May Day 26: Final Countdown – So Beautiful or So What

I’m just a raindrop in a bucket, a coin dropped in a slot,

I’m an empty house across the road on a vacant lot

You know life is what you make of it,

                                                 So beautiful or so what”       

Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What, 2011

As we head down to the coast on this journey of discovery and adventure, the days speed by faster, the amounts of litter, neglect and sand mining become more copious and apparent and the dam walls get bigger. If I was merely surprised at the size of Nagle’s wall then the sheer scale of Inanda Dam’s astonished me. The more than 25km length of the dam shelters numerous communities in cosy bays and its serpentine length contains 241 700 000 cubic meters reservoir of water and then at the edge of the dam wall the water stops.

From above, the dam looks like some colossal infinity pool but there is no overflow on the other side of this wall unless there is a flood. Completed in 1989 this 65 meter high wall with a length of 595 meters impounds the uMngeni River. Umgeni Water lets out 0.5 cubic meters of water a day, a paltry figure compared to what is contained within the dam and by what is actually required for the ecological reserve of the catchment.

At the start of Day 26, on our final countdown of only 3 days to Blue Lagoon, we stepped out of the gate of Inanda Dam, at the edge of the dam wall, and were greeted by the smell of sulphur. Anaerobic water rushes out of a small outlet at the base of the wall and into the valley below. It is a valley covered in alien invasive plants (mexican sunflowers, peanut butter cassias and castor oil to name a few) and the water runs thick with algae and scum.

We attempted a mini SASS 4km after the dam wall and found worms, snails, beetles and strangely enough minnow mayflies and caddisflies and dragonfly larvae. Our SASS score this morning was thus 6.2 which means the river is in fair condition and is in recovery or decline mode. It just shows no matter how much she (the uMngeni River) is held back, ravaged and polluted she still has an amazing resilience. Still it is not a pretty sight.

We were joined by DUCT’s River Care Team led by Wiseman through this area and they knew it well. This team is attempting a monumental task of removing most of the alien species from the Inanda area and you have to admire their tenacity which they need to fight weeds like this.

Balloon vines smother indigenous trees and the terrain is not friendly. But the team is amicable and positive and spending the day with Makhosi, Khanyiso, Zotha, Cyprian, Wilson, Mandla, Alfred, B. Mgewenga and Wiseman himself was an added energy boost to our walking team.

We soldiered on through the heat stopping literally every minute to collect data on old or active sand mines.

Most of these sand mines have ravaged the river bank and riparian vegetation and even changed the depth and character of the river itself. It is sad to see these scenes. Only people and companies with no respect for the river and all that she preserves can treat her this way.

Most of these sites have not even been rehabilitated and the land has a sea-saw feel with its uneven gradients. Sand mining should not be allowed below Inanda Dam wall as little to no water is released below the wall which means that the river cannot replenish all this lost soil. Still the mining continues and becomes even more rampant the further down stream we go.

Towards the afternoon we were joined by Lomula Primary School and their teacher Mr. Protas Hlambiso as we explained to them the intention of our walk and how to conduct a mini SASS.

The little kids were as excited as us to get into the water and soon we were catching crabs, stout crawlers and worms.

Our score increased slightly to 6.5 but this still means that we need to care and rehabilitate the river more urgently below and above the dam walls.

After the excitement of the school kids we wave goodbye to the river care teams and continue towards our end point for the day.

Only 20 km from Durban along the river and yet we are still surrounded by beautiful sceneries and wilderness.

Above us looms an ancient stone cliff which has numerous caves created by the folds of the rock.

Penny says she can almost feel the presence of all these ancient cave dwelling communities that used to live here. Life must have been good then, almost like what the river walking team is experiencing now, natural without the need of modern society’s frills, fancies, credit cards and automobiles.

And then we walk up into the township and realise we have finally reached Durban.

The sprawling settlements, highways and massive bridges are a shock to the team after (including today’s foot mileage) 282 kilometres of walking mostly in natural and riparian areas.

On our way to the Sathya Sai Retreat where we are being graciously accommodated we passed the massive reservoir into which the water from Nagle Dam gets channelled and where this area gets its namesake. Indian mynahs flew overhead above cell phone towers badly disguised as trees and I realised with a sense of sadness and that this journey is coming to an end. But it is only the beginning really. This river (and many others like her) needs all the help we can give her now, more for our survival and dignity than for hers. You see, “life is what you make of it, so beautiful or so what…”

Preven Chetty, Sathya Sai Retreat, Reservoir Hills

 

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About Nikki Brighton

I live in a Magic Cottage near the mist-belt forest with my African dog, Dizzy. We enjoy long walks in the fields to gather wild greens, sitting on the verandah with a pot of tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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2 Responses to May Day 26: Final Countdown – So Beautiful or So What

  1. Peter Thomson says:

    Wow ! What a walk ! Congratulations to the team and to all those who supported them along the way. This is an epic journey with lots of miles worth of goodwill and learning still to come. I’m so sorry I will not be able to join you at the end but look forward to hearing all about it over the next few weeks. With best wishes from the Upper uMngeni River Catchment Management Forum…. Peter Thomson.

  2. Jane Weston says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this journey with your words and photos. Without being too romantic about what sounded like hard slog and exhausting conditions some of the time it feels like this was a terribly profound undertaking on many levels. I will be at the end in spirit as it were – of course I will raise a glass in the general direction of the finish and perhaps do a little dance. I also look forward to hearing about it – hopefully a few public meetings are on the agenda.

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