To The Sea

One spin-off of our 2012 uMngeni River Walk, was a request by Paolo Candotti of the Kloof Conservancy for us to walk the Aller Stream, a tributary of the uMngeni (near Molweni). The conservancy wished to initiate a river health project with schools on the Molweni and with Eco Champs on the Aller. We thus decided to pop in and see Paolo and the Aller en route to Blue Lagoon today.

Education officers, Wendy Ncgobo, Hlengiwe Nxele and newly appointed DUCT administration manager, Siloshnie Padayachee joined us for the day as part of Siloshinie’s induction.  We were seeing firsthand the damage caused by the recent floods and talking about root issues, community perceptions, hearing about different river health projects and meeting the folk involved.  In one of the many synchronicities that we have experienced in the last three days we came across a DUCT/eThekwini Palmiet Eco-Champ team doing community work.  It was great to find out about their role in this project and to discover that Wendy knew some of the team.

The upper Aller (New Germany) is a place of contrasts: where a peaceful residential area gives way to a small park of bright green lawn and massive spreading trees, which in turn gives way to a light industrial area. At each of these interfaces, a road crosses the Aller. At each of these intersections lies the evidence of what Ian Player told us back in 2012: if we disrespect Mother Nature by mistreating her arteries the rivers, we will pay the price… The stark reality of blocked storm water pipes, washed away roads, garden walls, exposed pipes and electrical cables, broken and flowing sewers is evidence of his predictions.

Standing on one such small flooded bridge, I heard the unmistakable call of a Purple Crested Lourie flying over us whilst a Hamerkop happily foraged in the stream bed as ‘scintillating’ scents of raw sewage and sosaties wafted past us as we stood with Paolo and Lucy Coelho viewing the destruction.  We’ve seen repeats of this destruction since turning off Fields Hill this morning, as our meandering GPS generated route has led us over numerous washed away stream banks,  collapsed garden walls and embankments, washed away bridges and roads and even homes undermined when the earth beneath them gave way to the torrents of water. We wonder and debate firstly as to just how much of this damage could have been avoided if the Aller had had what is today a legally required 32-meter wide buffer on her banks (even though this is a legal requirement it seems to be seldom implemented and many areas such as the areas built up around the Aller, were developed long before the buffer law; secondly what it would cost to rehabilitate all the Allers River banks and riparian areas versus the cost of post flooding rebuilding?

Paulo and Luci Coelo, (project manager for the Aller River Pilot Project designed and run by Kloof Conservancy) discussed the work that has been happening in the Molweni and Aller River catchments, as well as proposals to implement similar projects citywide.  It was exciting to hear about their successful nappy project which enabled communities to safely dispose of their disposable nappies without polluting the river environment.

 After saying farewell to Paolo and Lucy we headed to blue lagoon.

After about 20 minutes of driving, Pandora suddenly realized that the GPS was sending us on a route to blue lagoon nearly 2 hours away… Back via the N3. We turned around, resetting the GPS and thus we were sent on a route that we didn’t know,  that led us parallel to and overlooking the Aller all the way into Durban and then along the uMngeni.

Then an inspired detour into the uMngeni Business Park had us turning this way and that, heading instinctively for Mama River, trying to find a route to her between warehouses. We took a chance, crossed a railway line… And there she was!

A silent wide mass of river, flowing like a long silk ribbon to her meeting place with the ocean. We chatted to Parshan, one of the business owners and some workers there, high above the water, 100 metres or so wide. Parshan and his brother related the terror of the floods.  The banks where we now stood had collapsed during the floods, shearing tens of meters of bank into the river, leaving cracks in buildings now perilously close to the edge of an unstable platform.  Parshan said that the river was at its highest late at night and he and his brother experiencing a feeling of sea sickness as the rolling of the water shook the ground and thundered past.  As they watched all manner of debri, household items like fridges, cars, huge logs and a 45 ton sand mining rig float past, as if they were piloted by some unseen hand. Today the only activity on the river is a lone boatman on a homemade polystyrene raft, poling his way up river to catch fish. Parshan told us how the original river course had been to the south, on the quarry side, and that in the old days the area adjacent to the river was a wetland floodplain and that the city would dispose of the cities slop bucket contents there. Thereafter, the area became the cities refuse dump and then the area became settled by an Indian community, in what was known as ‘Tintown’.

Our last leg was but a short hop to the river mouth where the colours of the sea seemed layered: chocolate brown river water, white breaking waves, dark blue ocean. We walked on the beach looking in awe at the remaining flotsam and jetsam still left from the recent floods. Logs, reeds and sticks en mass with more than a sprinkling of small plastic, polystyrene and other items not picked up by cleanup crews and recyclers. Pandora and I watched a large TLB on the beach scooping up logs into a pile; a reminder of the previous time we watched a TLB together:  during the uMngeni River Walk 2012, sand mining… watching what we at the time described as akin to a deranged elephant, tearing out the belly of Mama River in what was very likely an illegal activity. (I was told yesterday that the problem of illegal sand mining continues unabated along the uMngeni River) This means that we have witnessed the same type of machine being used both to destroy and to heal.

A large pile of yellow refuse bags lay ready for collection and nearby was a group of young people who had run a beach clean-up campaign earlier in the day. We learnt that they were a team from the Durban Adopt a River project run by Janet Simpkins. It was really nice chatting to them about their work and it reminded us of the morning after we finished the uMgeni walk in 2012.  We had gone to the beach to watch the sunrise.  Having always taken clean beaches for granted we were very surprised to see beach clean-up crews finishing up their morning shift with large piles of filled refuse bags.  One of the young cleaning crew members we chatted to told us that he loved his work because he loved the ocean, whilst an older crew member who had been doing this for a long time, said that even though his work wasn’t highly thought of by many, he took great pride in the fact that he was keeping the ocean clean. Now, ten years we have an opportunity to thank another young crew for doing such important work for the ocean.  

Our last stop was to meet Margaret Burger and her Durban WESSA Youth group at the Green Hub.  It was so wonderful to see a new generation of passionate people who are taking the lead in becoming custodians of our rivers, ocean and environment.  How fitting an end to our reunion by joining hands and sharing river wisdom as we remembered Hebert Khehla Charmane, a much loved local guide who was passionate about community and environment, guided us along the banks of the uMngeni river on the last day of our walk in 2012, past community gardens that he had helped establish and sharing his deep local knowledge and passion for Mama river. 

It has been wonderful to experience the friendship, camaraderie, passion and threads that connect us to each other and to this river. Who would have thought that a 28-day walk down the uMngeni river ten years ago, could live on in the hearts of so many passionate people?  This is truly a fellowship of the river.

We are grateful to all those who have been on this journey with us and those who follow the river.

Hlonipa, Hlonipa, Hlonipa

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Simunye – sonke siwumfula owodwa

Penny starts today’s River Reunion blog post:

Where to begin? How to describe the magnitude of today, a day of reunion, sharing, re-visiting, memories, reflection, resonance, reverence, wonder, friendship, and laughter.

Meeting past DUCT colleagues over tea and cake whilst sharing our stories; travelling deep into the Valley of a Thousand Hills to reminisce, spending time with others who were an integral part of the 2012 river walk, and meeting new river champions on the banks of Mama River upstream of Marian Foley Bridge.

It was wonderful to ride with Doug Burdon and to listen to his anecdotes;  to meet up with Sibusiso Ntinga, who safely guided us along, across and through the wildest and remotest section of the waters of the uMngeni back in 2012; to watch Preven’s wife Zim and nine-year-old son Tao, fall in love with the river that means so much to Prev; to see the joy on Penz’ face and the passion in Pandora’s eyes, to listen to John Roff’s beautiful, haunting music flowing from his Irish pennywhistle and to see the enthusiasm of Senzo Mkhwanazi whilst learning about Mini SASS.

It was soul food to spend time sitting, just being, soaking in the area alongside the flooding river, reconnecting with this wild and beautiful place.  And whilst I sat there, the following came to me:

River

Here you are today

Where were you yesterday?

Was it you?

A tumult of white froth winding past grasslands and indigenous forest?

Leaving the plateau of your birth behind,

Passing Inhlosane Mountain and vast cattle farms?

Flowing into the unknown – down, down, down.

Where are you now?

Are you here now?

This wide tumult of brown flood water flowing in the deep valley towards me?

Twisting past Mkhambathini Mountain,

Past smooth rounded granite-sided gorges, 

Through valley bushveld and flat topped thorn trees,

Homesteads with lowing cattle and bleating goats?

Ever onwards over weir and under bridge you go

Your waves…

Are they the same waves I soaked my tired feet in yesterday?

Now shushing against the gravel river bank and sandy beach?

I close my eyes

And I feel I am part of you,

This river…

I am part of the ancient rock I sit on,

I am part of the waves that splash me as they crash on the shore around me,

I am

We are

One

PENNY REES

Preven speaks:

Granite cliffs overlook a torrential river as we drove down to the bridge to conduct our mini-sass. John Roff played wonderful melodies on the Russian harp and the pennywhistle, the river sound providing an arresting background to the sublime music. It was not the ideal place for a mini-sass as the river truly flowed too fast for us to catch all the microinvertebrates but with the wonderful organised kit brought by Pandora it was a great introduction for Senzo to understand the mini-sass process.

We waved goodbye near confluence. It was bittersweet as we relived the days 10 years ago when we walked the mighty uMngeni.

Penz tells of her day:

We started the day by visiting the DUCT office, where we were met with the most decadently delicious chocolate cake and tea. The Duct staff gathered and we were all sharing experiences, connections and current situations, reiterated that we are all children of same Mama river and all the work we have been doing for over a decade in the community is evident along the rivers and various tributaries.

After seeing the majestic iNhlosane on most sides yesterday, today we were exposed to the many different faces of the Table mountain plateau. We reminisced about our horror on the iSithumba granite rock mountain where we were stuck on the rock face like mountain goats waiting to be rescued and how we wished to see our guide, Geoffrey.

It was wonderful to see the millions of cubic metres of water in the meandering Duzi while sitting at the back of the bakkie waving to the community and ducking past the livestock loitering on the roads. Wonderful to be reconnecting with the people that were, and still are, involved in taking care of the river downstream. The energy of the ancient rock, plus the powerful flow of the river at its mightiest, rejuvenated us all.

Pandora continues the story:

There was a particular joyfulness in our small river walk party as we wound our way through the picturesque village of Nkanyazeni to the foot of Mkhambathini.

We had just had tea at DUCT with long time colleagues and friends, sharing stories of connections – relationships to river and people, and of our walk and work towards better river health.  The feeling stayed with us all day.  I had last travelled this way after the Duzi was decimated by the Willowton chemical spill in 2018. 

At the bridge, the Duzi was wide with floodwaters. Grasslands lined the river banks, so different from the alien invasion that characterised the river before the DUCT river health champions like Sibusiso Ntinga and his team started their clearing work.  One special person we haven’t managed to reconnect with during the reunion is Sithembiso Sangweni, who managed all this work. 

We are glad Doug Burden is with us, for he too has played a huge role in coordinating and supporting the work that has gone into clearing alien invasive, not only here in the Valley of 1000 Hills, but throughout the uMngeni Catchment.  As we sat in the DUCT Boardroom earlier, listening to the conversation and looking at the wall of photographs, it was so heartening to know how much work has been done in so many area, and how so many young people have grown in skills and competencies over the years. 

Following Doug’s vehicle, we wound our way along the Duzi before climbing up the windy road again, leaving the rivers meandering oxbows glistening in the distance below.  We are also privileged to have John Roff with us today.  John led our uMngeni river walk from below Howick Falls, past Lesser Falls and on through the uMngeni Valley ten years ago. Today, on the banks of the uMngeni, deep emotion welled up in us all, as John started our blessing of the rivers ceremony with a poem by John O’Donohue.

In Praise of Water

Let us bless the grace of water:

The imagination of the primeval ocean
Where the first forms of life stirred
And emerged to dress the vacant earth
With warm quilts of color.

The well whose liquid root worked
Through the long night of clay,
Trusting ahead of itself openings
That would yet yield to its yearning
Until at last it arises in the desire of light
To discover the pure quiver of itself
Flowing crystal clear and free
Through delighted emptiness.

The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling farther
Toward the unseen ocean.

The river does what words would love,
Keeping its appearance
By insisting on disappearance;
Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage,
Carrying the origin to the end.

Seldom pushing or straining,
Keeping itself to itself
Everywhere all along its flow…

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it,

The buoyancy of water
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity,
The innocence of water,
Flowing forth, without thought
Of what awaits it,

The refreshment of water,
Dissolving the crystals of thirst.

Water: voice of grief,
Cry of love,
In the flowing tear.

Water: vehicle and idiom
Of all the inner voyaging
That keeps us alive.

Blessed be water,
Our first mother.

JOHN O’DONAGHUE

Back at Kwa Ximba later in the afternoon we were happy to meet up with Simon Maphumulo, chairperson of Kwa Ximba Conservancy, who has also contributed in so many ways to conservation and eco-tourism in the valley.

It has been a tiring day and I am looking forward to our evening braai with family at Mpushini. I still have the camera in hand and capture one last image. Sibusiso, Simon and newfound environmental activist and friend, Senzo, are deep in conversation, planning to connect to help heal the river. 

The closing prayer that John had just recited was fresh in my memory.  A prayer for healing adapted from Laudato Si’ A Prayer for the Earth.  Yes, joy has stayed with me all day today.  It is clear there are challenges, huge challenges, upstream, downstream and midstream! We do need to encourage one another. It has been a good river reunion today.  

All-powerful Creator Spirit
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Help us to better protect the waters of these once mighty rivers which are the life-giving source for this land and its peoples, for the myriad fish, the birds of the air,
the animals that drink from their waters and the food that is grown from the nourishment of the soils of the country they traverse

Fill us with courage and peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one,
Help us to identify with the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes
Bring healing to our lives and our environment,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.’

John Roff concludes:

Today, I joined a group of friends to revisit the great uMngeni River Walk of 10 years ago. We chatted, connected, made new friends, explored river-reliant communities. We spent sacred time on the banks of the uMngeni where it flows through ancient granite gorges in the valley of a thousand hills. I was struck by a sense of power today – the power of water and time to liquid-chisel stone into grains of sand; the power of individual people coming together, motivated by care and kindness for the good of the whole earth community, to effect meaningful change; the power of perseverance when speaking truth to power; the deeper power inherent in all the earth that runs beneath the surface and animates creation.

And the power of the river as a metaphor for life, that we flow like water through life, stronger as a song of many wet voices, that the water we are made of also leads and inspires us. That the hidden river within all life is woven with the visible river, and in the end, we are one, we are all one river.

Sonke siwumfula owodwa.

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Return to the uMngeni

The team gathers after 10 years to revisit parts of the uMngeni River. Today, the upper reaches where they walked on Day 3 of their original journey from the source to the sea.

Pandora

Peanut Butter and Jam sarmies (Penny has progressed to fig jam); boiled egg; peanuts (no raisins this time); an apple; Mum remembered Melrose wedges and water bottle – our standard river walk fare…a brand new (a little bigger) cozzie (with skirt) packed…my feet still warmly ensconced in slippers.  I pick up my heavy boots still wet from standing out in two days drenching rain.  “Keep them on,” Penny indicates at my slippers.  Ten years on…note to self: slippers make a good addition to early morning kit for a river retiree.  I keep them on.

The drive through the Dargle and onto the Lake Lyndhurst Road is like driving through a chocolate box picture cover AND getting to share all the chocolates with my favourite folk.  Walking team members Penny Rees, Preven Chetty, Penz Malinga (Mike Farley did a duck today) River Rock, Doug Burden, 2012 river walker, Moraig Peden and hardworking DUCT Environmental manager, Sanele Vilakazi and Environmental Officer, Portia Vilakazi are returning to the upper uMgeni with us today.

In the distance, central to the scene of azure sky, soaring eagles, russet grasses and rolling green hills, is the crisp white outline of the Berg.  Penny pulls over, once, twice, perhaps half a dozen times and we pile out.  Me, up the embankment in slippers to get the best shots.  And then we see the water.  At first farm dams, roadside pools (these are not puddles) and then water, water, everywhere.  Flowing out the hillsides, down the roadsides, distant waterfalls and rivulets finding their own pathway to the river.  We turn at Hawklee Country House, catching sight of the Lion’s, a torrential mane of white foam roaring its way to the sea.

Soon we reached Poort Bridge and there she is.  Our return to the uMngeni in full flow, the voluminous white skirts of Mama River break the banks in places, dancing over boulders, whirling her way through the most picturesque scene.  For the first time we see her clearly.  Ten years ago we could hardly see our way through a dim wattle-infested section of river.  A shock after the first two days of pristine riverine vegetation.  The river, a white ribbon, in a series of oxbow loops nestles her way through the valley.  Warm sun. Soft Clouds. Verdant grasslands. Nguni grazing. And in the distance Inhlosane, sacred mountain looks on. Ten years ago we called this place “Road to Hell”.  What a tribute to all the landowners who have worked so hard to remove alien invasive plants and restore the land here. Today I stand and ask, “Is this Heaven?”

Penny

The past 10 years disappeared in a flash today as we pulled up just downstream of the uMngenipoort bridge, hauled out rucksacs, hats and water bottles, and headed off to spend the day walking along Mama River.

Same people walking, same blue tee shirts, same laughter and banter, same river… but wait, not the same. Where 10 years ago we almost wept at the state of the river banks that were choked by bramble, wattle, bug weed, gum and a variety of other invasives that made it dark and gloomy, and denied any views of what was downstream, today we could see for miles all the way down the river. All we saw was indigenous grasslands, natural forest, and bush. The stretch that took us 2 days to walk 10 years ago would easily have been done in a day today as there were practically no negative impacts to record in terms of vegetation and water quality. What a pleasure to walk alongside a roaring river (due to the recent heavy rains and snow). It would have been a truly massive challenge to tackle the walk had the river been this big 10 years ago!

It’s with gratitude tonight that I will dream not only of how this river looks in all her glory, but also of the camaraderie that is still as strong as ever between the walking team.

Preven

The return to uMngeni mama river occurred after two days of heavy rain. Doug Burden measured 100ml of rainfall on Friday and Saturday and it really showed in the way the water roared down.

Was it the same river? Yes and No? Were we the same team, yes and no. A lot can happen in ten years and here we were with our blue DUCT Mayday for Rivers t-shirts finding the path along the river edge. It was almost like stepping back in time, into an old rhythm. Seeing the positive changes in the land, the removal of the wattle infestation that plagued this area before, really was a surprise and a blessing.

We could not even find a place to do our usual morning river blessings as the river was in full flow, white water surging down the hill, and strong currents threatening to sweep away any who got caught in its flow. We did eventually find a place along a riverbank but when we placed our hands in the water it was like icy cold snowmelt that made one not want to linger in the water. How our designated river mermaid Pandora managed to swim in this water is still a mystery to our team. It was truly wonderful to see a healthy flowing river, and as always the upper reaches of the uMngeni held special mystical and magical meaning to us river walkers.

Penz

It felt like it was just yesterday when we were walking along the river – yet we are not the same people and it’s not the same river. It was pleasant to see such positive transformation and care that has been taken over the years – the water looks good, it is flowing better, alien invasive plants have been cleared. The view of iNhlosane in all her majesty. All enjoyed in absolutely great company!

We got stuck in the mud and had to be towed out by the farm tractor! Never a dull moment in a River Walker’s day.

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The Butterfly Effect

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

Some things are always changing, at least in some respect. For us river walkers, no two experiences of being present with the river are ever the same. Similarly for the river, no two moments are constant. Such is the nature of experiential being. Change is a characteristic of our interactions, with our-selves, with one another, with Mama river and all that surrounds her. In turn, our interactions, and all that encompasses, brings change to the river. It is no longer the same river.  We are no longer the same woman.

What then is constant? What brings balance and protection?  What prevents chaos from unraveling the river’s equilibrium – what keeps us steady and steadfast in the face of change?

The late Dr Ian Player one of the world’s greatest conservationist, understood the ecology of this relationship. Famous for his work in bringing the southern white rhinoceros back from near extinction, he loved rivers. He pioneered the  Dusi Canoe Marathon being the first to journey by (canvas) canoe from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in 1951.

As our river walk Mentor, Ian’s shared his experience with the rivers of Kwazulu-Natal, his suggestions for preparation and approaches to engaging communities along the uMngeni.

“Hlonipa, Hlonipa, Hlonipa” Ian paused intently between each word, It was a message that would become our mantra. A shared ethos that we wore on the back of our t-shirts each day, and one that lodged deep within our hearts. He looked at us in turn, his own life journey shaping his response and said, “Respect yourself, Respect others, Respect Rivers (Nature).”

Respect involves a fundamental belief in the right of all to exist on an equal footing. . It is a regard for self-other-all-and-the-earth.  It is a practice. A life skill that is the foundation of humane and ethical behaviour. Mutual respect underpins good relationships. Respect for rivers means that we ‘listen’ to what the state of the river is telling us, to the need to remain wild and unpolluted, and to have equal opportunity to exist in ecological balance and in harmony with all.

In India, rivers are respected as ‘Lokmata.’  ‘Lokmata means ‘mother of the people. A mother nourishes everything that comes under her care. Because human life is not possible without rivers, rivers are worshipped as a ‘mother’ in India.

In 2017,  the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and their tributaries, gained the legal status of ‘personhood’. These rivers are sacred to Hindu culture. They are considered to have healing powers and attract pilgrims who bathe in the waters. It is also customary to scatter the ashes of their dead in the river. In the same year, New Zealand’s third longest river, the Whanganui River, was recognised as a “legal entity”. Named Te Awa Tupua, it is now recognised as “an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea.  Natural features such as the Whanganui River are considered as ancestors by the Maori and iwi, who hold deep connections with them as living entities. A similar environmental personhood declaration was made for the Atrato River basin in Columbia. In this way recognising the inalienable connection of indigenous culture to their natural surroundings and in Canada, the Magpie river is the first to be granted legal personhood rights. In 2018 the Amazon river ecosystem in Columbia, was awarded rights towards its protection and in 2019, the Yurok tribe gave the Klamath River personhood status in California, USA. And so a changing human construct opens the way for new experiences with rivers, new ways of taking care of and protecting them.

“We consider the river an ancestor and always have. Treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” Whanganui iwi, Gerrard Albert

(I)t is the human populations that are interdependent of the natural world – and not the opposite – and that they must assume the consequences of their actions and omissions with the nature. It is a question of understanding this new sociopolitical reality with the aim of achieving a respectful transformation with the natural world and its environment, as has happened before with civil and political rights…Now is the time to begin taking the first steps to effectively protect the planet and its resources before it is too late… (https://celdf.org/2017/05/press-release-colombia-constitutional-court-finds-atrato-river-possesses-rights/)

Just as the river represents the passage of time and the ever-changing future, in our river reunion metaphor, so your action of stepping in today will be a different experience to stepping in tomorrow, or ten years, or however many later. What will be immutable. is the development of a relationship that will make a difference. A fellowship of the river, that will change the future for all. 

“It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.” — from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Five river walkers walk the uMngeni river in May 2012 and subsequently? Ten years later we look back on all manner of projects that emerged on the uMngeni and its tributaries.

Written by Pandora Long 2 May 2022

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River Reunion

Extract 1 May 2012: “We got to the top of the hill (an elevation of 1904m) and then headed down to the spring where the mighty uMngeni  flows from. Here it starts as a little trickle. After a picnic with our guests, we gave thanks for the river goddess and emptied a gourd of traditional beer into the water. We spoke our invocation to the river and gathered up the precious pure water in the ostrich egg which we brought for this purpose. Penny stuffed the opening with grass and we started our journey.”

On the slope of the desolate river among tall grasses I asked her, `Maiden, where do you go shading your lamp with your mantle? My house is all dark and lonesome — lend me your light!’ she raised her dark eyes for a moment and looked at my face through the dusk. `I have come to the river,’ she said, `to float my lamp on the stream when the daylight wanes in the west.’ I stood alone among tall grasses and watched the timid flame of her lamp uselessly drifting in the tide.

In the silence of gathering night I asked her, `Maiden, your lights are all lit — then where do you go with your lamp? My house is all dark and lonesome — lend me your light.’ She raised her dark eyes on my face and stood for a moment doubtful. `I have come,’ she said at last, `to dedicate my lamp to the sky.’ I stood and watched her light uselessly burning in the void.

In the moonless gloom of midnight I ask her, `Maiden, what is your quest, holding the lamp near your heart? My house is all dark and lonesome — lend me your light.’ She stopped for a minute and thought and gazed at my face in the dark. `I have brought my light,’ she said, `to join the carnival of lamps.’ I stood and watched her little lamp uselessly lost among lights.”

RABINDRANATH TAGORE ( Gitanjali) Page  60/61

And so it was ten years ago today, that the River Walk Team stood among the tall grasses of uMngeni Vlei and lit a lamp for the river. Team leader, Penny Rees, (then chairperson of the Howick DUCT (https://www.duct.org.za/) office and leading the mission of Healthy Rivers: Health Communities) and her team; Preven Chetty, Penz Malinga, Mike Farley and Pandora Long, placed their hands in the little pool just beneath the spring, at the source of the uMngeni River.

With these hands and with this heart

And with the pure intention of God

This water is blessed,

Removing and transmuting all impurities

And sending them to the light forever

Peace

‘Mayday for Rivers’ sought to inspire a ‘fellowship of the river’.  A way for others to light a lamp for rivers. A way to engage downstream communities until a carnival of lamps illuminates the river and the oceans into which they flow.  A way to see the interconnectedness of all.   

The river walk toolkit developed by Groundtruth based on their experience with the 2017 Karkloof River Walk (which was inspired by our 313km journey Source to Sea), doesn’t include prayer as part of its methodology.  Science is only just starting to find room for the spirit. 

Our 2012 Source to Sea journey’s mission encompassed much more than just the practical application of the citizen science tools designed to deepen our understanding of water issues along rivers like the uMngeni.

This weekend, in Howick, on the tenth anniversary of our walk, River Walk Team leader, Penny Rees says, “We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.  We had no idea of how far news of our wee stroll along Mama River would travel, nor of the impacts it would have. We had no idea of how far and wide the Fellowship of the River would ripple out, how our team would bond, work together, just get done what needed to be done, support each other in whatever way was needed.  I said it at the end of May 2012, and I still say it.  I would go to the ends-of-the-earth with you guys. Thank you for being a part of, if not, THE biggest adventure of my life.”

Halfway across South Africa, on Campus at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Preven Chetty recollects the day.  “Ten years ago, to this day, we began one of the most important adventures I have undertaken and I was lucky to do it with the most incredible team. The dream was always to understand the river through citizen science and the joy of doing miniSASS with school children and youth. Born, as it was, out of constant conversations between Penny and myself about how to actually accomplish such a feat, the walk grew in the planning, and soon we had the support of DUCT behind us, as well as passionate conservationists like Ian Player, Nikki Brighton and Doug Burden championing it. So we set off into the unknown, off the beaten tracks, into places as wild as it was breath-taking, following the journey of this vibrant river. What stuck with me most, was how we were in tune with the river, learning about her, and how best to help her. Even back then the river was under siege from numerous issues, from sand mining and illegal dumping to raw sewage and alien invasive species. Yet by everyday observing, monitoring and recording our findings, a clearer picture emerged of the precious river. Now, on the eve of the tenth year anniversary of this Mayday for Rivers walk, I am filled with hope that we can rejuvenate our rivers and work towards ensuring this precious lifeblood of our region never runs dry.”

Penz Malinga lives in Mpophomeni, just outside Howick. “I remember on this day ten years ago: 25km down on the first day, so… so bushed and can’t wait to hit the sack.  We just got to our accommodation thirty minutes ago.  I can’t even sit down, fear of stiffening muscles highlight of my day. Not many people in my day have seen the birthplace of the uMngeni and had a gulp of fresh, unpolluted, un-distilled water, like nature intended! Peace… friends will update you tomorrow.”

Mike Farley is still full of jokes.  Mike’s memories take in more than just day 1. “My recollections are mainly to do with slipping, sliding and bramble attacks, which was the easy part…and then the dreadful pollution as we went further downstream. I certainly recall that we didn’t drink from the river after Day 2, for fear of catching the galloping rackatackas!! As I remember, most riparian landowners were very supportive of us, and Cumberland Nature Reserve stands out very clearly as a “jewel”, as it was there that our miniSASS tests produced very positive results. Grateful thanks to the Behn family for their efforts. Amazing really, as my kids used to swim in Albert Falls Dam (just so we could recognize them occasionally!!). Well thereafter, we certainly went from bad to worse with the state of the river after the Duzi confluence. (Must be all those canoeists fault??)” Championing our river walk, the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust was founded in 2005 by a group of paddlers, Ian Bailey, Tim Cockbain, Graham Evans, Colin Everson, Allen Goddard, Trevor Gorven, Barry James and Dave Still.  Getting back to Mike’s reminiscing, he remarks “Don’t worry, I like living dangerously, death threats don’t really scare my age group! 29 days later we hit the beach at Blue Lagoon. I think we had seen the best and the worst of the Umngeni catchment? After my three years with Duct, Alfred Zuma, the Howick team supervisor, was hired by the Umgeni Municipality to maintain the trash-boom, just above the Howick Falls. I don’t think that lasted very long unfortunately? On one final positive note, I think I, partially, had time in Duct to convince the Chairman, Dave Still, to take up the really skilful sport of mountain biking. I mean anyone can stick a boat in the river. It only goes one way downhill right!! You never hear of the Duzi Canoe Marathon doing an up run??”  

And now it’s my turn (Pandora) to share my story.  I joined the walk because I wanted to save the little river that runs through the bottom of the Mpushini valley, where I live, it was no longer flowing after a dam was built upstream and alien invasive plants choked its silted pools.  The Mpushini River is a tributary of the uMsunduzi, which in turn is a tributary of the uMngeni. Ten years ago, today, I remember standing high on a rocky outcrop at Drinkop looking out over the vast 958 hectare wetland nature reserve that fees uMgeni vlei, South Africa’s thirty-first Ramsar site.

There was a sense of exhilaration as we set off from the spring towards Lake Lyndhurst. High above us two fish eagle circled, their shrill calls heralding the start of our journey, source to sea. Today, the Mpushini is getting back to health and flowing strongly.  I pray the same happens for the rivers in the uMngeni catchment.  I pray for the health and interconnectedness of rivers the world over. I pray for the day that my little lamp is uselessly lost among lights for healthy rivers, healthy people.

And so it will be.
In 1969, my Grandfather, Frank White Buffalo Man, shared with me a wonderful spiritual insight and understanding that relates, among other things, of how we must learn to respect, honour, love, support, and understand each other as different nations, tribes, communities, peoples, religions, and cultures of the human family and the spiritual qualities needed to be victorious in manifesting freedom and human rights. He said, “You know grandson, the Great Spirit has given all people wisdom. To every living thing, he has given something special. Some people receive their knowledge and understanding through books. In your life grandson, you too must read and study books, but remember to take with you on your journey only those things that bring more unity within yourself and others, that bring goodness and understanding and help us to serve one another in better ways.”

“The Great Spirit,” he continued, “also gave our Indigenous peoples and all other peoples who live close to Mother Earth, both wisdom and knowledge through dreams, visions, fasting, and prayer, and the ability to see the lessons the Creator has put in every part of creation. Look at those trees standing over there; the alder does not tell the pine tree to move over, the pine does not tell the fir tree to move over, each tree stands together in unity, their mouths pressed toward the same Mother Earth, refreshed by the same breeze, warmed by the same sun, with their arms upraised in prayer and thanksgiving, protecting one another. If we are to have peace and true freedom in the world,” he said, “we too must learn to live like those trees. Look, grandson, at the beautiful teachings the Creator has put in the little stream. Feel the water and see how gently and lovingly it touches your hands. It travels through deserts, mountains, and many places, but it never turns its back on anyone or anything. Even though it gives life to all living things, it is very humble, for it always seeks the very lowest spot. But it has great faith, power, and patience for even if a mountain stands in it’s path, it keeps moving and moving until finally that mountain is washed into the sea and is no more. These are spiritual gifts that the Creator has given each one of us and if we are to be happy within ourselves and with one another, and find true freedom, we too must develop these sacred gifts,” he concluded. (By Walking the Red Road)

The river walk team was accompanied by Siphiwe Mazibuko, of Duzi Productions, who together with his assistant, Nontokoza Cutiepie Mcnwabe, walked the entire way with us. “Happy tenth anniversary of the River Walk. Today marks the day we went from uMngeni Vlei to Lake Lyndhurst. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of river walkers have in store to keep the legacy alive because the team was truly inspirational.”

Lugging all our equipment and supplies for the month-long river walk was an incredible ground crew comprising, Wendy Ross, Hugh Raw and the late John Fourie (who drove us (wildly) (and up the creek) in ‘the bread wagon).  Doug Burden and Bart Fokkens assisted with logistics and landowner liaison and Liz Taylor, Pam Haynes, Liz Gow and team supplied our meals.  The list of folk who generously and graciously assisted our walking team grows longer each day we walked and we will post a list, in gratitude, at the end of our river reunion. 

Lastly, without Nikki Brighton, capturing our citizen science, our prayers, our stories and the spirit of the walk in the river walk blog, we would not have been able to share our journey with you.  Nikki shares these insights on the 1st of May, “This morning I’ve walked up to the top of Beacon Hill (Howick) with views across Midmar and Inhlosane and then down Symmonds Stream to overlook the uMngeni River in the valley. A wild suburban wander, remembering you all and your remarkable achievement. I wished that I could stop the water in the stream and tell it not to keep going to join the uMngeni, where conditions are not always great. But you can’t stop water – it is all connected, and I believe that we are also all connected – into the light forever.”

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Tell Ten People

Ten years ago, an intrepid group of firebrands, took the initiative to walk the uMngeni from its source to the sea, and to tell the public about what they saw along the way.

Andrew Fowler of Uplands River Conservation shares his view on the importance of looking after our water resources and the importance of the efforts of the uMngeni River Walk team. “Ironically, I was not aware of the river walk at the time, and only became aware of it later. Thanks to the well recorded event on a blog site, that didn’t really matter. I was able to read about it later.” Read his post here.

No one asked them to do it. No event triggered this as something that was essential. A group of people felt compelled to make public the condition of a river upon which some 5 or 6 million people depend.  What they saw along the way was also not new. What they saw was what has been going on for years. In that context it was unremarkable.

What they found, and told the world about, IS remarkable to the vast majority of citizens out there – or should be – if only they knew! The conditions they found were often horrific, at best sad and indicative of neglect.  These are things that should be remarked upon by people who would normally not give our river a second thought. People who just think that usable water will always be there.  People who take it for granted, that there is a river down there, always has been, always will be. Our treatment of rivers is like that. Our thoughts on water are like that.  Unlike electricity, it doesn’t suddenly go ‘off, to the ire of every inhabitant of the suburb on a whatsapp group. Water is just ‘always there’.  You open a tap, and out it comes.  Once in every few years you may have low pressure in the suburb, or a pump may fail and leave you dry for a day. But other than that, water is just always there. Like the air we breathe. Always there. No one has to man a water factory, like a power station has to be manned and fueled.  Water just comes from the sky. Right?

Wrong.

Water problems are insidious. They creep slowly into consciousness. A few greenies notice. Ten years later you see a Facebook post. Five years later you see a YouTube video about water supply. People are talking doom and gloom, like the end of the world. But you go to your tap, turn it on, and water comes out. We are having a wet year. Midmar is overflowing. You shrug. You move on.

The River Walk sought to show the stark reality about our water supply.  It showed the uMngeni and its various tributaries treated by many along its way as a discarded ditch, where people throw their rubbish. It showed it as a place from which people drink; a place where people swim; a place invaded by harmful plants in places; a pristine spot in a lot fewer places (typically nearer the source).  The general message though, was, and still is, that it is a river no one cares about or takes a second look at. It is not treasured, and it is not revered. Our ‘civilisation’ sucks all it can from the uMngeni, and throws anything it wants back in.

A river is supposed to be a living, self-healing wonder, which conveys water along a natural course with us tapping in to its quantity here and there along the way. Unless told otherwise, everyone assumes that is what it is.  It is expected to provide millions of people with water, but few put up their hands to look after it. Few see it as significant. Even the water company seeks just to dam it, and treat the contents of the dam to a saleable quality water. Few feel compelled to go and walk along it and see how it is doing, and if it needs help.

Ten years ago, six people did feel compelled to go and take a look. They showed anyone who would listen what they found. Theirs is a message which is as relevant now as it was then. In fact, it is more relevant now, since we are closer to day zero. Day zero, when no amount of water treatment can make the water drinkable. Day zero where the cost of trying to provide potable water skyrockets. Day zero when we have water rationing and no dam building can rescue us.

The River Walk is an important piece of work.

If you are reading this, please tell 10 people about it.  Next year tell 11.  Do you get it?

Read about the important work that Uplands Rivers is doing: https://www.uplandrivers.com/projects

https://www.uplandrivers.com/blog/ten-years-on

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John Fourie

If anyone can make a plan, John can.

John Fourie was an integral part of the original River Walk team that spent a month exploring the uMngeni river from source to sea in May 2012. John died on 20 August 2021 after a struggle with cancer. We will never forget him.

He ferried us to the start of the walk each day and fetched us again in the late afternoon, in his trusty, rusty old Toyota bakkie nicknamed The Bread Van.  We have many shared, and very happy, memories.  We honour his vital contribution to the success of our efforts.

Penz Malinga remembers that there was never a dull moment around John “That man was full of spunk.”

John Fourie – Jovial Orator, Humorous Navigator, Forthright, Observant Upbeat Reliable Immortal Egalitarian. Written by Pandora Long August 2021

You were there
In so many ways
For us, for others
Dependable,
Resourceful
Kind, considerate
You were there

You were there
In the moment
Keen. care-full
Encouraging
Engaging
Despite the odds
You were there

You were there
Uncomplaining
Back breaking
Spine jolting
Off the beaten track
At dawn, at dusk
You were there

You were there
Like birdsong
On a dull day
Bright, happy
Jokes
And Laughter
You were there

I’m so glad
You were there
I hope you know
You are The Team
Much loved, treasured
For being you
Where-ever you are.

Preven Chetty misses John’s wise words and wily verses. “You had such a great sense of humour and were such an integral part of the uMngeni river walks.  One of your many, many adventures over the years.

In your amazing ‘bread van’ you never failed to find us no matter which far flung corner we ended up in. You are the original GPS without need for any device. You knew the land like the back of your hand and always had words of encouragement when the team was tired and down.

I miss you, my friend. I wish we could have had more adventures together. I sorely miss your laugh and your smile. Happy journeying dear John, in the great endless river of the sky.”

Mike Farley recalls the time he traveled with John down to Nagle Dam where the team were camped. “I was amazed at the speed the bread bin could get up to.  As we hit the cattle grid (about 200km/h), the bread bin actually became airborne for about 10 metres! I admit to using some fairly fruity language at the pilot, until we landed safely again.”

Penny Rees remembers John being a humourist of note.  “Each morning we’d depart with a joke from John and, no matter how long the day, John would find us with a smile and another joke. Find being the operative word. I have never met anyone with such an amazing sense of direction – he was a navigator of note. No matter where we were at the end of the day, even if we had no idea where we were, John would find us and get us home.  One day as the great red ball of the setting sun was sinking far too fast towards the horizon, we ended alongside the river in a valley bottom surrounded by sugarcane clad hills where we could get not a bearing at all. The phone conversation between Mike and John went somewhere along the lines of “Head straight towards the setting sun. It’s directly behind me, you will pass a shed on your left…” and he found us!”

John was also an expert flat tyre changer. “Just how many he changed I don’t know, but there were plenty in those 30 days. Including one on Midmar dam wall! His vehicle, which we named the beloved bread van – has a steel canopy with small openings covered in weldmesh into which we would climb twice a day in great trepidation.  With nothing to hold onto once ensconced in the back, John’s policy of foot flat on the accelerator (which I’m sure almost made a hole in the floorboards) no matter how winding or bumpy the road, made for some wild rides for us in the back.   We tried to cling onto something, anything, for dear life as we raced down bumpy hills and side slipped around corners, shrieking and shouting above the rattling racket we slid about inside.

John tackled life with the same gusto as his driving – from finding a scorpion on top his cupboard at Cumberland, to joking about the appalling amount of kit he and Wendy had to load and unload on a daily basis. We were truly blessed to spend those weeks with John and get to know him. He undoubtedly added much joy, laughter and support to our adventure.

May you have many more marvellous adventures John and may you continue to find your way in your unerring way.”

Pandora Long writes:

“The days that John walked with the team had a special edge to them. As I cast my mind back, vivid scenes transport me as if I’m there again, standing in the river near you, just below the road bridge on Day 4.  It was one of those Midlands moments when soft marbled clouds reflected the pink hues of the setting sun.  I was feeling pleased about a unique photo I’d just captured, a mirror image where sky met water through the lens of the large pipes under the road bridge.  You were looking at me with amusement. Astute as always, you saw the artists pride tug the corners of my eyes.  With that characteristic smile you held your camera out just so far, teasingly, that I couldn’t help but take best advantage of the image on the screen. Snap.  It was identical to mine.  You had that humbling influence, unpretentious, refreshing.  You never pulled back from those jaded areas of life where things were just a bit off kilter.  Instead, you filled them with life, with effervescence. Now, ten years later those conversations live on, meaningful, poignant.  Nearing the end of our journey you joined us along the shores of Inanda and alongside bands of school children there was a joy that melded us as one, river, sky, hearts and voices.  And then, tired from the hot sun and an early start we simply snoozed at the side of the road as if it was the done thing.

Rest up John, there is a river ahead to walk.  You’ve made it over the bridge now and I’m sad to wave you on.  Don’t forget to holler some jokes back through the pipes from time to time, you keep our memories alive with your knowing smile and ringing laughter.”

As we all remember those incredible days 9 years ago, and how fleeting life can be, we vow to live less fast and do more meandering like our precious rivers. To be water.  

Cameraman Sphiwe Mazibuko has the last word “May the bread van, and its owner, rust in peace.”

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Celebrate the uMngeni

Tomorrow some of the River Walk Team will join Andrew Fowler and the Natal Fly Fishers Club to celebrate the work they have done clearing the riparian zone of invasive plants.  Why not come along to Explore the banks of the uMngeni River in Dargle?

Saturday 6 May – Meet at il Postino at 8am to drive in convoy to Brigadoon Farm. Easy 7km guided walk to see the work that the Natal Fly Fishers Club have done clearing the banks of invasive alien plants.  Join us for pizza and beer at il Postino afterwards.

Details: Andrew 082 574 4262

Great Things

BRU clearing on uMngeni summer 2016

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Karkloof River

We are delighted that the Karkloof Conservancy  will be walking the Karkloof River over the next few days. It has always been our intention to inspire others to explore the rivers they live beside and to take ownership of the health of their rivers.

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Penny, Preven and Pandora say wholeheartedly,  “We hope that you enjoy walking your river as much as we have enjoyed all our river walks. We wish you all the best and look forward to reading all about your adventures.”

An exciting journey lies ahead for the Karkloof Conservancy – walking the full extent of the Karkloof River from Catchment to Confluence – which includes 64 km over 6 days.

This epic journey is an initiative of the landowners (farmers and foresters) who would like to know the current state of their river stretches in order to see where they can improve the quality for downstream users.

r Karkloof Falls

Well done to all landowners, sponsors and partners for making this happen!

 

 

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Window Shopping, Weeds and the Worst Destruction Ever

Penny starts the days tale:

After the horrors we encountered on the Rietspruit recently, I really did not think we could come across riparian zone destruction as bad for a while.  However, Symmonds Stream certainly rose to the challenge!  In a way, the destruction is worse.  What makes it particularly so, is that it is in full view of a main road and well-frequented shops! But I’m getting ahead of myself, so back to the beginning.

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The day dawned overcast and drizzling as we headed off to the start of the shortest stream that we have walked yet. Preven and I (Penny) were accompanied by our camera crew Sphiwe and Nombuso and we delighted to have our invisible, but always constant and to some, mysterious, other member of the Mayday Team – Nikki Brighton – join us. During our walks Nikki patiently awaits our evening email containing the days blog and photos, at times working until late at night to edit and ensure that the blog is posted on time. We have had her pop by on some walks for a quick ‘visit’, but today was the first time that she has joined us for an entire day. She even ate our standard River Walk packed lunch!

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In the middle of the residential area of Howick, the Symmonds Stream runs parallel to the main road for just over two  kilometres, before joining the uMngeni River close to the Howick Falls. Due to my work with DUCT, I’ve watched from the side lines as a small voluntary group of local residents have lovingly embraced the mammoth task of revitalising the Symmonds Stream. Mammoth understates the enormous task that has been underway for the past few years.

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Local long time residents remember this area where they grew up as being a gentle stream surrounded by mist-belt grasslands –  a far cry from the alien infested and at times, sewage infested, stream that is the Symmonds Stream today.

The stream begins in a slight depression in the hillside besides the Currys Post Road near Eagle Ridge.

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The ground  is invisible beneath a blanket of jasmine creeper interspersed with various other invasive garden escapes.

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All of which lie beneath a remnant group of enormous Blue Gum Trees – their companions were felled some years ago during the early attempts at clearing the invasives from Symmonds Stream.

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Whilst wading through the undergrowth, we came across Kate Brown, a member of the Friends of Symmonds Stream group. Kate walked some of the way with us today. As the green vista on the ground varied only in the composition of invasive species,  we realised what a mammoth task lies ahead in attempting to clear these invasive plants.

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A pleasant surprise was the small wetland area of reeds with masses of activity from Red Bishop and Thick Billed Weaver birds displaying on their nests.

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Preven continues:

We found what turned out to be the only pile of rubbish along the stream

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and amongst the rubbish Nombuso found a mini blue donkey from Shrek which she kept as the mascot for this walk.

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Houses overlook this shallow river which winds its way spilling iron oxide minerals from the wetland. Elephant ears jutted out from the sides of the river bank listening intently to what these river walkers were saying. Our conversation would not have interested them however, as we did not speak about sunlight or rain. Our subject was mostly about how people keep preferring manicured lawns to indigenous bush! It boggles the mind really. The path winds with the river and along the way we find a beautiful picnic spot created with logs for sitting and a little tree stump as a table. It is beautiful and overrun and obviously not being used, but it warms the heart to know it is there, possibly reserved for faeries and gnomes. Perhaps they will come at twilight?

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We wandered along and came across a property where the owner has merrily built two terraces by bulldozing the ground and shoving this pile of soil and dead branches into the buffer zone of the stream. Buffer zones should ideally stretch for 32m from each bank,  providing protection to the river by keeping the integrity of its ecosystem intact – thus creating healthy rivers. We found this golden rule broken many, many times over all along this river and on others.

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Along the river bank we saw porcupine quills and Kate told us stories of this delightful inhabitant of the river that is sometimes seen roaming along the banks.We were sad to hear, that a Bushbuck had been hit by a speeding car in this area recently.  Alien trees on the bank were cryptically marked in fluorescent yellow – looking like condemned men on death row that have the executioners mark on them awaiting the day they will culled.

We see the signs of the Symmonds Stream Conservancy along this river and it heartening to observe that it can be a recreational area.   Clearly people do use it for getting to know their river and their neighbourhood. A tunnel under the road brings the river to the other side. Here we find the banks denuded due to vegetation cut back in order to control seeding invasive annuals – revealing the brown earth underneath and a steady flowing river.

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We decided that this was the spot to do our Mini SASS.  It was the first spot with a little flowing water in sufficient quantity that we were able to get to.

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However we were surprised to find that we could not find any of our invertebrate friends. The only critters to be found here was the diving water boatmen and a scuttling crab. After almost ten minutes of searching with not even a Planeria in sight we reluctantly took the score and added up the two species and got a dismal score of 5.5.   Not surprising considering the amount of sediment and silt that caked the rocks and choked the river.

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Downstream of Gush Avenue we were thrilled to walk though indigenous grassland – the last remnant patch in Howick, an indicator of how this area used to look. p1610079

Penny tells me that this is the rare mist-belt grasslands. “Oh” I exclaim quite confused, “then how do you actually spell it?”  “What?” she responds.

“Well if its miss spelt, why don’t they spell it correctly instead of continuously saying its mis spelt.”  Penny’s bemused look made me realise that I was missing something here and it wasn’t the spelling.

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Backjacks flourish on the edges of the grassland and we bemoan this state of affairs.

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Then Nikki points out that actually this little weed is nutritious free food used for making tea and or cooked with other imfino for a delicious lunch. “Perhaps we should think about our aggressive strategy against these plants,” she says,  “they do provide us with mineral rich nourishment and are a particularly good source of vitamin A”  It was interesting to hear another angle on this issue and greedily, I plucked a handful of leaves and started chewing …. and then proceeded to spit it out!  Yeah, well maybe with a little salt and pepper it might go down better?

Penny finds a lonely oak tree on the edge of the grassland and, being a descendant of a family whose clan badge was an oak leaf, we decide to greet the ancestral tree.

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Following another reed bed,

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the pathway spreads out and becomes quite wide, with  immaculately manicured  lawns replacing the indigenous vegetation on the river banks – a misguided attempt at making nature neat and tidy which can compromise the natural functions of a river.

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The gravel road becomes its companion and the occasional car rolls past on this quiet scene. We take our second meth blue sample here and continue towards the Karkloof Road crossing. We find an old Hindu cemetery and a lovely spot next to the river where we decide to have lunch.

The rain slowly drizzles as we eat our sandwiches. After lunch we try to see if we can find any more invertebrates in the river amongst the rocks, but they were all hiding or absent and we had to turn away again in defeat.

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Reflecting on the immediate area we see how much work has been done in this downstream section of Symmonds Stream over the last few years by the Friends of Symmonds Lane. The thick forest of invasive plants have been eradicated and we will post a blog in the near future detailing the enormous efforts to revitalise this stream by a handful of committed people.

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Almost at Karkloof Road, Symmonds Stream crosses Mare Street where we have a first for a river walk – window shopping!  A couple of old buildings alongside the road have been revamped and one is an art gallery.  Penny and I peer in through the closed window at the works on display.

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Penny continues:  Crossing under the Karkloof Road the stream emerges from the culvert where one bank is ‘under construction’.

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Due to the fact that the bank had been irrevocably changed decades ago, the current construction is on the provisio that the bank be rehabilitated post construction. Hopefully this will be a fitting rejuvenation for a place that has been mis-treated for decades. In years gone by this was the site to dispose of old cars, washing machines, fridges and old engines! The bank was filled and levelled, and recently, there was even a small dam constructed on the stream with an earth wall big enough to drive over!  That only lasted about a year before it was washed away – to silt up the pool and river further down.

Being so close to (if not actually part of) the Natural Heritage Site that makes up 40 hectares of the gorge area around the Howick Falls, we hope that the rehabilitation will do the site justice.

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The banks have, unfortunately, been planted with ivy, which will smother any remnants of indigenous plants and eventually invade the water course.

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Heading downstream we swung way from the water to avoid the ever steepening stream bed. We had realised, while inspecting the river bank building site, that there seemed to be waterfall ahead. Our tricky descent has already been described by Nikki and I was relieved to arrive at the falls.

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I have since found out that 13 years ago the plunge pool  was much wider, had a partially rocky bottom and a silt beach. Today any rocks and stones are covered in a thick layer of silt,

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the current beach of rubble was once water in the pool

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and the stream below the pool bares evidence of the detritus of ‘civilization’  – whether dumped over the edge or washed down by storm waters.

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We left the Symmonds Stream to descend into the uMngeni River valley and returned home with much to mull over.

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The stream is currently dismally unhealthy, possibly as a result of the drought combined with other factors which we will still look into. On the good side, problems with surcharging manholes that were so prevalent in past years have decreased, with the hard work and input of local residents and the authorities.

We will soon post a blog on the results of the Mini SASS health tests carries out during the Symmonds Stream walk.

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