Okay, so here I sit in Howick with the late afternoon sun streaming onto my verandah. I have had time to cogitate and ruminate and take stock, I have (almost) completed over 60 hours of transcribing all the Dictaphone recordings from the walk, and this has given me a good overall picture of things.

I sit with a mass of photos. One folder we have is of some of the horrors in Durban, which, I have been told, we have not sufficiently reported on. So here goes – buckle your seat belt and prepare yourself for a scary ride.

As we approached the N2 highway we were all dragging our heels, reluctant to reach this landmark that to all of us, symbolised the end of a wonderful journey.  The smells and sounds of the city intensified, and the highway came closer and closer  – it also marked the dividing line between general Durban and the industrial area. Once we had walked underneath the graffiti clad road there was much to insult all our senses. Keep in mind the fact that the factories are all situated on the left bank (going downstream). Between their back fences and the +- 4 metre drop off to the river and flood plain is a belt about 5 metres wide, which is heavily infested with various aliens. In places the aliens have been cleared by DUCT river care teams and in other places is looked after by arbitrary people who have beautiful gardens – veggies and otherwise, growing on the banks. There is also even a Conservancy  – the Springfield Park conservancy – so there is this mix of abuse and care. Dumping is common – apart from clearing alien invasive plants, the DUCT River Care Teams collect rubbish along their sections of the river, so we did not see too much rubbish thanks to their efforts.

A big problem seems to be the storm water drains which all have their outlets in the river bank : One containing what looked like neat engine oil which lay in a disgusting pool that trickled into the river

causing an oil slick on the river.

Three other stormwater drains contaminated with who knows what – one oily, (013) one foamy and grungy, another with litter and who knows what liquids (and all very smelly).

At the back of the brewery,

the smell emanating from the storm water drain contained elements of horribly fermented yeast and sewage as we stood on the gabions at the storm water outlet.

 – the pool below the outlet looked none too savoury either.

Given the size of some of the storm water drains and the information we received that after heavy rains, they disgorge piles and piles of rubbish into the river, I understood the day a couple of years ago when my son called me after flying a helicopter at low level over the uMngeni River mouth. Horrified, he recounted that the river, (swollen after recent heavy rains), looked like coloured ribbons streaming out to sea what with all the rubbish that was carried along. Some folk have to use this water to wash themselves and their clothes.

How we have not had major disease outbreaks is beyond me.

The storm water drain that is situated on the banks of the upper reaches of blue lagoon – blue?????/ what a misnomer – was none too savoury either – stank of sewage and the mud flats below it were, um… put it this way I wouldn’t want to get into that mud. Mud usually has a savoury, earthy, well, muddy smell….  This mud quite honestly just stank of unknown horrors.

Who knows what gets into the water – this was something that left a white powdery layer on the mud when it all dried.

Oh – and don’t forget the piles of dumping and before this years DUZI race, the relevant River Care Team collected an astounding 2,000 bags of rubbish at Blue lagoon alone!

And yet, amongst all the horrors, we found love and care too – a beautifully tended cemetery, veggie gardens thriving and even a couple of pretty gardens, made for the love and joy they bring; mown lawns and trees planted by DUCT, proudly shown to us by Herbert, the supervisor of that section.

The pride and joy that Herbert has in his work reflected the attitude of all the DUCT River Care Team members and staff that we met along the way. It was reflected by the 3 municipal cleaners that Pandora & I met at sunrise on the beach the morning after the walk – when I congratulated them on their efforts, they beamed with pride. Visibly emotional, they told us how passionate they were about their work in helping to keep the river and oceans clean. I would give an eye tooth to see such passion and pride on the face of many a blue collar worker. This attitude was reflected in the Working for the Coast staff we met on the beach after our mangrove walk.

There are so many people like these, to whom we all owe an enormous debt of thanks – without them I hate to imagine what state our Mama River would be in. I would like to start a page on the blog called The Unsung Heroes, that will list people who lovingly and unselflessly give of themselves in the Fellowship of the river – all those who love her and care for her. So if you have any nominations, please email me on :

Take care – and watch this space, we will continue keeping up the blog and the river stories alive.



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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