Journey of Water to Mpophomeni

This May,  the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) embarked on their second Journey of Water – from the central region of the Maloti Drakensberg park at  Highmoor Nature Reserve, to finish off at the home of the Duzi Canoe Marathon in Pietermarizburg.  The group comprised enthusiastic, highly influential personalities from main stream media, entertainment,  landowners, various water professionals and communities who undertook took the journey to highlight the plight our water faces in its journey from the catchments to reach the taps in our homes.

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It is something we witness everyday.  People have separated themselves from their  surrounding environment thus forgetting how much they depend on it.   As a result many people don’t know where exactly where their water comes from. It does NOT come from a tap!

Having walked the uMngeni River from the source to sea a few years ago, gave me a heads up.  I at least knew the source of our hardworking  river is the newly declared Ramsar site,  uMngeni Vlei. I recall pristine,  untampered with, crystal clear waters ready to be gulped straight from the stream bed and I expected no less at Highmoor.

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On Day One, indeed,  there was no disappointments. The water was crisp clear and you could taste each mineral defined on your palate.  It took me a while to take in the majestic views,  with the sleeping giant in the distant Berg,  the many little dams and the colours of the basaltic rocks amongst the golden sandstones.

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uKhahlamba Drakensberg park is one of 28 world heritage sites around the world that protects both cultural and natural significance in a global platform. According to Oscar Mthimkhulu who is the Biodiversity Co-ordinator for the region, there are hundreds of Sandstone caves with the most beautiful (and diversified in subject) collection of San rock paintings in Southern Africa.

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One of the highlights of this day was visiting Aasvoelkrans Cave.  We followed a narrow, steep gravel path with a very high drop off on the side.  I swore that I could hear a distant drum song but no, it was just the beating of my heart, then the rain came and drenched us a bit, ending the song.

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At the end of day one, we had a special visit from the Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, Pamela Tshwete, who encouraged us to call her ‘Pam’ – said it made her feel younger. Pam urged us to become her water ambassadors and use our influence (especially the celebrities),  to spread the message of preventing water wastage and conservation of our water resources.

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On Day Three, the Journey of Water crew arrived across Midmar dam by boat to walk one of the five tributaries that feed the dam, the uMthinzima stream in our home township – Mpophomeni.  We MCG (Mpophomeni Conservation Group), DUCT (Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust), ACT (African Conservation Trust) and WESSA (Wildlife Environment Society of Southern Africa) were there to welcome them.

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I chatted with Aya Mpama (the singer and television presenter) about her thoughts on Day Two, as we walked. This had taken them from Springrove dam to Howick. She told of the horrors of Shiyabazali informal settlement, claimed she has been to many such settlements but it was the first time she saw one one where people were living, forgotten on their own rubbish and the filth of thousands others in the form of the waste water treatment outlet.  Sometimes are forced to use this contaminated  water for household chores because of water shortages. She asked why won’t the municipality do something to help them – I remind her that it was a complex issue and that many residents were foreign nationals, some illegal,  and there are no possibility of service delivery.

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Near the banks of Midmar, we could see that the presence of the reeds filters much of the filth from the stream – not much pollution evidence is visible. A different story is reserved for the stream crossing under R617. The familiar stench of sewerage graces our nostrils, you can see the fragments of toilet paper hanging on the rocks and it is not long before we stumble upon a surcharging manhole, overflowing into the stream, never mind the piles of solid waste in the storm water drains. Well okay, Welcome to Mpophomeni.

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At our first stop at the Memorial Wall we were entertained by the DUCT MSEP drama team about the correct items to flush down the toilet.

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The incapacity of the local municipality and poor infrastructure engineering are some of the problems leading to the severe sewer outbursts. A ray of light is the DUCT Enviro Champions who are doing important work following up on these spills.

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We also shared the privilege of assisting the walkers to conduct a MiniSASS test higher up the stream. Miss Earth South Africa, IIze Saunder, and Carishma Basday (actress, model and dancer),  volunteered  to seek out (in the not so dirty part of the stream) invertebrates that are the indicators of water quality due to their varying scores of sensitivity. Lindiwe Mkhize MCG comments “I was impressed with Miss Earth SA – she was not afraid of getting dirty and got stuck into collecting nunus.”

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We found the average score to indicate poor conditions but then when we went and searched further upstream below the cemetery, away from surcharging sewerage pipes and domestic rubble we finally found a wider diversity of water invertebrates even the elusive Stonefly.

Screams and leaps of excitement came from the seekers as the stonefly nymph (highest scorer on the SASS sheet, and most likely to die from a tiny drop of impurity) was found! This ensured the day ended on a positive note and reinforced the message that if nature is given enough space it can repair the damage caused to it.

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Another highlight for this day was when Ian Felton from the KZN Department of Environmental Affairs held up a bottle filled with water from the uMthinzima and exclaimed, “There is a great prize, for whomever can drink this water – a two week stay at the hospital of your choice”. He continued, “jokes aside, we have a vision and are making a promise that the people of Mpophomeni will in a few years time  be able to drink from this stream as we do in those up in the berg.  We will be improving the Ecological infrastructure of the local environment.”

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That is a story for another day.


Pumpkin Time in Pops!

Pumpkins and people of all shapes and sizes participated in the inaugural Pumpkin Competition hosted by the Mpophomeni Conservation Group in the Community Garden recently. Nkululeko Mdladla compiled this account of the day.

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The first ever pumpkin competition in Mpophomeni was held on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Ntombenhle Mtambo was so happy to see all the competitors coming with their pumpkins to enter the competition – she had this amazing smile on her face as she welcomed them.

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I have never heard of such a competition before.  Money is not always a prize – today the prizes were organic fertiliser, seeds, frost protection and flower pots to grow their seeds in, sponsored by Hopewells Supplies and TWK in Howick.

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Lucia Buthelezi, who not only grows vegetables in her garden, but is also part of Silungiseleni Senior Citizen Project, won the prize for the tastiest looking pumpkin. She commented “I just came from church, hungry and tired but I did not allow my hungriness to stop me from coming to this competition that I heard about. I went home picked up my pumpkin and came to see this lovely garden.”

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Ntombenhle gave everyone a tour of the garden, showing them the permaculture way of doing things. “I heard that the Mpophomeni Conservation Group go house to house doing gardens, please come to my house also,” pleaded Lucia, “what you are doing is amazing.”

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Sihle Ngcobo, who brought along his Gogo’s pumpkin, laughed “I am very happy that I have also won something.  When I saw other pumpkins they were very huge compared to mine, and I thought I do not stand a chance. I even thought of going back home with my little pumpkin. I am happy to win the prize of weirdest pumpkin, next year I am taking the largest pumpkin prize.”

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Jabulani Nene was one of the judges. “I thought Ester’s pumpkin was the most beautiful. It was round and orange.” he said, adding “This was a very good event for our community. I think this garden is amazing and now I am thinking of starting one at home.”

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Winners in the various categories were (from left): Nokuthula Mjwara for the biggest, Lucia Buthelezi for the tastiest looking, Ester Ntuli for the most beautiful,  Tutu Zuma for the funniest (held here by Sbonelo Zuma), Sihle Ngcobo for the weirdest (and least likely to be edible!), Khetelo Mtambo for the smallest.

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Hloni Sikhakane came out from Howick for the event and got stuck in helping to water plants and harvest veggies. “This is the first time I have been in a garden like this. It is wonderful, I am really enjoying it and would like to be part of MCG.” She took home an armful of fresh produce.

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Lucia Buthelezi was absolutely delighted with her prize “I have never had my own compost or pots, I should have brought my other pumpkins too!” Everyone went home with some garden produce too – spinach, cabbage and brinjals.

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“It was a fun filled day. I was very happy to see all the competitors excited about their prizes,” said Lindiwe Mkhize of MCG. Penz Malinga, who initiated and organised the event added “I was so pleased that the Gogo’s, teenagers and even a four year old entered the competition. Many passers-by were wishing they had not already feasted on the pumpkins they had grown.”

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I was very happy to spend my Sunday afternoon in the garden, at the competition. I hope there will another pumpkin harvest day next year, with even more people entering.

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MCG plan more events like this one to celebrate good home grown food. On August 14th Winter’s Best Produce, and on January 8th Summer Greens and an Imifino cooking contest.

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If you get your cabbages and beetroot planted soon they will definitely be ready for the Winter Celebration. Don’t delay, get out in the garden today!

Thobekile Shezi – The Reducer

People say “a small action can change the world”. It is often that small action that makes a difference between the world being a little cleaner or a little dirtier. Waste is an international issue and nobody is safe from it. The common, but sick, excuse for dumping household rubbish is the ‘creation of jobs’. People want others to pick up after them so they ignorantly throw even re-usable stuff away.

Your little action – picking up that one plastic bag, washing it and using it for your shopping might be the very thing that changes the world for better. There are many recycling efforts out there. You would actually be stuck in the way backs, if you choose to not practise the five R’s – refusing, reducing, re-using, rotting, recycling.

Many people raid rubbish dumps and recycling depots everyday looking for waste that they can turn into art and make a living for themselves, often incorporating natural materials such as grass and reed. One of these people is Thobekile Shezi.r thobekile shezi

Thobekile is from Kwa-Chief just south of Mpophomeni, she lives with her life partner Kwenzakwakhe Khubisa. They were blessed with four children and three grandchildren. She raids communal rubbish dumps for sacks, old clothing and plastic bags which she washes and weaves pillows, cushion covers and mats. In the recent past, people put effort into handmade items of all kinds. Many of our grandparents made a living by selling handmade crafts. Now because of the fast pace of life they have no time and they end up settling for poor quality, massed produced items from the shops. After Thobekile’s late father retired from his work as truck driver, he taught everyone in the family how to weave and sew so that they could make their lives better.

In her spare time Thobekile and her husband volunteer at the Mpophomeni Conservation Group Community Garden so that healthy food is always accessible. Thobekile helps collect waste to make eco-bricks that will be used to build benches in the garden. Thobekile dreams of a future that is cleaner, brighter and greener, where there is no plastic litter and all the rubbish is turned into something beautiful.

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