Famous Vetkoek

Ntombenhle Mtambo’s vetkoek is famous.

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Not only in Mpophomeni, where regular Vetkoek Friday events draw visitors from all over the Midlands, but around the country where her recipe is featured in cookbooks.

Mnandi is a local Midlands production, celebrating the cooks and gardeners of Mpophomeni, published as a fundraiser for Mpophomeni Projects. Enjoy a taste here.


The Great South African Cookbook, featuring 67 of our country’s great cooks, produced for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, dedicates a few pages to Ntombenhle’s vetkoek, served with bean stew and rainbow salad.


Vetkoek also features in the gorgeous recipe book East Coast Tables – The Inland Edition by Erica Platter and Clinton Friedman.  This is a proudly KZN book, celebrating local produce, farmers, cooks and chefs from the Midlands and the Berg. In 2013 it scooped a top honour in the 2013 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

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“We are thrilled that KZN’s multi-cultural culinary heritage, our food heroes and our brilliant produce have again been recognised,” said author Erica Platter. “African cuisine is a melting pot of a multitude of traditional dishes and influences, and that is what the recipes in East Coast Tables reflect.

The book includes recipes and delightful stories about the people who live here and the food they produce and eat with love. Samkeliso Mlalazi’s scrummy Red Pepper and Butterbean Soup on page 114 makes one wish for late summer to roll around when the peppers are ripe and ready.  Jabu Zondi’s Chicken recipe is husband, Sandile’s, favourite meal. Eunice Tsikude’s Caldo Verde adds a few veggies to the repetoire.  Sharon Barnsley’s Summer Slice makes the most of the abundance of Courgettes in the garden in Summer. Nikki Brighton shares her favourite Wild Green Soup.  Ayesha Thokan, of well-known Thokan’s Store, contributes her famous Chicken Curry.

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An authentic portrayal of local food, life and culture.

In Mnandi, not only do we share Ntombenhle’s recipe, but also her daughter Zamile’s recipe for pumpkin vetkoek – a particularly delicious version.

pumpkin vetkoek

Hope Majozi (below) loves amagwinya with fresh garden salad – read his story here:https://mpophomeniconservationgroup.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/hope-majozi/

mcg hope majozi vetkoek and salad

Murky Waters and Mating Grasshoppers

For the monthly walk in March, I (Penz Malinga) was joined by Thorsten Euler, a German PHD student researching the environmental movement in KZN.  Thorsten’s comments about the walk are included in italics.

“Many tourists nowadays are including a tour through a township in their vacation schedule, most of them going to Soweto as it’s probably the only township area any European knows by name. Often they are then rushing through the narrow roads, disembarking from their air-conditioned buses, glimpsing in a tuck shop and finally embarking again to their fully-serviced lodges to relax in the evening. None of them would realise that the glass of water they are sipping at dinner is linked to those places. And they would never link conservation with it.

But that’s what you learn when you go on one of the monthly walks with Penz Malinga from the Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG). Mpophomeni doesn’t look like the kind of settlement that Europeans imagine when speaking about a South African township. Instead of dusty pathways you enter it via an alley of shady trees, instead of cardboard box huts you see little houses lining the streets, each with a neatly trimmed lawn or a cared-for vegetable garden surrounding it. There are cows and goats promenading along the roads and a kraal for the cattle between the buildings. So everybody has to have a fence around their house to safe the veggies from being munched by those hungry mammals.

Penz will have to tell you a lot about the area. As a white foreigner I had to have many things explained to me.”

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The stream banks of the crossing are steep – a lonely cow was trying to cross. This crossing is the spot where you are usually greeted by a whiff of sewage – it is ever present but I guess it’s a little better than that whiff you catch when driving past Kwa-Sathane. A closer look at the water revealed a murky colour but definitely not as turbid as it has been on other days. The miniscule fragments of toilet paper seem to be coming together again and bonding while flowing down the stream from the overflowing manhole above.

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“We started at a muddy road where the people living there are leaving their garbage in the backyard as no municipal waste trucks are coming along the bad road to collect the garbage. A manhole was leaking and spilling into the stream. Penz was able to identify it by the vegetation downstream and when approaching it, you could smell it by yourself. A lot of garbage was in the area around us and the cows were grazing in between. I was thinking how many of them had died already because of a wrapped plastic bag inside one of their stomachs.”

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There was a pair of Black Smith Plovers, a heron, a flock of Sacred Ibis, and Cattle Egrets in the vegetation whose flourishing is motivated by the high nutrient load. Nevertheless, there are pretty red hot poker plants scattered along the banks of the uMthinzima. The floodplain is not as wet as it was around this time last year, it shows the rains have been scarce, a reminder of the drought we are in.

We followed the path through the overgrazed plains passing small gangs of grasshoppers mating, a pretty day moth and made our way to one of the tributaries of the uMthinzima. Here we  found some cool shade under the uMlahlankosi (Ziziphus Mucronata), Ntozanemyama (Dais Cotinifolia), and uMtshiki (leucosidea sericea) trees.

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Following the small stream against the flow, we looked for signs of life but were not lucky. The stream is sandy, the water is the colour of grey tea with milk – probably because of the light shale rock bed. There is not a large volume of water but at least it doesn’t smell. The shade is nice though, far cooler than in the grassland. We headed up to the rocky hill side and took photographs of miniature grassland wild flowers. There is much more biodiversity here as this area is not often graced by the trampling hoofs of cattle.

r hillside tributary of uMthinzima

“We were crossing the grassland leaving the stream behind us and Penz was showing me different kinds of wildflowers and plants on our way. We finally reached another little stream cutting its way down the hills and through a small valley. The water seemed to be in quite some better condition although we failed in finding some insects or worms in the water. But you could still see what a difference a clean river makes.”

Some of the species found flowering were: the slender potato creeper (Solanum penduriforme), wild bergonia (Bergonia geraniodes),  uMvemvane olukhulu (Hibiscus trionum), and below, Caterpillar bean (Zornia capensis),

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On our way back, we walked past a span of Nguni oxen, it is nice to see that these oxen are fat and glowing and well taken care of.

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After crossing the stream we made a visit to the Mpophomeni Eco-Museum for a glimpse of the history of the township. We spent a long time analysing the very abstract Statue at the entrance. I thought that it might represent a multi-horned vehicle that destroys everything in its path.

“The sun was getting hot above us and so we were heading back to Mpophomeni paying a short visit to its “eco”-museum. Although there is written something about ecology on the vision for the museum, nothing “eco” is to be seen inside. Perhaps they should instead incorporate the work of the MCG and hand over the eco in eco-museum to them?”

red sculpture mpop

No township walk could be complete without a visit to the Mpopohomeni Conservation Group Community Garden. Ntombenhle was out working in schools, so we lingered along the garden fence admiring the abundance from there.

“MCG have certainly already achieved many impressive results, not only by conducting those explorations in the environmental mysteries of Mpophomeni but especially at our last stop – by converting a former dump site into a remarkable community garden by the work of Ntombenhle Mtambo and the team around her. Projects that should be established everywhere.

Altogether an impressive environmental effort set up by many enthusiastic people in MCG who care for their surroundings and who by taking care of the rivers in Mpophomeni are part of the security of the water supply for vast areas of KZN and those tourists and Durbanites who don’t even realise it when sipping their glass of water.”

What a lovely stroll it was. Next walk on Tuesday 14 April – book with Penz 078 236 4480

Alfred Zuma – River Champion

The wrong Mr Zuma is running the country. Alfred Zuma, from Mpophomeni, has all the qualities of a good president. He has dignity, common sense, a great work ethic, good manners, a ready smile, a sense of responsibility and respect for the earth and people.

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This Mr Zuma heads up one of the DUCT River Care teams and is responsible for the banks of the uMngeni between Midmar Dam wall and the Howick Falls. Last year, DUCT funding dried up, but with his friend Jabulani Nene, Alfred voluntarily continued to clear litter from the trash boom in his canoe every week.

Alfred has been involved with water and waste water since the 1970’s and takes great pride in his work. Not only clearing invasive alien vegetation, but all the garbage people chuck over the banks. It’s unbelievable what people toss, in the hope that it will magically go away. “There is no away. We must teach everyone. The polystyrene boxes from takeaway chips are the worst,” he says. Recently, his team have pulled six big bales of clothes out of the river. They have put them out in the sun to dry and will be donating them to those in need.

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 “People see the water running and think it is ok, but you can’t drink it. I tell them the human body is made up of water and we must make sure there is water for future generations.” He encouraged his youngest son, Londa to volunteer with the River Care team during school holidays, to learn about the work they do and contribute to ensuring our water resources are protected. Londa is now employed as part of the team.

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Landowners concerned with the riparian areas on their properties, have hired the team over weekends to assist and been most impressed. Margie Pretorius comments “Mr Zuma was a pleasure to communicate with, completely reliable and thorough. He and his staff have a real passion for their work.”

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On weekends, Alfred loves to head out on Breakfast Runs with the Abangani Motorcycle Club, on his beloved ‘mfazi mnyama’ – a Suzuki GS 1000.  “I love the bends of the R103,” he says with a grin. With fellow bikers, he enjoys going to rallies in Swaziland and the Eastern Cape. “We pack up the trailer with camping gear and our bikes and off we go.” The Club regularly makes donations to charities in Mpophomeni and kwaChief.

Alfred has dreams of creating a new path along the banks of the uMngeni River from the bridge to Mills Falls. He has picked out the perfect picnic spot beneath Acacia sieberiana trees already! Perhaps it will be called Zuma Park?

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He believes that people will be less likely to discard rubbish if they have access to the river and can see how lovely it is. He will also be working with Mpophomeni Conservation Group to clear a path along the banks of the uMthinzima and uMhlanga to encourage more residents to stroll beside the streams and take pride in keeping the area litter free. “My wife and I like to take walks in the evenings, so it will be my pleasure to make these paths in the place where we live.”

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Alfred Zuma is certainly making a difference in his community, never mind to the millions of downstream users of the uMngeni River.

We Love Mpop

During February, the activities of the Mpop Kidz Club were filled with love. Rescuing a chameleon from the river, crafting cards for Valentine’s day, adopting bits of the stream, delightedly discovering places that make Mpop special, sharing knowledge with others and splashing in the sunshine. Activities were funded by the DUCT Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (Rotary) and MCG (N3TC).

The monthly walk across the road to Nguga stream revealed masses of bright red hot pokers – Kniphofia caulescens – in flower.   Sihle Mnikathi explained to everyone the importance of citizen science and the opportunity that everyone has to care for the planet by monitoring rivers and doing miniSASS tests. “MiniSASS is very cheap and anyone can conduct the tests, both literate and illiterate people.” He said. “It is important that we monitor Nguga stream because it feeds Midmar dam which feeds us all with fresh clean water.”

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At the first miniSASS site we found flatworm, crabs or shrimps, minnow mayflies, dragon flies, bugs and beetles and snails – a score of 5 (largely modified).r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 012

In site two Ntokozo Kunene noticed that river has condition has improved (score 5.6). As nobody was cleaning the river, he concluded “Nature can take care of itself if it not disturbed and it can recover if has given enough time from whatever impact has caused damage.”r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 035

Sihle Ngcobo picked a Kniphofia flower and used it as a microphone to interview Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi. Sihle asked “Sbonginhlanhla, how are you feeling and what have you learned today?” Sbonginhlanhla said “I am happy and proud to be part and parcel of Mpop Kidz Club because I always learn during outings and I am grateful to be exposed to nature.”

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It certainly is a wonderful feeling to be part of a group that cares about their surroundings and one another.

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The sun was shining and everyone had great fun splashing and swimming in the stream.

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Penz Malinga and Ayanga Lipheyana attended the UEIP ‘Save Midmar’ meeting on 11 February.  Many caring people gathered in Mpophomeni to contribute to improved water security in the upper uMngeni River Catchment. Some notes:

Midmar Dam is important for supplying water to almost half the province’s population. The catchment of the Midmar Dam is a highly complex social and ecological system of land uses and activities that affect the flow and quality of water into the dam.

There are major challenges related to improving the quality and quantity of water flowing into the Midmar dam. The quality of water flowing in has declined due to contamination from sewerage, solid wastes, and agricultural activities. Wetlands have been severely degraded and the Mthinzima stream, which runs through the Mpophomeni Township, is impacted by massive pollution in particular from the dysfunctional sewerage systems. Although Mpophomeni occupies less than 3% of the dam’s catchment area, it produced about 51% of the E. coli and 15% of the phosphorous load in Midmar dam. Sewer surcharge and run off from agricultural activities in particular are gradually leading to the development of eutrophic conditions in the dam. If current trends of pollution load entering Midmar dam continue it is estimated that the dam will turn eutrophic by 2028. This will have major economic, social and ecological consequences similar to those now experienced by Hartbeespoort Dam.

MCG believe that be working together with all partners and focussing on education including all members of the community, the water quality of Midmar will be improved.

ayanda at save midmar meeting

Ethembeni Family Centre that cares for vulnerable children is keen to adopt a section of onr umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 148e of the Mpophomeni Rivers to look after. This month we hosted 36 children for an afternoon of water sampling on the uMhlanga stream. We did MiniSASS sampling and water testing in two sites – the first in a tributary to uMhlanga stream (miniSASS score 7.2 and water clarity 45 -58 cm – natural condition),

and the second in uMhlanga stream. We found the main stream to be in good condition too with a score of 6.2 and clarity of 30-41, this is good news.

r Mpop Feb 2015 164Mpophomeni Conservation Group has been given permission by the Municipality to create a park in the public open space opposite the Community Garden and along the uMhlanga stream. This is an exciting project and we intend to encourage young people from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club, Midlands Meander Education project interns programme and local schools Enviro Clubs to participate in creating something everyone in the area will love.r umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 155

On Valentine’s Day, a group gathered at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial to show how much they loved Mother Earth (and their own mothers) by making cards from handmade paper. This simple activity helped the kids to understand how important it is love Nature and to take of Nature.

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Samke asked if she could decorate her card with flowers and soon all the kids were picking leaves and different kinds of flowers. While tearing paper and glueing hearts, Uyikhokonke Mthembu said “I wish people can stop hitting horses because I love horses. They are helpful. Especially if you don’t have a car you can ride them and they can take where ever you want to go.”

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Tutu Zuma (facilitator) commented “The kids loved making the cards with their hands and decorating with what they have, not wasting money. Parents loved their presents too.”

Ayanda Lipheyana (facilitator) comments “It was very interesting to see how the young kids think about the interrelationship between people and the environment. They learned that they must conserve natural resources for the future generations.”

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On 21 February Liz Taylor and Thandanani Luvuno from DUCT joined the group for the day, sampling the water at three sites on the uMthinzima stream – two in Mpophomeni and one at eMashingeni.

From the Mpophomeni library we walked behind the uMngeni Municipality offices to collect our first sample. The river condition was very poor or critical modified (score 3.2)


Then we headed upstream for about 1,5 kilometres, chatting about the different species of grasses we saw. Everyone collected different grass flower species as they walked.


Liz Taylor explained the difference between grasses and other plants. Participants had found lot of different grass species. Liz said “The variety of plants shows that biodiversity is healthy here. If the area was just planted with sugarcane that would be monoculture. Monocultures are more vulnerable to disease, because all the same plants could be destroyed, but in a healthy diverse environment a disease would attack one species and other species will survive.” The youngsters were fascinated to learn that meilies, sugarcane and rice are all grass species!


We conducted the second MiniSASS sampling. Sihle Mnikathi suddenly shouted “Wow, we found a stonefly!” Everyone thought he was joking, but went to look and confirm that his group had found one. We were amazed as no one expected to find the stonefly in Mpophomeni. Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “This is our first stonefly in Mpophomeni and we will find many more in the near future.” The score was 9.8 indicating the stream was in natural condition.


Feeling happy with our exciting find we walked upstream to eMashingeni. Mzwandile Dlamini spotted chameleon floating in the stream and quickly rescued it. “It must have fallen out of the trees” he said, gently holding it for everyone to see.


At site 3 we found 4 stoneflies! We found the average score of 8.2. To find 5 stoneflies in one MiniSASS fieldtrip was an amazing experience for all of us.

Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “I have just fallen in love with the upper part of uMthinzima stream. I wish you could leave me here with this beautiful environment.” Liz Taylor concluded “It was such a wonderful day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Such a stark contrast at the three sites moving from the polluted area in Mpophomeni upstream to the almost totally natural site just below Nxamalala school.”


During February we certainly spread a little love around. Siyanthanda iMpop!

Save Lives

If you live in Mpophomeni you would know that there are no robots. Herds of cows and congregations of goats stop traffic morning and afternoon.

Mpop garden goats chilling in the road

Some of these cows are bought for the purpose of various traditional ceremonies and devoured by scores of people during the weekends. Often these animals and many others don’t get treated well during their lives.


Many people from my community discourage children from playing with pets from a young age. They do this by instilling fear. It is common to hear comments like: “The dog will bite you, the goat is going to stab you with its horns and trample you to the ground”. Even the meekest lamb is turned into a furry little devil creature that could maul a child to death. Why does our society do this? I don’t know, but I can tell you from experience none of it is true.

bulelani goats mpop res

The sad thing is that children who are taught to fear animals, in many cases turn out to be abusive towards them, disregarding their feelings. In the worst cases some commit extreme cruelty. I have witnessed children chase goats and cows away by hurling rock fragments along with curses, hitting them hard that it really hurts.

I also happen to know personally, two boys now 7 years old who tortured and killed a goat kid. Often the children who commit animal cruelty and abuse are children that have witnessed, or are victim of abuse, themselves.  Furthermore violence begets more violence as the animal abuser becomes a person abuser.

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It would be much more pleasant to live in a society where children are taught humane education early in their lives. They need to learn respect and compassion for animals so that the abuse stops before it starts. Funda Nenja runs an amazing programme on Friday afternoons at 3pm at Zamthule School. Their aim is to develop greater respect and compassion for all living things by promoting the bond between children and dogs, using the discipline of dog training.  Here are Ziyanda and Peno with Spookies on their way home from Funda Nenja class.

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MCG plans to conduct lessons around animal rights and compassion is Mpophomeni schools this year too. At the end of the day we get far more than food from the animals with whom we share this space called Earth. We must remember that all living things are important and it is our duty to protect those that cannot protect themselves.

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