May Day 27: Pipe Dreams and Pipelines

This has been a journey of the river and of self-discovery for the team members. We have become more aware of each others’ unique characters, strengths and quirks.

We have not told anyone, but each person is nicknamed according to the creature that represents them in the animal kingdom. So Penny is called Mpangele Guinea fowl – the name obtained from the feather she wears in her hair, Mike is known as Bhubesi Lion as he is always armed with a slasher in the grassland, Pandora is known as Nomthini  – Mother of uMtini after the otter because she sneaks off for a swim at any given moment, Preven is known as Ntibane Warthog because he looks like one and I (Penz) is known as Chakide Mongoose because I happen to be mischievous.

The day started on a causeway of a busy road that ran over the uMngeni. On the banks were sangoma’s doing traditional Nguni cleansing rituals. This is where one is able to discard their troubles or bad luck into clear ever flowing water because it needs to be washed away from them and into the ocean that has endless capacity to contain them. The rituals aim to render the person purified and clean, yet the river itself is not clean anymore This is a common belief amongst both Zulu and Indian cultures in Kwazulu-Natal.

Thus not only in the physical sense does the river connect us all but in the esoteric sense as well.

The impacts on the river worsen and raw sewerage and rubbish dumps flood into the water and the beautiful rolling hills with indigenous forests, veld grass and fast flowing clear water are gone.

The perception most of us have is that the hard hitting impacts start high up in the catchment. Yet the rubbish that comes down to the Blue Lagoon, is mostly from the cities and major towns, primarily Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Howick.

Today we walked past various illegal dumping sites. For endless kilometres we had to tramp past building rubble while we were suffocated by the various stinks of sewerage spills, animal carcases, rotting food, diesel, smog and bare human faeces.

The dumping seems to be concentrated in the low income settlements. One assumes that this is beacuase they are not empowered to speak out against the dumped rubbish dumped on them.

The other major issue is that we have this massive river that supplies water to masses of people and the people that dwell closest to it have to wash their clothes in the sewerage ridden water and ask their neighbours for drinking water because the river can no longer provide for them. Everywhere we go the scars of sand mining still show, marked by erosion and the alien vegetation that flourishes in these areas. We followed one recent sand mine trail that went on for nearly 2 kilometres that ended at the newly constructed bridge which is part of the expanding eThekweni road network.

We followed the river into Newlands West where we came across an overflowing sewerage manhole that ran down the hillside into the river. We briefly chatted to community members about this issue and reported the spillage to the municipality’s toll free number. We then encountered a large group of nearly 20 little boys playing soccer on the road who decided to follow us down the path along the river. Soon we were playing pied piper to this merry bunch as they asked about our journey and frolicked in the long grasses. They eventually bid us goodbye when we decided to go down what, according to them, was a dangerous crocodile infested path.

Bhubesi became the “chocolate fairy” today after we traversed an extremely high pipeline bridge over the river which had no guardrails.

I was too afraid to attempt the crossing which everyone else was nervously getting along with. I am mortally afraid of heights and after desperately trying to find another way across, I eventually gave in. Everyone had gone across and I was left on the other side of the pipeline with Lorraine. Bhubesi came back with some guidance and a helping hand whilst Lorraine was encouraging me. With my eyes wide shut I made it across and Bhubesi then gave up his only chocolate to me (and this is not the first I have solicited from him).

This walk is something that many people might have considered a “pipe dream” and yet it’s been 27 days and we have actually done it and made the pipe dream a reality. Thanks to everyone who has helped make this a reality and you know who you are so I’m not spelling it out.

Love all, Serve all, Help ever, Hurt never Sri Sathya Sai Baba (1926- 2011)

Submitted by Penz Malinga

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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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