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.”

audience

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.

puppet show

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.”

mini sass

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!

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