of moral outrage towards effective political action.”

In the Rhodes-owned weekly, Grocott’s Mail, Professor Robert van Niekerk, director of the Rhodes Institute of Social and Economic Research, made similar inflammatory and one-sided statements in an article titled Rhodes academics call for Palestinian solidarity in which he called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from South Africa.

The signatories said they felt a moral obligation to take a “clear position against the ongoing violence”, of course blaming Israel for it. “We would like to add our voices to the growing demand that the South African government severs all links with Israel, including trade and investment, and expels Israel’s ambassador and recalls ours.”

 

Not in my name…

Gordon contacted the university hoping to discuss this issue with the person responsible for this Open Letter and sweeping statements, but to no avail. And so it was that she wrote directly to the acting vice-chancellor.

“As an alumnus of Rhodes University… I take umbrage at the stance by the university to include me in this biased and one-sided view, which sadly reflects ignorance of the tragic situation currently in both Gaza and Israel,” Gordon wrote to Dr Mabizela.

“As you are aware, Hamas, a radical Islamic fundamentalist organisation which uses political and violent means, is committed to establishing an Islamic state in the whole of what it terms Palestine – post-1948 Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas’ Charter uncompromisingly seeks the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of the Jewish people in blatant anti-Semitic language.

“Yet in your address,” wrote Gordon, “you failed to make any mention of this… You made no reference to the Israeli situation at all.”

While every life lost in Gaza was a tragedy, she wrote, “your reference to ‘systematic extermination’ in this regard is gross hyperbole”.

She reminded Dr Mabizela that “Hamas initiated the conflict with Israel years ago and has continued to fire rockets into Southern Israel, even reaching Tel Aviv recently and causing the temporary closure of Ben-Gurion Airport.

“Israel has responded, as would any sovereign state, to protect its citizens and to safeguard the establishment of the State of Israel… Every ceasefire has been broken by Hamas.” 

Rhodes - Dr Sizwe Mabizela HOMEShe added that what she found “even more inexplicable, is the failure by you and by Reverend Andrew Hunter, the Grahamstown Anglican Church dean, to even mention the situation of the Christians in the Islamic State.


RIGHT: The Rhodes campus lies 
in the heart of Grahamstown


“Surely you should be condemning the action of the jihadists who took over large areas of northern Iraq and forced thousands of Christians to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs?” asked Gordon.

Churches had been occupied, crosses removed and up to 1 500 manuscripts burnt, she reminded him. The UN estimates that up to 200 000 people had fled, she wrote, “but for you and the Dean this was a non-event”. What about the deaths of some 170 000 Syrians in the current civil war, she asked.

“As I question the reason for what you said and did not say, and for what is contained in the Rhodes University Open Letter, I can reach only one conclusion, viz, that it is fuelled by a basic hatred of Jews that is  both baseless and unsubstantiated.
“The venom we are now hearing both locally and overseas, some 69 years after the Holocaust, fills me with trepidation and seems to make a mockery of the cry by Jews world-wide: ‘Never Again’.” 

 Gordon ended her long and impassioned letter to Dr Mabizela with the words: “I shall appreciate receiving your reply.”

The reply indeed came, promptly. It was penned on the acting VC’s behalf by his personal assistant. It read simply: “Dr Mabizela acknowledges receipt of your e-mail and he has read it and respects your right to your opinion.”

Rhodes ‘toxic’ for Jewish staff and students

Ordination - ShulIn late 2013, Rhodes settled a long outstanding labour dispute with a senior Jewish staffer in the Dean of Students’ office who had been victimised for her Zionist views.


LEFT: Among the charges against Rhodes management in the Larissa Klazinga matter, were that some senior members of the university’s management had allowed BDS to use fellow- staffers, students and even faculty-members to spy on her during Israel Apartheid Week in 2012 and 2013. The charges were never disputed by then-vice- chancellor Dr Badat.


The amount of the settlement Rhodes paid  Klazinga was not disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement – but according to her attorney, Michael Bagraim, the settlement had been substantial.

During and after the long-running matter, several Rhodes donors withdrew, the university paid considerable legal fees and several senior staffers involved in the matter are no longer with Rhodes.

The then-vice-chancellor has moved on, as has the deputy dean of students. The dean of students took early retirement. The campus has become such a toxic environment for Jewish students, one professor told SAJR in January this year, that many practising Jewish students prefer to leave their religion out when filling in their administrative documentation.

To follow the previous anti-Zionist actions of Rhodes, read the stories below:

Related reads and dozens of comments:

ANT INTERVIEW PODCAST – the day the Rhodes story broke SAJR’s online editor, Ant Katz, was interviewed on ChaiFM.

Rhodes -  Rhodes Dr Sizwe Mabizela (front right) leads a march against gender-based violence


RIGHT: Larissa Klazinga, who chose to tell the story in her own words on SAJR Online in January. The story had tens of thousands of reads at the time



LARISSA’S TALE
 in which Ms Klazinga tells her own story of her two-year-long nightmare and ultimate saviour by members of the SA Jewish community.

RHODES PAYS DEARLY FOR ANTI-ZIONIST STAND was the SAJR’s story that blew the lid on Larissa’s episode and other goings-on at Rhodes – and the link between BDS, IAW and Rhodes.

CHARGE SHEET PDF – has 15 charges (7 relate to religion or religious politics) & 18 further “points of discussion” of which 9 relate to Israel. The term “Israel” is expressed 10 times on the charge sheet.

OUTRAGE OVER “HOMOPHOBIA” POSTERS published in the Mail & Guardian on May 31, when Rhodes threatened to disband their internal “Fairness Forum” for not agreeing that pro-Israel posters were racist.

REPUBLICATION OF APRIL STORY that brought matters to a head – the republication was read over 4 000 times in five days with an average read time of just over six minutes.

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Major parties undermined by “angrier, poorer” electorate

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South Africans go to the polls on 1 November in “elections that no parties really want”, according to political journalist Stephen Grootes. In the midst of a pandemic, established parties are losing support “and people have become angrier and poorer” since the last local government elections in 2016.

Grootes was moderating a webinar on Tuesday, 12 October, titled “Navigate the local government elections 2021”, organised by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. The webinar is part of the Board’s mandate to encourage voter registration in the Jewish community, formally observe the elections, and promote political debate.

Are these municipal elections about service delivery or about elements of identity in the context of South Africa’s racialised inequality? According to Nompumelelo Runji, the founder and chief executive of Critical ThinkAR – a research and stakeholder management consultancy – it’s a little bit of both in this highly polarised society.

“Good governance isn’t just about clean audits, sewage infrastructure, and tarred roads,” she said. For many, the yardstick is whether their quality of life is improving or not. They are asking if the African National Congress (ANC) can really deliver for all rather than the elite few.

Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga also senses popular anger, but no consolidation of support by any political party to capitalise on the ANC’s failures. “The ANC is held back by its own history,” he said, and hopes to get by on mea culpas [acknowledgement of wrongdoing] and faith. “It’s the devil people know,” Mathekga said. He judged that talk of renewal in the ANC was illusory, describing it as “a party in great difficulty”. “Corruption has been democratised in local government, with mammoth irregularities in public procurement,” Mathekga said, pointing out that criminal elements like protection rackets have filled the vacuum where the state has retreated.

Runji said local elections were “a vehicle for employment, a jobs pipeline for parties. Capacity and skills are trumped by factional allegiances. There is a failure to adhere to financial governance practices like the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] and the MFMA [Municipal Finance Management Act].” She characterised the problem as a toxic mix of lack of responsibility, no accountability, deficient oversight, and a dearth of consequences for maladministration. “Party loyalty and dynamics become more important than delivering services,” she said.

Wayne Sussman, elections analyst for Daily Maverick, views it as a unique election in which the two major parties have little momentum 20 days before the vote.

“There are only 400 members of parliament, but there are far more council positions up for grabs,” said Sussman. In an environment of high unemployment, the prospect of a middle-class job for five years in a municipal council has proved enticing for many. Independent candidates have mushroomed, and he expects them to do marginally better because of their sheer volume. “They will find it hard to influence politics in the metros, but they will play a role in this election,” Sussman said.

Looking at opposition parties, will the Democratic Alliance (DA) be punished at the polls? A lot depends on differential turnout, according to Sussman. If the suburbs come out in numbers and disillusioned ANC voters stay at home, “the DA may not do that badly. It was the first out of the starting blocks with its posters. But to use a rugby analogy, with the try-line in front of them, they have had knock-on after knock-on in the past week.” He predicts that the party will retain Cape Town and be the biggest or second biggest party in all the country’s metropolitan councils.

“The DA seems to want to attract controversy and get into trouble, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has no plans to co-operate with anyone,” Mathekga said. “It would be shocked if it actually won a council.” He agreed that the DA often failed to read the public mood, and didn’t appear to have a real strategy for the Gauteng metros. The EFF is growing in South Africa’s neglected small towns, and the party may emerge as kingmaker in several councils, like it did in 2016. But its refusal to commit to coalitions makes for unstable politics. There is the real chance that some councils will be deadlocked and unable to agree on the election of a speaker, a mayor, and to pass the council budget. If they fail to do the latter, they will come under national administration. The speakers predicted there may be chaos like this in Tshwane, the nation’s capital.

Sussman is also carefully watching the performance of former Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, which has taken a gamble by contesting only in Gauteng’s three metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni) and in three municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. It has run a slick social-media campaign. “He has to do well on election night,” Sussman said. “If he does badly, it’s probably the end.”

Finally, the panellists agreed there was merit in retaining separate municipal elections, as it promoted local-level democracy. This particular election will certainly make for interesting analysis in the weeks to come.

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Back to Africa: shlicha’s journey comes full circle in Cape Town

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Exactly 30 years ago, emissaries from the Jewish Agency came to Ethiopia to tell Batya Shmueli’s family that “the way to Jerusalem is open”. Soon after, at the age of 11, she made aliyah as part of Operation Solomon. Now, she has returned to the continent of her birth as a shaliach (emissary) of the Jewish Agency, closing the circle.

She and her husband, Hed Shmueli, and their three children arrived in Cape Town as shlichim the week before Pesach. She has taken on the role of aliyah and community shlicha while he is working as head of Israel education at United Herzlia Schools. With roots in Ethiopia, Romania, and Iraq, they bring the diversity of Israeli society to the southern tip of Africa.

“We always felt we would do shlichut in America or Canada,” says Shmueli. “But when we met Cape Town community leaders Esta Levitas and Julie Berman, we immediately connected and knew this was the community for us.”

It hasn’t been a simple journey. “When we were told we could come to Israel, my father was 81 years old. Every Jew in Ethiopia had waited for this moment. It was the first time I saw my father cry,” Shmueli recalls. The family had lived a difficult life, needing to hide their Jewish identity and battle for survival. While the flight was a moment of joy, adapting to life in Israel wasn’t easy.

“We lived in a caravan near a small town in the Galilee. After living there for three years, I attended boarding school. It was a tremendous culture shock,” she says. Wanting to blend in and be accepted, she threw off her family’s religious values and tried to become a secular teenager. “I even made my hair blonde!” she laughs. She learned Hebrew quickly, and tried to distance herself from her parents and her past.

But after school, she finally started to embrace her history and identity as an Ethiopian Jew. She found out that it was members of the Israeli Navy along with Mossad who had come to Sudan to help Ethiopian Jews come to Israel, and became inspired to join the navy during her army service to “close the circle”. Eventually, she served in the Israeli Navy with an elite naval commando unit.

“My father passed away before he could see me in uniform. So many people helped me in my journey in Israel. This was my opportunity to serve and give back,” she says.

It was in the navy that she met Hed whose family came to Israel from Iraq and Romania. He also had a connection to Africa. “After tragically losing his father, who was only 51 years old, he decided to take himself on a journey to discover the world. Being an artist and sculptor, he spent time as a volunteer arts project leader in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, and learning traditional East-African wood carving in Kenya,” says Shmueli.

“After returning to Israel, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs sponsored an artists’ mission to Dakar, Senegal. Hed was involved in co-ordinating and leading a group of Israeli artists sent as cultural representatives to Senegal for Israel’s 60th birthday celebrations.”

She also travelled after the army, spending a year in Los Angeles. It was there than she began to regret turning away from her identity and vowed “to return to my roots and culture”.

“I cried a lot that year, thinking about the pain and loss that my parents’ generation felt,” Shmueli says. “I wanted to go back to Israel and explain who we are as Ethiopian Jews. I wanted to be the voice of my parents.”

Returning to Israel, she realised she couldn’t “wait to be invited” to share her story, she had to just start doing it. She began to address audiences, sharing Ethiopian Jewish customs, culture, and cooking. She also got her Bachelor of Arts from Haifa University, where she studied teaching and the history of the Jewish people. She later received her Master’s degree in the history of Israel and Jewish law.

She then developed a programme that taught students about leadership and responsibility. In 2009, she returned to Ethiopia with the Israeli foreign ministry to teach village women about entrepreneurship. For the past 11 years, she has been fundraising for new immigrant populations.

When deciding where to raise their family, the Shmuelis chose to settle in the beautiful artists’ village of Ein Hod. It was a very secular community, however, so they decided to bring their passion for Judaism into the fold by commissioning a Sefer Torah for the village. It was made in the name of their late fathers, who had taught them to hold onto their Jewish heritage no matter what. “One thousand people came to the hachnasat [welcoming] Torah event,” recalls Shmueli. “There were Israelis from every sector of society.”

Eighteen years ago, they also opened their home to travellers hiking the Israel National Trail from the south to the north of Israel. Calling it “Avraham’s Tent”, they hosted more than 20 000 travellers.

The Shmuelis bring all of this passion and purpose with them to their shlichut in Cape Town. Their determination has seen them through delay in arrival as a result of the pandemic. In addition, their three children battled with being uprooted and being under lockdown.

“Israel is a country of children, and there is so much freedom for kids. So they have struggled, but we feel this is the best gift we can give them,” says Shmueli. “We are showing them that they belong to the Jewish people, and to bring that opportunity for connection to others.”

They believe they are in the right place at the right time. “After 20 minutes of talking to Esta and Julie, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is the correct place for us’. It’s a unique community with a unique history. This isn’t just about a new job, it’s something much deeper. We feel it’s the time to support the Jewish community.”

They have spent the past few months immersing themselves in the community and its organisations. “It’s so unique. It’s not every day that you see a community where all the Jewish children go to the same school and where there is so much support for everyone who needs it,” she says.

Just like she was given so many opportunities when she started her new life in Israel, she wants to create awareness about the possibilities that Israel provides, especially for the younger generation. She wants to help the youth feel proud of their heritage and connection with Israel.

“I want to be a bridge between Israel and South Africa,” she says. “We live our shlichut day and night, and are here for the community at any time. And we are here to learn from you too.”

They plan to meet people from all walks of life, sharing the diversity of their family and Israeli society. “We won’t apologise for who we are … we stand strong,” says Shmueli. At the same time, she encourages questions, discussion, and debate.

“The Ethiopian Jewish community never gave up on their dream of going to Jerusalem,” she says. Being part of the generation that got to go back to Israel means that she sees her shlichut as a continuation of that journey. “To be back in Africa as Israelis for the Jewish community – I thank G-d for showing us the way.”

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Israeli company brings SA dam back to life

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Just before Pesach this year, the SA Jewish Report detailed how leading global “watertech” company, BlueGreen Water Technologies, was assisting local government authorities to transform toxic water into healthy drinking water at Setumo Dam on the Molopo River in North West province.

Six months later, the company has announced that its water clean-up intervention has been successfully completed. For the first time in decades, the people of Mahikeng are receiving safe drinking water from their main water supply source, which was severely contaminated by toxic algae blooms. The project was in collaboration with Sedibeng Water, the company overseen by the Department of Water and Sanitation.

“BlueGreen is committed to making water safe,” says Eyal Harel, the chief executive and co-founder of the company. “We undertook this project pro-bono, knowing it was the only chance for this community to access clean drinking water, enjoy Setumo Dam as a safe water source, and unleash its potential for recreational purposes. We wish to empower local authorities to reclaim their water sources and advance the health and livelihood of their communities.

“To clear Setumo Dam was an unprecedented technical and operational challenge, with far-reaching consequences for the rural community that relies on it,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “The project has not only confirmed BlueGreen’s ability to remediate lakes under the toughest conditions, but also improved water quality and water availability. Setumo Dam can now be used not only as a source of drinking water but also as a local attraction for recreation. The economic development possibilities in and around the lake are far-reaching.”

The outbreak at Setumo Dam was considered one of the worst cases in South Africa. The heavy load of blue-green algae was the result of decades of insufficiently treated sewage being released directly into the dam. The dam’s size and level of contamination had deemed it “untreatable”.

BlueGreen’s treatment protocol was tailored to the unique conditions in Setumo Dam by BlueGreen’s field specialists. It also eliminated unpleasant taste and odour compounds from the drinking water.

“The unique situation we found in the field brought about two previously unaddressed challenges,” says Harel. “The first was the rural location and lack of basic infrastructure. This mandated an out-of-the-box logistical adaptation so that our treatment could be delivered timely and accurately.

“In addition, we encountered extreme biological conditions that rendered the entire dam a dead aquatic zone. Reviving the lake meant tailoring a specific treatment protocol that would reverse infectious processes that have been dominating the dam for decades, and give a fighting chance to non-toxic species that would enhance the lake’s biodiversity. As time went by, changes became evident from treatment, not only in the colour of the water, but a clear change in the number of animals, primarily birds, approaching the water, as well as an increase in their diversity.

“Shortly before starting treatment, we witnessed the local community performing rituals that involved entering Setumo Dam’s toxic water. We saw some fishermen trying to catch the few small fish that survived the harsh conditions. We grasped how under-developed the area was, in spite of its amazing potential. And we realised that once cleaned, we wouldn’t just improve the health and livelihood of the people around Setumo Dam, we would create a historical opportunity for local authorities to turn the lake into a place that could bring about much-needed development and prosperity.”

Asked if the company will work in South Africa again, Harel says, “As part of our work at Setumo Dam, we tried to establish an economic model that will allow us to repeat this in other under-developed areas in South Africa and around the world. We have established that a clean Setumo Dam saves the local community as much as 90% of their ongoing drinking water production cost! We hope that these findings will push other communities into action to reclaim and revive their water sources.

“Years of drought, pollution, growing population, and global warming have all contributed to South Africa’s deteriorating water availability and water quality,” he says. “Water has turned into a matter of national security. BlueGreen has made it part of its business to support local, rural communities, and establish their basic human right to clean water. Our means to remediate Setumo Dam’s water couldn’t have been put into play if not for the tremendous help of local government, including South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation and Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, local water boards (Sedibeng Water and Rand Water), as well as the active support of our local partners, AECI group and Capitol Air. This united effort and commitment by so many is heartwarming, and an encouraging indication of South Africa’s innate ability to overcome great challenges.”

Jurgens van Loggerenberg, the director of Africa for BlueGreen Water Technologies says, “The project has had a positive impacted on more than half a million lives as a direct result of improved water quality. Setumo Dam’s high cyanobacterial cell content [billions of cells per millilitre] far surpassed the levels deemed safe and approved by the World Health Organization and the South African Bureau of Standards.

“The heavy organic load was also disrupting the ability of the local water treatment plant to operate, increasing the overall costs substantially and keeping the final water quality well below national and international standards. This historical achievement is the result of a joint effort that included the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sedibeng Water, and Rand Water Analytical Services working together.”

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