The uMngeni River is an integral part of Howick life. Visitors flock to the falls, locals walk dogs along the riverside paths, children learning about river eco-systems in Umgeni Valley and fishermen try their luck in the deep pools.
Howick has an active branch of DUCT (Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust) and was the birthplace of the River Walk vision which saw Penny Rees and her team walk 311 kms from the source of the river to the sea. Film maker, Sphiwe Mazibuko of Duzi Productions, was intrigued by the project and offered to record their journey. Penny said “Every day he splashed along beside us carrying his heavy camera, then drove home to Pietermaritzburg to download and edit the footage and was back to join us the next morning. Incredible.” The 30 minute film was screened for the first time on World Water Day at the SEEDS izimBewu Film Festival held in Howick in March.
The film tracks their month long journey, featuring some of the joys and horrors they encountered along the way. Illegal sand mining, raw sewage, invasive plant infestations and banks used as rubbish dumps were some of the lows. Highlights included the discovery that, if a river has a long enough stretch without any negative impacts, with natural vegetation lining the banks, it can restore the quality of the water without help from humans. It would appear therefore, more sensible to invest money in protecting the riparian zones and catchments and preventing contamination rather than purifying filthy water when it reaches the cities.
The narration by Penny Rees captures the spirit of the walk beautifully, taking viewers right along on the journey. Beginning with “Before setting off, we fill an ostrich egg with water from the source spring, probably mimicking an action undertaken thousands of times before when the original inhabitants of the area – the San, would use these egg shells to transport and store water. The egg is to be carried all the way down the river to the ocean.” And in conclusion “A small ceremony to pour the water collected from the rivers source into the ocean signals the end of not only our journey, but also that of the uMngeni Rivers journey. Mama River finally finds peace with the ocean after a long, at times painful and abused journey.”
Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Program Director of the organisation International Rivers attended the premeire. “I really liked the River Walk initiative and in particular the documentary. It makes the issues real and in a simple way explains the impacts of human activity on the rivers. Since the impacts on rivers are the same everywhere, this documentary can be used anywhere in South Africa and even outside the country, to raise awareness of the plight of our rivers.”
Kevan Zunckel, Ecologist and Environmentalist, also watched the movie and has already been using the findings extensively. He comments: “The movie was great. The outcomes of the Walk itself I think are extremely relevant. In my work I have particularly focussed on the evidence of how the river manages to bounce back where it is given the chance, i.e. where there has been restoration. More specifically the example of where it goes from a “poor” SASS score to a “natural” one after flowing through the Cumberland area where riparian restoration work had been done. The costs associated with this work and the results provide a compelling case for implementing wide scale restoration work throughout the catchment, i.e. at 10% of the Durban Water’s treatment costs. The converse of this would be the clear relationship between unsustainable land use/management evident along the banks and water quality.”
Funding for the uMngeni River Walk was made available by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund through Wildlands Conservation Trust, uMgungundlovu District Municipality and many residents and businesses in the area. With sponsorship from N3TC sourced by the Midlands Conservancies Forum, the DUCT River Walk Team have also explored the Lions and Dargle rivers and plan to traverse the Indezi river in September.