Riverside Schools

It is way after nine. It’s taken me (Pandora Long) much longer to come via Cato Ridge down to Nagel than I had expected.  Sibusiso Ntinga is waiting for me, patiently.  I am awestruck by the beauty of the valley. The little scattered homesteads, the silver horse-shoe dam and the towering granite koppies!  We are visiting five schools today to invite them to take part in the ‘Mayday for Rivers’ activities.

Our first stop is Nonzila Primary where we are greeted by the principal Mrs K J Ntaka.  She calls her educators responsible for environment and they listen with interest to our programme and with enthusiasm they choose a little tributary that they can adopt.  I am amazed to find out that this little rural school has had a ‘green flag’ awarded to them through past participation in the WESSA/WWF Eco-Schools programme.  Improved environmental management and learning is already in action, here deep in the heart of the Nagel dam area!

Now I’m sitting in the principal’s office at Phangindawo Primary.   Mr Mtshali has called the Arts & Culture Educator, Miss Gwabuzela to find out more about our ‘Mayday’ programme.  Soon we are joined by the Secretary Goga Zuiu who tells me that she is working with a community group doing dancing and drama and that she is passionate about developing arts and culture in her community and linking it with environmental learning. She would love her group to take part in the ‘Mayday’ activities.  As I leave, Goga hands me a file with the most beautiful drawings of Mkhambathini, done by members of her art group. “I’ve always wanted to do something with these” she says.  I tell her that I would love to include some of them on the blog and will return them to her when next in the Valley.  I show Sibusiso the drawings and am amazed at his perception.

“These are our grandparents homesteads” Sibusiso points to an encircled ring of traditional grass huts high on the mountain. “This represents our fathers, look, the huts are still traditional, and here is our present generation.”  Sibusiso continues, “there were no bridges in the old days so this bridge represents modern times.”  I look at the picture. I’m struck by the magnificence of the drawing of the mountain.  The words” Mkhambati” are blazed across the sky.  “This is the story of the river snake” Sibusiso says. In the top corner there are clouds with rain above a smiling sun.

Outside the rainclouds are gathering as we visit Inhlanhla High and Khulanjalo Primary.  We climb up and round the mountain to get to this little school perched right at the top the hill overlooking Nagel dam.  Amidst flower gardens and children’s laughter we meet Mrs Buthelezi, the principal before going on to the last school for today.

It’s raining hard now as we travel precariously perched right on top of a long ridge, the uMngeni now far down below.  Lozi Primary is right on top of a hill with a grand view overlooking the uMngeni river.  Across, on what is now the far bank, are the schools that we had visited some hours ago, now just specks in the distance   Mary Ngcobo runs out in the rain to greet us and ushers us into her office.  Happy to see us and delighted to be part of the ‘Maydays’ programme, Mary turns to me and says “Before you came we were small, but now we are big”  I look across at Sibusiso and out at the DUCT vehicle in the pouring rain.  It has been an honour to join him on this trip into the valley and to meet his River Care Team.  That Sibusiso is well known and liked in his community is obvious from the reception I receive.  How special to  learn about this area that is his home, and meet the people that belong to his community.

As we head back to Nagel dam he points out two tall ‘round headed’ granite mountains that stand sentinel overlooking Nagel with Mkhambathini (Table Mountain) laid out in all its splendour on the other side –  “Skalami and Imposana” he says.  The rain has stopped as we drive over the Nagel dam wall and a soft light illuminates a great expanse of shining water flanked on either side by the reflection of soft green vegetation, the two towering peaks in the distance.  Sibusiso stretches out his arm and raises it towards a homestead high up on the skirts of Imposana. “ I walk home through this tunnel everyday to my home up there”, he laughs.  I am truly amazed!

Then Sibusiso points over to Mkhambathini. “ There comes the rain” he says.  And just like the image in the picture we had looked at earlier, low cloud and sweeps of rain start to obscure the distance.  There is no smiling sun.

It is now pouring with rain, the Sani’s windscreen wipers are not working and I lean forward intent on the road ahead. The beauty of the valley is now transformed into an abstract painting of soft hues and muted shades.  Slowly I wind my way back to town on the slippery gravel road, mindful that the cattle have right of way.

Tomorrow I am meeting Sithembiso Sangweni, supervisor of the River Care Team above Inanda Dam.  We are going to visit three schools in the Isithumba area.   How blessed am I to have experienced this day.

Pandora has had another absolutely awesome day down in the valley with Sithembiso as her guide.

We went to three schools and we were received with such graciousness and welcome – just like yesterday with Sibusiso.  I wish everyone could know about the positive effect the river care teams are having in the valley and how well they consider and work with the communities. Sithembiso knew all the principals and some of the educators and has built such good relationships with them.  I was so impressed by the work that he is doing with his river care team along the uMngeni – they have cleared what was totally infested areas back to nature. It looks amazing.  We should all go into the valley more often to give them recognition for their efforts!

One  of the three schools I visited is right on top of a high hill overlooking the uMngeni and also Isithumba – all the teachers came to listen to the presentation – they were so keen to be involved!  Two of the teachers were studying environmental education through Unisa. After the meeting, Mrs Ngcobo came up to me and said that her son was finishing a degree in environmental management and would love to be involved – She was not going to miss the opportunity and within minutes had him on the phone and passed it to me to talk to him!  Sithembiso and I arranged to meet with him on our way out of the valley.  He has worked on programmes with schools in Ethekwini as part of a youth organisation and with Durban Solid Waste.

Nogunjwa High School, in particular,  is such a beautiful school. Behind the school is a huge granite coppie called Isithumba.  Sithembiso said that the legend says that hunters went out and never came back and that they are ‘entombed’ in the rock!

There is virtually no litter except for where the taxi stops are – everyone seems to respect their area so much more than city folk!  Both yesterday and today were really special days!

Nizamia Islamic School in Pietermarizburg is the first school to respond to ‘Mayday for Rivers’ and ask for help them adopt a section of the river near their school. Thank you Mr Saeed for your enthusiasm!

Pandora Long

Monday 23rd April 2012


About Nikki Brighton

I live in Howick, between the river and the hills. I enjoy pre-dawn walks in the streets with my dog, sitting on the veranda with crochet and tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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