Johannesburg’s only perennial river, the Jukskei, snakes through large parts of the city and has the potential to offer social and environmental benefits to residents.  Instead, it is a hazard and health risk.  Due to outdated or failing stormwater and sewage systems, the river is highly polluted and contains many disease-causing pathogens.  

A large quantity of industrial and human waste finds its way into the river, blocking the water flow and making it smelly, unsightly and unusable. Many urban parts of the river cannot cope with heavy rains which cause flooding and endanger the lives of those living close to it.

In our co-ordinated effort between national & provincial government, city authorities, the private sector and academia, we are putting together efforts to remediate this potentially life-sustaining natural resource and realise the numerous benefits it could provide the community.

The river is canalised for a number of street blocks before opening up in greenbelts further downstream. The water level can rapidly rise to over 2m when stormwater enters the canal after heavy rains, causing havoc to residents downstream, for example, in Alexandra. A monitoring station has been installed to test the water quality and flow rate to help plan mitigation strategies.

Project Overview

The project pilots and develops a collaborative model for urban watershed and river restoration that is sustainable and replicable at different scales.   We use innovative ways to restore the natural eco-system of the Jukskei River, starting at the river’s daylight point in Lorentzville, Johannesburg.  The daylight point is where the river comes above ground for the first time from its underground source.  

We aim to demonstrate what impact a clean, beautiful neighbourhood and river can have on improving the quality of people’s lives.  We facilitate a way of life for communities that enables a change in the way they interact with the natural environment, through artistic expression, skills development and job creation.  The properties and people along the river currently have their backs to the water and we will endeavour to turn their gaze towards the river.

We are co-designing an ecological infrastructure system in the catchment area with innovative participatory Sustainable Urban Draining Systems (SUDS) interventions which harness the short intense downpours before the water reaches the canal.  Efforts are made to mimic the original Soweto Grasslands that were in place before urbanisation of the area. By including the original ecological system into the urban development framework (UDF), the development plan builds a resilient infrastructure along with an informed pro-active community.  This resilience will contribute to climate change adaptation which expects shorter, more concentrated and severe thunderstorms in the future.

The improvement of the water quality is a core concern and focus that is being addressed by multiple thought processes and studies.

Project Objectives

Advocate for and educate on the developmental role of a regenerated urban waterway. | Co-design the technical restoration of the waterway through innovative green technologies. | Establish an eco-art green corridor from the daylight point at Fuller Park Lorentzville to 1st Street, Bezuidenhout Park. | Create economic, social, and environmental opportunities in the community. | Build a sustainable organisation.

Long-term Outcomes

The regenerated catchment area inspires small businesses, which thrive – providing jobs and uplifting the community. | The pilot site becomes an educational hub that demonstrates the value of a rejuvenated urban waterway. | Johannesburg becomes more resilient to climate change, e.g. managing increasing levels of stormwater runoff. | The green corridor is established and is a haven for clean and protected walking in Johannesburg. | The natural environment starts to come back, and water quality is vastly improved.