Mayday 22: We All Live Downstream

Today we witnessed sand mining in the bed of the river, despite that wake-up call and the fact that the river was full of water lettuce and water hyacinth, this is a very beautiful section of the uMngeni River Valley.

We have been lucky to not have suffered too much cold weather in the past few weeks of the walk but today Eish! It was cold.

Waking up at isiThumba bed and breakfast where we were hosted by the lovely Bhengu ladies,

the mist over the river formed a large mystical snake.

The knuckles on my (Penz) fingers were purple and, after yesterday, I loathed Granite rock faces. Everyone was on a go slow, retarded by the cold We set of late again and had to wait for Sphiwe and Nonts as they were stuck in traffic because of an overturned load on the highway.

We met Sithembiso who brought along Zamani, Falakhe and Mthobisi from his river care team

to guide us along the notorious Mamba Gorge.

As we walked along past Marianne-Foley bridge we hit active sand mining. It was atrocious to watch the Caterpillar drive into the river bed digging anciently weathered sand. Preven said it was like watching a Rhino being slaughtered and I think we need a form of bio-control for this type of human being.

We sat down and watched the two miners with the spy cameras on as the caterpillar went inbto the middle of the river, making piles in the river that were obviously being washed away to a certain degree. It seemed to me like “umsebenzi wenkawu” where one does something that goes nowhere or not a long way.The sand mining showed to me that these people don’t care about the people who live downstream and yet we all live downstream and are affected by the acts of those upstream.

The guys from the river care team admitted that it affects fishing and this activity alters the natural depth of the riverbed making it dangerous for the locals who cross the river. This is messing with Mother Nature. Those of you who want Granite tops for your kitchen should see the granite hills that are left scarred and  abandoned after the fat cats have had their share.

I kept looking up at the acacia trees where they said a pair of Mambas was nesting, hoping to see them, but was disappointed not to see any but I suppose its inactivity period for them. Oh well, there will be a next year.

On the up side: walking along the granite hills, seeing the miniature moss gardens with young Euphobias sprouting was a wonder. Some stood with long stems and digits as if they had hands stretching to the heavens above so they can catch the sunshine and the rain. Arriving at uMfula store was a blessing, our tired legs twitched 300 metres away and we decided to run for it, the lost energy awake and the day ended at the bridge.

Submitted by: Penz Malinga

All sand mining operations need a permit from DMR (Department of Mineral Resources) which specifies a designated area and EMP (Environmental Management Plan) This is designed to ensure the environmental integrity of the banks and other considerations.  Mining out of the river bed itself requires further permission from DWA (Department of Water Affairs)

Dave Still (DUCT) has joined us for the evening bringing bread and cheese to go with our dinner.   We ask him to comment on the sand mining issue:

DUCT has for years trying to get confirmation from the DMR as to which mines are permitted and which aren’t but they have not been cooperative and it appears that they do not want to give us this information.  Our best hope of improving regulations with regard to sand mining is through a partnership working closely with the enforcement section of Ethekwini Municipality.  Trafford Peterson is the person in environmental enforcement who has made personal mission to resolve the issue of sand mining.  DUCT does not get involved in the litigation process but rather equips the river care teams through training to record and submit these activities.

We asked Dave what he thought may be some of the solutions that could be considered:

“There is always going to be a demand.  We can’t have no sand winning and must do it in a responsible way.   We would like to see a process where a sand supplier can be accredited and through this form of regulation put pressure on suppliers to see whether they have got their supply via an accredited sand mine.  We would like to see all the communities working together, setting up a community conservation trust to control the supply of sand. A ring fenced rehabilitation fund that could be derived from the sand winning operations could benefit both community and environmental interests.  Currently the cost of sand comprises mainly transport – the cost of the actual sand could be doubled to provide this fund.

Sand should also be mined from areas with the least impact on the river system.  Huge amount of sand from the headwaters of Shongweni dam could be one source which would enable other places to be saved.   The entrance to Inanda dam could also be an area that could be mined as it would slow down the siltation of the dam.  Inanda has cut off the supply of sand to the beach areas and there should be no sand winning from 10 km below Inanda dam.

There also needs to be enough inspectors out there. The DMR don’t have the staff to do this and they see their role as facilitate mining rather than regulating it.  They also have tended to regard themselves as outranking everyone else.  There has just been a court case in Cape Town that rules that the City’s zoning rules carry the same weight as the DMR.  The ruling that National government legislation is not superior to local government is very significant.  If Ethekwini Municipality declares certain areas protected from mining then the DMR cannot overrule that.

Our DUCT river care teams are like foot soldiers.  In addition DUCT will be employing someone who will be working on the regulation and monitoring of sand mining.  In addition he will be working to stop soil erosion through the erection of gabions etc.  This work will be funded through SANBI Green Jobs fund.”

P.S. A huge thanks goes to Jill and John Graaf for hosting us here at Imfula Store.  Imfula store is set in the most awesome section of the uMngeni Valley 10 km above Inanda dam.  Jill and John bought the house attached to the old trading store and have restored the store owners thatched roof bungalow into the most wonderful riverside weekend getaway accommodation.  Thanks also goes to Liz Gow and John Graaf for the delicious vegetable bake and roast chicken and to Imfula’s housekeeper, Penny, for the jummy potbread and housekeeping.  We say our goodbyes to our guest walkers, Liz and Moraig, it was great to have you along!

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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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3 Responses to Mayday 22: We All Live Downstream

  1. Pia Sanchez says:

    You guys fill me with admiration – each and every one of you – the river walkers, the support team and the generous folk who have taken care of your shelter and food after each long day! Your log of reports and your magnificent photographs are invaluable – as well as the connecting of the communities down this long and winding path! Look forward to seeing you all soon. You guys ROCK!! :))

  2. Pingback: Mining the Mooi, Mvoti & more… | uMngeni River Walk

  3. Pingback: Mining the Mooi River | Midlands Conservancies Forum

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