Penny spent a wonderful hour with Dr Ian Player at his farm, Phuzamoya, in the Karkloof, on Saturday. Internationally renowned conservationist, Patron of DUCT, founder of the DUZI canoe race, and the man responsible for exposing thousands of youth and adults to Wilderness through theWildernessLeadership School, Ian has given the Mayday for Rivers walk his blessing.
Penny’s account of the visit: Chatting to him whilst sitting in the late afternoon sun, he shared his love of rivers recounting his early experiences on the uMsunduzi and uMngeni Rivers. “Rivers are the Earth’s arteries”, he said. “South Africa is in serious trouble if we don’t pay attention to the environment. I read a recent survey on environmental degradation of 128 countries (of which Iraq came 128/128) and South Africa came – 124th. This is a sad indictment indeed. In the small country of Rwanda, once a month everyone in the country stops what they are doing, and helps clean up – including the President.”
Ian went on to say that we have lost Hlonipa (Respect) for the earth and need to regain this. We need to work with understanding. “When Nature is angry, she lets us know it. If we don’t look after her, and we abuse her, she will hit us hard. We forget that we cannot go a day without drinking water.”
In an interview with the cameraman from DUZI productions. who is making the documentary for the walk, Ian gave this message to the youth of South Africa:
“Rivers are life, without rivers there is no life – where would we all be if the rivers dried up? “Hlonipa, Hlonipa, Hlonipa” Respect the Earth! Respect Rivers! Respect one another! Respect yourself! This takes discipline! If your rivers are not clean – ask yourself why! If your skies and air are not clean – ask yourself why!”
Ian’s first contact with the environment was canoeing on theDuzi River. Towards the end of the second World War he and some friends were discussing what they would do after the war. As each man related what he dreamt of doing if he survived the war, Ian said he wanted to canoe from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. This he set off to do in 1950 and it was the beginning of a lifetime love for rivers.
The rest, as they say, is history! Ian related his early experiences in establishing the Duzi canoe marathon, “The first Duzi canoe race was in 1951 with 8 paddlers. The Duzi this year had over 2,000 paddlers – 2,000 more people, many of whom are city dwellers having their first encounter with the environment, who are more aware of the river, its importance, and the trouble she is in.”
As I sat watching Ian autograph a copy of his book: Zululand Wilderness, Shadow and Soul – that I had brought along, I shared with him an experience brought about by his passion for taking people, especially the youth, out into the wilderness. At the age of sixteen I responded to a newspaper article inviting school goers to go on a wilderness trail, and my application being accepted, I had my first experience of true wilderness where I fell in love with all wild places, including rivers. As Ian closed the book and passed it back to me he said “Good luck, this is a good thing that you are doing.”
The inscription reads: Inscribed for Penny Rees, who is walking the uMngeni River and will take a message to the people of South Africa. Nature rules and if we abuse her she will one day stop giving us water. Rivers are the arteries of the planet, without them we Homo (non aquatic) sapiens are doomed. Good luck on your walk. Thank you for your dedication. All my thanks to Dr Player – I owe him so much – we all do!