Oxygen

Another Mpofana Anecdote from Pandora Long.

It has taken us two and a half hours to walk the first kilometre. We pass a great gash in the landscape where the Mooi-uMngeni Transfer Scheme crosses the little river.

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A few hundred meters further and we sink down into a bed of soft warm pine needles, grateful for the break . A large granite boulder, cold and hard against my back, is the only reminder that we are following the Mpofana.

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Over a period of perhaps only ten years, there is no longer any evidence of the once gurgling little berg stream under its pine needle grave. The valley floor stretches uninterrupted from one side of the pine forest to the other.

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How do you describe this to people remote from this place? People caught up in even remoter lives. Lives that revolve around cities and schedules and a constant need to earn money and status and stuff. How do you describe the significance of one little stream in the foothills of the Drakensberg that vanishes twice in the space of its first kilometre?

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How do you begin to tell of the impacts of man’s interventions here? A disappearing river that lower down becomes the conduit for a new supply of fresh water from the Mooi, to satisfy an ever growing city population hundreds of kilometres downstream. Given another ten years, how many more disappearing rivers will hide in forgotten foothills?

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The Riverwalk team lay sprawled out in various forms of repose in the pine litter bed around me. “Give me a word…” I asked. No longer quizzical of my conceptual leaps trying to synthesise a response to what I see, Morag answers first: “Blue” she says. Penny adds two words: “Drought, Desiccation” Siya says (like a true forrester) “Purple” Prev is thoughtful. “Oxygen” is the final word.

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I sum up our experience… our fear for the future of these beautiful rivers and our hope for their freedom to flow uninterrupted to the sea.

River?

Do you count the days you last shimmered blue

and the whirligigs’ dived sweet oxygen to your depths?

River?

How many more days blinded by a grave of needles

and the suffocation of drought and desiccation?

River?

Will you see the raging purple skies?

And know that we have come to break you free?

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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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