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.”

r penz hills

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.

r cow crossing umthinzima

“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.”

r rubbish in umthinzima

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.

r shale in tributary

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),

r zornia

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.

r mpop cows

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

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