I read Trish Beaver’s article in the Witness 7th March, “Walking on Water” with great interest and a certain nostalgia. Way back in the mid seventies I was a conscript in the now much maligned SADF, serving in a unit called Umkomaas Commando. I was asked to help plan a 3 week military camp in the area for fellow national servicemen. It was somewhere around December 1977 or 8 and I was able to choose location. Like you, I revered rivers and was able to get the SADF to agree that 2 platoons would be tasked to walk down the North and South banks of the Umkomaas river from the Berg to the Sea, collecting data as they went and meeting farmers and local tribal chiefs along the route. I hoped the exercise (with little real military purpose!) would engender some of the love I had for the river and surrounding environment. Feedback from participants was that it did make them more appreciative and concerned for the rural areas, despite the toughness of some of the terrain.
While I now enjoy the rugged outback spaces of my new home in New South Wales, Australia, I often dream of the green hills of Natal and especially the Berg. Still, I am sure there are past participants who took part in that walk some 35 years ago who remain living in Umgeni catchment and would be greatly interested and supportive of your exciting plans. The picture is of a temporary base high above the Umkomaas valley. I can’t remember the names all present, but standing is Andre who ran a family timber mill in the Midlands, me a counsellor at Uni KwaZulu Durban campus at the time and Andy Newby a Durban Journalist.
My own love affair with the uMngeni was brief. When at school in Durban North in the 50’s I had a battered canoe which I would launch in the mangroves to the North of the mouth (Beachwood Golf club) , paddle through the mangroves and what was then a rifle range, then up the river for a day’s adventure. Happy memories.
I will have Mayday for Rivers in mind on my next stroll along our revered Hawkesbury. I attach pic as it near Sydney. The Hawkesbury river is one of those strange rivers to have 2 names. Soon after convict settlement early adventurers encountered it below the Blue mountains and, on that stretch, named it the Nepean river. Only later did they realise it was the same river that entered the sea north of Sydney where it was named the Hawkesbury.
I attach pics of the 1977 Umkomaas walk. This one is of Andre Barnard and a local midlands farmer, who during the walk, took Andre and me on a search flight after a light aircraft had crashed in the southern Berg.
Read Tish Beaver’s article under River Press on this blog