These Boots were Made for Sloshing Alongside Rivers

The MayDay for Rivers team who walked 311 kms along the uMngeni River last year all have itchy feet this month.   None more so than Penz Malinga, so she planned a little celebration of the river closest to her home – the uMthinzima – laced up her trusty boots and generated some enthusiasm for the excursion.

Penz taking note of the reeds. res JPG

The guard at Thurlow gate was puzzled when four women turned up in the drizzle at first light and told him they were going for a walk. “In the rain?” he asked. “Well, it is only water, we won’t melt” was the quick response.

res IMG_5435

The intrepid explorers, all members of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, thought the weather pretty perfect for exploring the uMthinzima River from the spot where it enters Midmar, all the way through Mpophomeni township, to the hills where it rises.

looking at the map res.

We began with the traditional MayDay for Rivers Kwan Yin Water Blessing. “With these hands, with this heart and with the pure intention of God, This water is now blessed!
Removing and transmuting all impurities and returning them to the light forever.”

res  IMG_5447

Siqalile, siqalileThis journey has begun” we added.

res IMG_5443

The Autumn grasses literally glowed in the low light. We identified many different ones – Hyperennia, Sporobolus, Ngongoni, discussing which were best for thatching (inthunga) or making brooms. Phragmites and other reeds lined the banks of the fast flowing steam.

res IMG_5453

“You can make anything from these reeds. My mother used to make great mats.” Ntombenhle Mtambo told us. “She liked to use iKwazi because it was the strongest, or iNcema. iNgobosi has the most beautiful colours, but is not very strong.”

The stream looked really murky. “The reed beds clean the water, so the e-coli count is a lot lower here than further up.” Penz Malinga explained. She used to take samples of the water here regularly for DUCT.

res IMG_5444

We helped a really long earthworm cross the road so that it wouldn’t be squashed by passing cars.

res IMG_5462

The stream was heavily invaded by wattles and we were not able to walk along the edge. We joined it again at the bridge on the road to Boston.

res IMG_5468

On the Mpophomeni side of the bridge, the ground was well trampled by the many cows which graze in the area and very slippery. We discovered a cascade, which we immediately named the “uMthinzima Falls.”

res IMG_5483

The area was farmed before the township was settled and drainage ditches were evident everywhere. It is obviously one big wetland. Apparently, there used to be houses right in the wetland – the area known as ‘Burkina Faso’. During the floods of 1999, most of the houses were destroyed. Lives were lost and people lived in tents for years until new houses were built for them on higher ground.

The hilltops were shrouded in mist and it rained on and off all morning.

res IMG_5470

At the spot where uMhlangeni (place of the reeds) and the Nguga tributaries joined the uMthinzima, plovers explored the muddy edges watched by a shrike from a stand of Berkheya nearby. A duck flew off and headed towards Thurlow.

res IMG_5497

We talked about the medicinal uses of plants as we trudged through the wet grass. “Many of the yellow flowered plants are for stomach problems” Tutu Zuma told us.


The smell of sewage worsened the closer we got to the main settlement. Opposite the municipal offices it was pretty awful. There is a perennial problem of blocked and broken pipes and over flowing manholes.

res meshackIMG_5477

Meshack Nzuza of Ezemvelo had joined us for the day. He works at Thurlow and is in charge of the water supply to the offices and houses there. “I am really worried about the water quality at this part of Midmar dam. I put chlorine every day but I worry that not all the germs are killed. I am not happy.” He said. “I speak to the counsellor and the municipality about the sewage which is going into the dam, but they fix one problem and then there is another one.”

We worked our way though the long grass and reeds with lovely views of the hills alongside us. Having hiked up there before, we recalled the Dais cotonifolia, Ziziphus muconata and other trees which are clustered in the gorges.

“Aye, it’s very wet.” We sploshed along the cattle paths and were excited to find a big shiny purple beetle in a pile of dung.

res IMG_5537

There were some new houses built in the flood plain – “Eish, don’t they remember what happened in 1999?” pondered Penz.

res IMG_5508

The riverine vegetation improved visibly in the area known as Cabazini. There were fewer cattle here and the houses less dense. “You can tell we are getting to the more rural area” said Ntombehle. “Rural people take much better care of the water because they use it for cooking and drinking.”

res IMG_5511

Lots of Leucosidea serica (umTshitshi) lined the banks which were quite steep in places. Ouhout is great firewood – hard and slow burning. However, with all the wattle around there was obviously plenty of wood for cooking fires.

The wet weather meant there were not many people about and it seemed as if we had the valley all to ourselves, despite being so close to the houses. We sang as loudly as we felt like.

res IMG_5520

As we reached Emashingeni the imposing cliffs on the west caught our attention. Lots of aloes on the slopes, big rocks and interesting ravines which we decided to come back and explore another day.

res IMG_5529

Down towards the river there was plenty of Leonotis leonorus in full flower – often attended by sunbirds – living up to its Zulu name utshwala bezinyoni.

res IMG_5545

An enormous Cussonia on the opposite bank drew us toward the river.

res IMG_5567

It was really wonderful to push through the dense vegetation and find a beautiful stream gurgling over the rocks.

res IMG_5554

Penz was exited to discover Caddis Fly casings on the underside of the rocks, illustrating that the water was unpolluted. “this is a mini sass score of 9” she declared, “pretty good.”

res IMG_5556

“It is unbelievable that in only 6kms the water becomes so polluted.” commented Meshack, who had not visited the area before.

res IMG_5562

We were quiet for a moment, admiring all the indigenous vegetation – Grewia occidentalis, Maytenus heterophylla, Halleria lucida, lots of Rhamnus prinoides, Trimeria and understory Plectranthus, Stachys aethiopica, Isoglossa, Chlorophytum and ferns.

res IMG_5566

Bright yellow flowers of Senecio tamoides clambored through the canopy and Kniphofia caulescens had just finished flowering on the edge of the stream.

res IMG_5564

We could not see a way to get to the source of the uMthinzima without invading the space of the people who lived there. We were certain that it rose in the forest near the ridge and planned to ask the iNkosi for permission to explore more in the area. “We should bring our Mpophomeni Kids Club members for a picnic up here” said Ntombenhle, “they would love it.”

res IMG_5539

“How amazing to have this adventure so close to our homes.” added Tutu as we headed back down the hill deciding that local is definitely lekker.

After the huge impact which the 2012 uMngeni River Walk had, N3 Toll Concession decided to support the documenting of some of the important tributaries of the uMngeni river this year.  Watch out Lion’s River, Dargle and Yarrow – we are on our way.

res IMG_5527


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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to These Boots were Made for Sloshing Alongside Rivers

  1. Douw Steyn says:

    Dear MayDay4 rivers team…great to se you are all so involved in our precious rivers!!…and enjoy reading about your findings and challenges.
    Our current “adventure” is the Plastics|SA Nampak Rigid Plastics Orange River Project with adventurer Ray D Chaplin…riverboarding down the Orange river..from Source to Sea – 2300 km to Aleaxander bay (jsut done 400km and are now out of Lestoho…sad to say that alraedy 40 km from the source litter were found. ray will soon be in aliwal North and some of his actions will be to encourage river cleanups and recycling to schools, communiteis and municipalities.
    All are welcome to follow and support him on this adventure:



  2. Dave Still says:

    Super post – well done Penz and team. As you say, local is lekker and you could work on making this a regular outing for kids from Mpophomeni who haven’t experienced the pristine beauty so close to their homes. As they say, you learn something new every day and something I learned from this post is that “utshwala bezinyoni” (beer for bees?) is the Zulu name for Leonotis leonorus, which is a familar site in this part of the world – I think I might be able to remember that!
    Dave Still

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s