Are you curious about who the intrepid river walkers actually are?  Well,  each environmentalist/adventurer has written their own story – read all about them below. With such wonderful storytellers making this trip, we can all look forward to fascinating tales emerging from the river beds and stream banks in May!

from left: Mike Farley, Pandora Long, Penelope Malinga, Penny Rees and Preven Chetty.

Penny Rees

As a teenager, my lifelong desire to be a vet was changed forever when I attended a four day Joint Venture Wilderness Leadership School / Wildlife Society Wilderness trail in Timbavati.  Londolozi in those days was no more than one whitewashed thatched rondavel with a very young John Varty (oops – I can’t be far behind!)! I returned with a change in life plans – to be a game ranger was my dream.

Over the years I have done various aspects of environmental work: from being a game ranger in wild places, which just strengthened my love and connection for the earth and ecosystems, to being a field guide and teacher (sometimes) inspiring our youth.

I attended a school in Joburg that was on the confluence of the Jukskei and Klein Jukskei Rivers (my first river exploration trips); I helped with the first ever Hands on Water Study booklet whilst a student – testing the invertebrate identification sketches by doing “water studies’ in the Jukskei River in Joburg (don’t think that would work today due to the heavy pollution). I was then sent to lead wilderness trails in the Timbavati, and our camp was on the banks of the dry Timbavati River where we once enjoyed a swim when the river ran after good rains. I then fell in love with the uMngeni River during my internship at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve in Howick. At Lapalala Wilderness I explored the Lapalala River which flowed through that game reserve, and at Bourkes Luck in Mpumalanga I got to know all the small streams on the escarpment that feed the Blyde River which eventually feeds the Limpopo via the Olifants River. At Swadini we lived on the banks of the Blyde River, where my son spent the first 4 years of his life. At Langjan Nature Reserve, where my daughter was born, we often visited the Limpopo River 60 km north of the reserve and picnicked in its sandy bed. My kids and I had many walks in the dry stream beds on the reserve, and often watched in awe as the summers rains in the nearby Wolkberg (Cloud Mountains) caused these dry rivers to come to life in the raging torrents of flash floods. In Mocambique we got to know the mighty Limpopo well, as it was not far from our farm. And then I returned to KZN – to live a few precious months alongside the Umkomaas river, watching the sun set each evening behind the mighty Hella Hella cliffs, and to fall asleep each night lulled by the sounds of the river and its frogs.  Then my return to the uMngeni River – to work again on it’s shores with school learners visiting the nature reserve. Now to work with DUCT whose mission is championing the Duzi & uMngeni River.

Until I sat down to write this, I had never realised what a thread of rivers has run through me my entire adult life!  The first wilderness trail I attended was at the Wilderness Leadership School was started by Dr Ian Player – who resides not far from me now, and who is a Patron of DUCT! 

Mike Farley Dip. Nature Conservation-(I’ve been dying to write that after my name):

First I read Ian Player’s book (Men, Rivers & Canoes) about 19…, a long time ago!! This, along with many childhood trips to Kruger Park, pointed me in the right direction, although I did meander about a bit before joining Natal Parks Board. Other ‘wild’ life experiences included four years in Tsetse Fly Control in Rhodesia as it was, eight years crewing yachts in the Mediterranean, a stint as a dishwasher/barman in a Swiss ski resort and not quite 2 years at a private environmental children’s camp at Lake St Lucia – a short lived stay, thanks to Cyclone Demoina.

I think that’s about it.  No hang on, I am married and we have 3 apples in/of our eye, all knocked off the top rung recently by the arrival of our grandkid. My son’s daughter and my daughter-in-law’s as well.

I joined DUCT in July 2010 and have been desperately trying to encourage other Ductees to take up a decent sport like mountain biking. Not successful so far.

Penelope Malinga

When I was a young girl my Dad would ‘force’ us into watching National Geographic programmes on the television. At first it was not pleasant I admit, but it grew on me over the years and gave birth to my fascination with Great Old Mother Nature. I would take walks every weekend down to the stream not far from my home and sit for a couple of hours staring at the water and the little creatures in it.

One day a friend introduced me to the Umgeni Gorge below the Howick Falls, it was like Nothing I had seen, heard, or felt ever before. It felt like I was home.

When I finished high school I took on a Game Rangers Correspondence Course while working at the Howick Falls as a  volunteer guide and info officer.

When I finished my Course, I handed in my resignation, became a vegetarian and ventured out there ready to sell my soul if it meant being outdoors and being able to touch a different tree every day.

I ended up at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve working as an Intern. Here I became a field guide, an alien plant clearer, a fire fighter, a builder, a tree/ bunny hugger and self-elected guardian of wild places. I now work with DUCT and the Mpophomeni Community, monitoring the water quality of the streams that flow through the area into Midmar Dam. I enjoy working with the youth, passing on my love and passion for wetlands and a respect and connection for our precious rivers.

I am real keen on taking this epic journey with these dynamic people with different personalities, knowledge and wisdom. The River is my home, so it’s my heart.

Preven Chetty

My first encounter with rivers began when I was 7 years old and I used to play and explore the little stream that ran beside my house in the township of Phoenix in Durban. The river always called to me and one day I managed to convince a group of neighbourhood friends (actually, we were only three back then) to clean up our little section of the stream which was becoming steadily worsened with litter. At the end of a long day I was amazed at what a small group of people could do and the river looked remarkably cleaner. Imagine my delight when our parents then decided to take us to the sea- now that’s instant karma for you. Since then I was always fasciniated with rivers and their meandourous route to the sea.

Fast forward and I’m still in love with nature and rivers. A commitment that has taken me through Boy Scout camps with the Shallcroos, Howick and Chatsworth groups, to volunteering for WESSA in Drakensberg, to a Earthwatch facilitator, and also a camp coordinator with Outward Bound South India when I was studying classical music on an ancient string instrument called the Veenai. Music and nature have always been my constant companions. My passion led me to a degree in Environmental Management, then a short stint as a Geography tecaher befor I joined WESSA. I have been facilitating the EETDP learnerships for the last 5 years. I have trained more than 250 graduates in environmental education but always the youth and my students inspire me more. During this time at WESSA I also started my Masters in Environmental Education which I am finishing this year and my thesis focuses on the role of media in education. My love of the environment and uMngeni river also got me international recognition with the Inaugral Rolex Young laureates Awards in 2010 of which The River Project was both nominated and a finalist in terms for enterprising projects around the world. My latest role is now as a volunteer coordinator for Greenpeace Africa’s Durban group and a board member of the EcoMedia Forum.

The River project is finally coming to life now as the River Walk meanders towards us this year. So excited. A small band of people is all that it takes but a committed country will make a bigger change. So here’s to life, rivers and South Africa. See you at the beach.

Pandora Long

I grew up between the little village of Durbanville and the town of Bellville in the Western Cape in the early 60’s.  I loved exploring the natural environment around our smallholding.  At the bottom of the valley a little stream fed into a dam where my brother used to fish for hours.  I was fascinated by nature, by plants and animals, seasons and beauty.  I watched helplessly as acre by acre, bulldozers destroyed the place that I loved.  When I left at seventeen there was nothing left of what was my home, and in its place, suburbia.  No-one stopped to consider a little girl’s point of view about magical open spaces and the rivers that ran through them.

I travelled by train to Pietermaritzburg and settled a year later, at eighteen, on a farm along the Mpushini River, just before the confluence with the Msunduzi.  From my home high on a hill, I look out over the Msunduzi to the uMngeni Valley.  If I take a bush trail for an hour or so westward I come to a ridge that looks up and over the most beautiful grassland savannah into the heart of the Msunduzi valley.  If my walk is early enough, Pietermaritzburg is still sleeping tucked up in the arms of the surrounding green hills. The river lines are covered in wispy white duvets, a silver tracery that converges into the main valley line that wends its way past forest clad cliffs beneath the sugar cane lands of Bishopstowe.  From my vantage point I can start a slow 360 degree turn to look up from the Msunduzi into the uMngeni Valley and then to catch the sun rays streaming through the cleft that heralds Table Mountain. I can then take in, at a sweeping glance the beautiful bushveld that is my valley, before gazing up the Mkhondeni as the early morning sun catches the arches of the magnificent railway bridge spanning the river.  If I walk an hour or more eastward I come to a high ridge overlooking Table Mountain. Far down below lies a silver sweep of the Duzi.

For the first half of my married life I helped my husband with his work, raised a family of four children, looked after the farm and developed my interests in music, art and the environment.  When my husband retired, I trained as an education, training and development practitioner and went out to teach at a small local high school.  The school’s focus was on experiential learning and as part of the natural sciences programme I brought my students to the valley every two weeks to study the Mpushini River.  I can only relate the most pivotal point in my life in the words of one of my students.  “On Thursday, 20 February 2003, the grade 8 & 9’s from Brookby Learning Project went for their ecology lesson with Pandora Long to the Mpushini River that runs from Thornville through Ashburton.  When we got there we noticed something different to the last time we were there.  The fact that it stank was not the problem but that the river was completely dried up.  I couldn’t believe what had happened.  There were a couple of puddles in which we tried to push some of the alive shrimp into.  It was an extremely sad sight to see.  I think it is one of the worst things to do.  It is a discrimination to the human race.  We have been told that a farmer up the road has just started to build a dam for his vegetables.  We think it could be him.  We are going to show him the river and hopefully he will change his mind.” Dare-Lynne Foster – extract Brookby Learning Project Eco-Schools Portfolio 2003.

I now am a full time environmental educator coordinating the WESSA/WWF Pietermaritzburg Eco-Schools, a programme that brings about improved environmental management and learning in schools.  I am most passionate about river health and help DUCT (Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust) champion the health of the Duzi and uMngeni rivers through the DUCT arts education programme that I run.  I also do a lot of environmental advocacy work and together with my community have set aside the first community biodiversity stewardship nature reserve in KZN.

The Mpushini River never recovered its health and I have watched with sadness at how the stream has degraded further as a result of many interrelated issues upstream.  The Mkhondeni Valley and Mpushini Valley are currently facing major transformation through proposed high density housing and commercial and industrial development.

‘Mayday for Rivers’ hopes to bring about a raised awareness for healthy rivers, healthy communities and also proposes the establishment of a Green Corridor between Ukhahlamba and Blue Lagoon.  It is into this vision that the Mpushini community proposes a biodiversity corridor between Bisley Valley and Manderston in the south, stretching through the Msunduzi Valley to meet the uMngeni in the north.   A place where children can explore the natural environment around their city, where boys can fish for hours and where children are fascinated by the whole of nature.  A place that considers a little girl’s point of view about magical open spaces, and sparkling clean rivers that run through them.

The Film Crew:  Siphiwe Mazibuko and Nonthokhozo Mncwabe

Back up Team: Wendy Ross. Hugh, John Fourie, Liz Taylor, Liz Gow, Nikki Brighton, Doug Burden, Bart Fokkens,


2 Responses to Bios

  1. Pingback: Conservation Award for Mayday Team! | uMngeni River Walk

  2. Jenny Govender says:

    Great website, love it.!!! Hope u could assist, my mom in law was born in Inanda, she is suffering from Pancreatic cancer which has now spread to her liver and Billary duct, she has very fond memories of crossing a river on her walk to her father’s farm in Inanda, Durban.

    I would like to fulfill her wishes by bringing her to this river she constantly crossed to get to her father’s from back in the days in the 1940’s era, do you know which rivers or streams there are in Inanda that she could have crossed.

    She tells me constantly that it had a cemented pathway running across the river/stream which she should walk across on.

    This would really help me fulfill one of her wishes before she passes on.

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