Thank you and let’s keep at it…

To everyone whose congratulations have been rolling in – thank you so much. To Wessa KZN, also an enormous thanks. I (Penny Rees) am truly humbled by this award, especially when I think of the company my team and I are in. Some really impressive conservationists have previously won this award.

This is one of my favorite pics of our team – taken at the end of the walk. (Mike had left for the pub…  Actually, he’d already got a lift home to see his family).

It has been a long and exciting year, and the work generated from the walk continues unabated. It has grown momentum, and become a force of its own.

By way of emphasising once again, the dire situation of not only the uMngeni River but all our rivers, the National Water Resources Strategy Document is sobering. Please take part in this process – read the doc and comment on it. I have an abridged pdf version that I would be happy to send to you.  As a reminder of some of the problems we face, I include an extract that I recently sent as input to a meeting in Durban that I was unable to attend:

To sum it all up, the uMngeni River that enters the ocean at Blue Lagoon is impacted in the Durban area by:

LITTER AND ILLEGAL DUMPING – If storm water drains are not kept clean, road gutter are not swept and rubbish bins not emptied timeously litter will get washed via storm water drains into the river and out to the beaches – ask the guys who clean the beaches, according to them every time there is heavy rain in Durban, there is a bigger mess on the beach.

There are places along the river that are used regularly for illegal dumping – Bart knows where they all are. He has in a couple of places, managed to get the municipality to erect concrete blocks that stop vehicle access. But this isn’t possible in all the places. If the municipality had the staff to fine illegal dumpers maybe the situation would improve

Suggested Solutions:

  • More street sweepers & litter removers in the city clearing regularly
  • Fines for illegal dumping – large fines
  • How about naming and shaming in the cities newspapers when offenders are caught?

SEWAGE: from overflowing manholes that are blocked or coming down some storm water drains.   From the Durban Waste Water Treatment works – this is where Co-Operative Governance fails as DWA can’t really wield the big stick at the municipality. If the litter all ends up on the beaches – how much of the sewage does the same?

Suggested Solutions:

  • Education in many areas about what not to put down toilets, and who to contact if there is a blockage.
  • Waste Water Treatment Works – press articles to let the public know about contamination, someone to wield the big stick

STORM WATER DRAINS– Whatever you can think of comes down them – and they all drain to the lowest point which is along the river: engine oil, sewage, diesel, litter, whatever you can think of. Run off increases constantly from the addition of more and more paved surfaces – roads, parking lots etc.

Suggested Solution:

  • Not always easy to find who has connected into the storm water drains, but at times it is very obvious (I won’t say more). Staff on the ground to sort this out where possible.
  • Urban areas should start using permeable surfaces as opposed to tar and brick, to enable the water to drain down into the earth. The mind set that all paving has to be non-permeable needs to change.

INVASIVE ALIEN VEGETATION- Bart works on this everyday, but from what we saw basically the buffer zone of 32 metres from the rivers edge is clear of invasives, thanks to DUCT’s River Care Teams. However, beyond that 32 metres is a disgrace. The indigenous bush is so smothered that it is unidentifiable. It seems that this issue is off the radar for all the municipalities along the river, yet it is inextricably connected to the health of rivers.

Suggested Solutions:

  • Many of the plants are CARA listed – they are illegal. You can be fined if they grow on your property. But who will throw the book at the municipality? – co-operative governance again is a spanner in the works.

ILLEGAL BACKFILLING – some businesses backing onto the river backfill the land to make their properties bigger. Totally illegal. They backfill onto the river bank – who knows what will happen if the river floods,, it will all wash away – again, Bart can fill you in.

Suggested Solution: This is another compliance issue!

SOIL EROSION –From illegal sand mining, dirt roads, bad drainage, construction sites. The big new bridge over the uMngeni River (not sure where it is) has recently been completed. The soil erosion beneath it from construction activities is horrific. I am sure they should have been required to restore the area, but they didn’t. There are soil erosion gullies, invasive plants sprouting everywhere. Where are the building inspectors?

The illegal sand mining in the metro area is well known and some people have been fighting for years to stop it. But it carries on unabated. Department of Mineral Resources issues the permits (in the case of the legal mines) without consulting Dept Water Affairs or Environmental Affairs. What a ridiculous situation that the custodians of our water and environment have no say in this damaging activity. When mines are finished, they are supposed to be rehabilitated. Either there are a lot of abandoned mines that were not rehabilitated – WHY? – or there are a lot of abandoned mines that were never legal in the first place! The illegal sand mines are apparently some sort of mafia style operation, and no one seems to be able to or interested in stopping them. Those who would try have their hands tied. Not only is all this messing up the river banks and digging out huge sections of the river, but it is robbing the Durban beaches of what little sand is left in the river below Inanda Dam, aside from what the mining does to the water quality and health of the river

Suggested Solutions:

  • DWA and DEA should have a say in where mining be allowed – they should have to give permission to DMR rather than be bulldozed by DMR. Every mine should be checked – with armed support if necessary (police, security companies or army) – the mines have to keep their permits and environmental management plans on site.  And if they are not legal or have illegally extended their operation – shut them down, fine them, jail them. The message will soon get out.
  • Get a public awareness program going. How many people have bought Umgeni Sand – yup, guess where it comes from! If the public asked their hardware shops / building supply centres where the sand came from, most have no idea. Put pressure on the shops to sell only sand that comes from legal mines.

So, the bottom line is that all of the above land up in the estuary – one look at the water or even one sniff is proof. This could be the most beautiful, popular destination for city dwellers and visitors, but hell, who wants to go to that filthy lagoon? 

A large portion of the impacts are illegal. A large portion of the impacts are the responsibility of the municipality. There are two avenues to be explored in solving many of the problems.

Not long after we completed the walk down the uMngeni River, we heard that Durban Metro received a Green award for being a Green City. We were stunned – walking the uMngeni River in Durban, we saw no sign of anything green (other than the invasive plants in and next to the river) and the algae.

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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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3 Responses to Thank you and let’s keep at it…

  1. Congratulations Penny and the Team on this further recognition of your great achievement.

  2. Mark Liptrot says:

    Congratulations also from all at Richmond Mariannhill Conservancy! Reading below it’s like good and bad news rolled into one – but one suggestion could be the expansion of the ‘Coastal Clean-up’ to extend to ALL litter on our roads – because this will end up in our seas eventually via the stormwater drains. This would mean a more local litter drive, so communities would not have to trek to a river, dam or beach. Next year I want to involve the Durban fishing clubs in this initiative – there’s so much litter in Durban Bay on or above the tideline, only accessible by boat! Best wishes, Mark Liptrot, Chair: Richmond Mariannhill Conservancy.

    Mark Liptrot
    Afripack – Group Sustainability Manager

  3. Pam says:

    Once again congrats and thanks for keeping this blog going with such practical information and suggested solutions.
    Well done again to the uMngeni River Walkers!!
    Pam Haynes

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