Enemies from above coming for the Rats

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Owls are beautiful, interesting creatures that hunt at night and are characterised by their flat face with forward facing eyes. There are twelve different known species in South Africa, the smallest weighing in at 50 g and the largest at 2.5 kg. The three most common in the Midlands are the Barn Owl, the Spotted Eagle Owl and the Wood Owl.  All owls have specially designed soft, fluffy wings that allow them to fly silently while listening out for prey, their tubular eyes are light sensitive allowing them to see their prey in low light conditions while sounds are bounced off their facial disk into little ear holes at the sides of their face and the rats don’t know what hit them until their hanging on that bill.   A family of owls can eat 2500 rats and mice a year.

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After hearing the successes that Eco-Solutions has had in Alexandria township in Johannesburg introducing owls to reduce the rat problem, the Mpophomeni Owl Box Project is to be launched to fight our troublesome rodent infestation that has grown over the years due to a decline in their natural predators. Orphaned or injured owls are taken in by the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, nursed back to health and released back in the wild, deployed to feast on the rodent population restoring balance between predator and prey.  Many people in the community will testify that the infestation is out of hand, it’s only by luck that we don’t hear of rats chewing off the feet of sleeping infants but they do destroy food in the gardens and cupboards, mutilate furniture and, let us not forget, that they carry a multitude of diseases.

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Prevention is always better than cure they say, so we would like people to work with us in eliminating areas that could lead to the rodent population thriving. For example, piles of rubble next to your home and careless disposal of food scraps in the open attract rats.  We should stop treating vacant land as illegal dumping sites because we are only providing the rodents with a habitat to flourish in. We should also avoid using poison to kill the rodents because other domestic animals and little children are also in danger of ingesting and dying from it.

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Rats feasting on rubbish.

A release site will be erected at a private home in Mpophomeni this winter. This is facilitated by The Owl Box Project and Raptor Rescue Centre and funded by N3TC.  Local residents and learners will be invited to visit and educated on the importance of owls in eradicating the rodents. The owls nest in boxes that resemble their natural nesting habitat.  Barn owls nest in cavities, they like dark, quiet places so a big box with a small hole is ideal. Spotted Eagle Owls are not fussy they like open areas so a big box with a wide entrance is home for them and Wood owls live in forests and nest in holes in trees so they have along box with a small hole so that the can crawl all the way to the back. Barn Owls can alter their breeding habits in response to prey numbers, the greater the prey in abundance, the greater the owlets.  We already have a few owls resident in Mpophomeni.

A Barn Owl caught on barb wire
A Barn Owl caught on barb wire

Many owls sustain injuries and death due to colliding with razor fences, electric line and motor vehicle collisions. If you see or find an injured owl, try putting a towel or something over it before you pick it up, because they do have sharp beaks and proceed to call FreeMe (033 330 3036) or Raptor Rescue (076 724 6846) who have trained people to handle sick or injured animals.

This is a joint project of MCG, DUCT Enviro Champs, Midlands Meander Education Project and Funda Nenja and, of course, the Owl Box Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sharing Challenges and Successes with the Sweetwaters Community

Last month, teachers, care givers and community members from the Sweetwaters area of Pietermaritzburg visited Mpophomeni for a little gardening inspiration.    Lunga Dlungwane, iThemba Project Manager, has long been impressed with the efforts of Ntombenhle Mtambo and requested that she host a group.

“I like to practice ubuntu,” Ntombenhle told them, “sharing knowledge and ideas and helping others.  It is good to have visitors from other places, we can discuss the problems we all face and hear different solutions.”  Njabulo, from iThemba is also trained in permaculture, so was able to share her passion for sustainable food gardening.

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Their tour began at Qhamukile School garden – which was flourishing last year when MCG was employed full time to maintain the garden, but is not doing that well now.  The back bone of the garden is still strong – the well-designed beds with trees, shrubs and herbs – so with a little effort it can be revived.  Participants were intrigued by the paraffin bush, which could be set alight!  Challenges were discussed – Why are school gardens so often in a bad shape?  Many reasons, including lack of buy in from teachers and especially the principal, poor fencing, vandalism by learners, the impression that vegetable gardening is for old people.  Some solutions? A good plan and strong bond with the school principal, taking time to listen to the community and find out what their needs are and commitment from volunteers (ideally parents) to maintain the garden.  Ntombenhle:  “Knowledge and skills can be learnt in workshops, but you cannot teach the passion. If people are doing a project for the money, then you must know that it might fail when the money is finished. Best work with those who want to work, who have the passion to help their community.”

13239106_234109456965818_2590937610578163256_nAfter demonstrating efficient planting methods and explaining the basic principles of Permaculture, the group proceeded to Sifisesihle School – another garden that had been destroyed after the fences were cut and goats had access. Here Mr Jacob asked why there were so many flowers in the garden. “To attract insects that are beneficial to your veggies” explained Ntobenhle.  She used the opportunity to explain companion planting and the ethics of Permaculture which include Planet Care, and “why we do things for the sake of people and all living things”.  She encouraged everyone not to give up on school gardens as it was really important to teach the youth and to provide fresh, green food to keep them healthy. “The best thing is to have a group to discuss problems with. Share your ideas and ask for advice. Work with those who want to work.”  Hard work pays off!  This was illustrated by Nobanda School in Sweetwaters who shared that they had recently won tools, a nursery and cash to improve their garden.  Clearly, this garden was created with the passion mentioned earlier.

mpop july 2015 red cabbageNext stop was to Baba Ngobese’s beautiful home garden. He acknowledged the help that MCG had given him – knowledge, skills and inspiration – to start a garden. Now he had established his own organisation Obaba bendawo encouraging the men in the community to create their own gardens. Even in winter there was plenty to harvest in this small plot. Ntombenhle and Njabulo urged everyone to plant during all seasons, not just in summer.

13239951_234109646965799_5753300502577079999_nLast stop was the incredible community garden that Ntombenhle and a team of volunteers had created on an old dumping site just a few years ago.  “Don’t give up” pleaded Ntombenhle, “I am still standing, still working, still teaching, still following my dreams. I am proud of what I have achieved and want to help everyone I can to follow their dreams too. Pay attention to your needs and wants – there are many things we can live a good life without.  Love what you do and your garden will flourish.”

13244883_234109703632460_9057621864831019595_nLunga Dlungwana found the day both inspiring and informative. “Our volunteers had not seen a permaculture set up at the level in which Ntombenhle’s garden is, before. The stories we heard inspired everyone. The garden information gave some really good ideas as about five of them have started implementing the knowledge they got in Mpophomeni. Most participants said afterwards that permaculture made more sense to them now that they had seen in action. It confirmed most of the techniques we teach our volunteers.”

Mpophomeni Garden Tour costs R500 for a morning. Book with mcg@cowfriend.co.za or call 063 410 4697

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Rain Dances and Real Solutions

After weeks of preparation on sun drenched, dry days, the first thing we heard on the morning of the Mpophomeni Water Festival was the pitter pat of raindrops.  In the African tradition, this is an auspicious sign for important occasions. Although the rain didn’t last long, the cold wind chased everyone (including warmly wrapped up youngsters carrying banners with water messages) indoors at the Community Centre.

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We warmed up with a lovely rain activity – creating the sounds of a growing storm with swishing hands, clicking fingers, clapping and finally joyous stomping!

Ayanda Lipheyana welcomed the hundreds of children and community members, saying that the event was a collaboration between local groups concerned with the state of our water resources – WESSA Water Explorer, DUCT, Midlands Meander Education Project, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and, of course, the Enviro-Champs. “When I woke up and saw the cold rain, I thought no one would come.  It is good to notice that people are taking water related issues seriously.” he said. The Mpophomeni Enviro Champs, and many of the enviro clubs they facilitate, are registered in the Water Explorer programme.  Their good work had earned them the right to host the Water Festival.

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Manager of the project, Bridget Ringdahl explains “Top Water Explorer teams who have completed lots of the WE challenges and written up good newsreels as evidence (see http://www.waterexplorer.org, click on South Africa) can be awarded a Water Festival to share their successes and learnings with a wider community. They also get some prize money towards a project or excursion.”

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After a puppet show by Yo! Puppets that demonstrated through games and songs the value of clean water for people and animals, explaining the water cycle and how fixing dripping taps is very important, everyone dispersed to the colourful information and action stations set up around the hall.

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At the Building Blocks of Life, facilitators demonstrated noisily the effect that removing water from the base foundation of a pyramid that supported humans had on the rest of life on Earth – everything collapsed! Lindiwe Mkhize told the Tale of Two Rivers, illustrated by a beautiful poster depicting a healthy river (with DUCT teams clearing invasive vegetation, intact riparian zones and lots of wildlife) and an unhealthy one (with sand mining, pollution from factories, runoff from industrial farming and a taxi being washed on its banks).  “There are simple solutions to prevent polluting rivers”, Lindiwe told her audience, “Rather take water from the river to wash your clothes and then you can use the grey water for watering veggies. This is much better than washing directly in the stream.”

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Our food choices affect our water footprint considerably. Penz Malinga pointed out at her Perfect Pulses stand that eating protein packed pulses, rather than meat, was a water wise option. To grow 1kg of lentils, only 50 litres of water is required compared to 4325l for a kg of chicken and a massive 13000l for a kg of beef!

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The Thirsty Farming stand, run by learners Philani Ngcobo, Phelelani Siloya, Mzwandile Mokoena and Asanda Ngubane demonstrated ways of reducing water use in agriculture. Mulching (straw, leaves, cardboard or paper) to keep moisture in the soil, building the hummus content of the soil to retain moisture, using organic pest deterrents rather than chemical ones (fossil fuel industry uses massive amounts of water) and planting crops that don’t require a lot of water like pomegranates and amaranthus. The boys thoroughly enjoyed chopping up chillies and garlic and covering with boiling water to demonstrate how to make your own insect spray.  Philani commented “I believe we changed some people’s minds about using chemicals. They found our demonstration of homemade spray interesting and liked the way mulch saves water.”

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Next to them, Sihle Ngcobo talked about his school project that investigated “Is Water Pollution in Mpophomeni Contributing to the Eutrophication of Midmar?”  His conclusion was that because 80% of the rivers running into the dam were badly polluted, it was likely that our main source of water (Midmar) would become eutrophicated and unusable. “We need to do everything we can to stop this pollution,” he implored.

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As the Enviro Champs use many citizen science tools for their work, they were keen to share these devices with everyone. Londiwe Mazibuko and her team showed how to use a clarity tube and transparent velocity head rod.  Using a  mock ‘stream’ in the hall, showed participants how miniSASS works. This is such a simple tool for monitoring the health of a river – by collecting bugs (invertebrates) and working out their resilience to pollution.   Sanele Vilakazi of DUCT “It is my wish to have such initiatives emulated and conducted in all township communities of our province and the nation at large. The only way we can change perspective of the youth on water related issues is through interactive education such as this. With that being done, our future becomes a more sustainable one.”

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As non-degradable materials are one of the major causes of blockages that lead to sewage overflows in the area, Thandanani Luvuno displayed What, and What NOT to put in the toilet  “Only poo-poo, wee-wee and TP” he enthused! There was lots of laughter at the Toilet Game – sort of like musical chairs where hopping children had to put the right things into the right place – toilet bowl or rubbish bin.

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There is little doubt that the Enviro Champs have had a big impact in Mpophomeni. One simple solution is to teach everyone how to fix leaking traps.  Nhlonipho Zondo, who repairs taps in local schools, demonstrated this in such an amusing way that everyone wanted to rush out and find a tap to fix!

By stopping a dripping tap, you could save 259 000 litres a year!

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Thandeka Xaba taught everyone how to be an Enviro Champ, by filling out a reporting sheet when they came across an overflowing sewage manhole. Anyone can report to the Sewage Call Centre:  0800 864 911 or call the municipality to collect rubbish: 033 239 9245

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Moses Khiloza and Mbali Molefe reported proudly just how much water the Enviro Champs had saved. Recently, in just one month, they worked out it was 8 million litres!  To end proceedings, the very funny and entertaining play by the Mpophomeni Youth Productions – Sanitation Education entitled ‘The Toilet Play’ had the audience in stiches “It was my favourite part of the day,” said Nosipho Mtambo.

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Everyone donned plastic gloves and grabbed rubbish bags and headed into the cold.

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The intention was to collect rubbish all along the banks of the uMhangeni Stream. There was MASSES. We didn’t really make a dent, but certainly there was a clear swathe where we had walked.

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To everyone’s horror the Mhlongo Road culvert was almost completely blocked with plastic and nappies. Our bags were all full by now, so we stacked them neatly for the Municipality to collect on Monday.  Zamile Mtambo plans a recycling depot on this site. “I hope to educate people about how much they throw away is re-usable or recyclable and this will prevent them throwing in the river and destroying our water and environment.”

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The fun climaxed  in the MCG Garden where Ntombenhle Mtambo and her team had prepared delicious vetkoek filled with bom bom bean stew and garden salad for the anticipated 100 guests. Quickly, a plan was made to stretch the food to feed 200 hungry people, with vetkoek halved and lots more fresh salad picked!  Everyone proclaimed the little low carbon, water wise snack ‘mnandi’!  Julia Colvin of Water Explorer was  delighted to spend time in the garden. “I am staggered at how in the period of a few years, this communal space, previously degraded and litter strewn has become a place of health and abundance, the very heart of the community! Through the Water Explorer Program, we have seen how factory farmed meat and dairy takes an enormous chunk of embedded water to produce. Vegetables on the other hand are far more water savvy and sustainable. It was gratifying to see children with satisfied smiles on their faces lap up each morsel of Ntombenhle’s hearty vegetable stew and mouth-watering salad plucked straight from soil. With food this tasty, I don’t think anyone noticed there was no meat.” Julia took home an armful of fresh produce too.

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Enviro Champ, Moses Khiloza concludes “As community activists it was good to share our work with the wider world, we felt like environmental lawyers.  It was exciting to showcase the impact that the Enviro Champs have made in Mpophomeni, saving water, fixing leaks.  Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish is eaten and the last stream is poisoned, we will realise that we can’t eat money.”

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There is no doubt that the Mpophomeni DUCT Enviro Champs, in collaboration with WESSA Water Explorer and other local groups, are demonstrating simple and effective solutions to our water crisis. Amanzi ngawethu!

Eco Logic fun in the Mother City.

Ntombenhle and Penz at the Eco Logic Awards

The long bus ride to the Cape was pleasant during the day, when evening struck, it became really chilly. “They should have warned us that there was no air conditioning and that we should have brought our own blankets because by midnight we were almost freezing it became hard to visit dreamland in the so called “Dreamliner”.

We arrived in the great City in the mid-morning and took a taxi cab to our place of accommodation where our room was not yet prepared, so we proceeded to go freshen up and change. We asked when would be a good day to go on the City sightseeing tour bus and they said we should go on immediately since there was cold front approaching and the few following days would be nippy and wet. We packed our day-packs and went off to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and went to the bus station next to the aquarium to board the red bus.

It takes you out of the Waterfront passing various attractions such as the Clock Tower which is a historic landmark, the colourful District Six and Bo Kaap, the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall, St Georges Cathedral – which is the oldest in the country, opened as early as 1821 and was built with the Sandstone from Table Mountain, of course. The majestic Table Mountain, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, was under a huge blanket of fog by the time we got to it.

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With the dark clouds approaching, we had our swim suits underneath our regular clothes hoping we could hit the beaches. Camps Bay is popular as one of the city’s most vibrant beach with huge boulders, rough seas and very cold water in the winter that even the locals did not feel eager to swim in, there were only a handful of brave surfers in the water. We soon discovered the unpredictability of the Western Cape weather as the strong winds and drizzle came as we were passing the luxury apartments of Clifton and Sea Point. We went back to explore the various souvenir stalls at the Waterfront then went back to the hostel to relax and take in our day.

 

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On the day of the Eco Logic Award ceremony, we arrived at the Waterfront and asked for directions to Table Bay Hotel, and went and scaled the place down. We limited our activities to strolling along Sunset beach. Unluckily, the rain came as we arrived at the swimming pools, we stood under a little shelter waiting for the rain to pass but then decided to abandon our beach plans and walk to the bus stop taking us back to Waterfront. Sadly just as we arrived back at the Waterfront, the skies cleared and it was all sunny again. We went back to the hostel after having lunch to get ready for the Ceremony.

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This year’s Eco Logic Awards tagline “Recognising and honoring environmental excellence was well suited as they had received a record number of entries from organisations that all embody what it is to be deemed Eco-Logical. There was a networking session where we got to meet some of the judges, the sponsors, many interesting, influential and inspirational people from environmental and sustainable sectors. We all had an opportunity to pose in our creative outfits as we were contenders for the best dressed title in our alter ego outfits keeping with the nights’ theme of ‘Glamorously Green’.  Ntombenhle was the Permaculture Princess in crown and tutu bedecked with veggies and a seed packet handbag, while Penz was a Bad Ass Bunny Hugger dressed in SPCA finds and jewelry created from discarded plastic.

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David Parry-Davies opened the ceremony, saying that it was clear that Eco-Logical thinking is going mainstream and that it would be responsible for solving our current environmental challenges.  The winners were chosen by a top-level panel of judges made up of celebrities, government officials and professionals from various sectors. They admitted that they had a tough time making the decisions because all the contenders were doing wonderful work in their sectors. Fourteen main awards were issued for the outstanding winners, and certificates for the silver, bronze and the rest of the finalists were issued after the ceremony. It was a lively ceremony with great networking opportunity and good food.

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The Eco–Community Catergory in which Mpophomeni Conservation Group was a finalist was won by Greyton Transition Town. They have created an integrated, sustainable society, they address food security, recycling and waste management and environmental degradation while encouraging renewable energy use, sustainable housing, environmental awareness and humane education – which is really what we do in Mpop and more.

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One of our most exciting times followed the next day which we we dedicated to visiting the Greenpoint Urban Park, next to the Greenpoint Stadium that was one of the establishments built for the 2010 soccer World Cup. The park showcases an inner city garden with over 300 plants indigenous to the region, the magical history of the Khoisan people, outdoor exercise spaces, beautiful water features, a labyrinth of paved walkways and a play area for kids and adults alike.

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While we thought the Urban Park was awesome, the best was yet to come. On the Weekend our good friend Brandon Powell (who had just moved to Cape Town from the Midlands) took us on an outing to Oranjezitch City Farm. Here local residents and volunteers have come together and created a co-op to bring awareness to locally grown food. Ntombenhle was very fond of their Compost boxes and would like to copy the idea in MCG gardens. “They have so much waste to use and the compost is like magic,” she said.

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After walking around the farm we headed to Kirstenborch Botanical Gardens, one of the first and greatest in the world dedicated to preserving the diversity of South African plants from all regions and ‘best’ is exactly what it felt like, set against the slopes of Table Mountain. All the plants you can imagine are found here including those that have been extinct for the past hundred years and some that are over a hundred years old. The most fascinating for me were the Cycads, you just feel like you are walking with the dinosaurs all over again and that is really out of this world. The Greenhouse that contains plants that cannot survive in the open but only in controlled conditions was beautiful. We literally wanted to spend days on end walking around and learning. Ntombenhle was happy to learn that she and late president Mandela share the same taste in their favourite flower Natal Banana – Strelitizia Nicolai.

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We had an overall wonderful time in the Mother City.  We enjoyed the laid back, friendly, relaxed attitude of the residents, you could just strike up a conversation with anyone you met, the feeling of ultimate safety, the streets are safe to walk in late at night, there was no litter anywhere we walked, something that they have done well and that we would one day like to mirror in our own community.

Thank you very much to N3TC for sponsoring our trip and to Enviropedia for having us at the Awards and Charlene Russell who initially nominated us. They say that it is better to aim for the moon because even if you miss you will at least land amongst the stars.  We didn’t win this time but we will keep aiming higher and we sure felt like stars.