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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
That is a story for another day.