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.”


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!

HABASHWE! Indaba emayelana nokubholwa okwenqatshelwe KwaZulu-Natal


Abazingela igesi namafutha KwaZulu-Natal bahlangane nembibizane kanye nezinsongo zokuyiswa kwalenkampani yokuhlola evela eTexas, enkantolo ngenxa yokuphula imigomo emayelana nemvelo. Inkampani iRhino Resources ifake isicelo ukugunyazwa ukucinga igesi, nowoyela nokunye endaweni enamapulazi ayizinkulungwane eziyishumi, endaweni ethatha amaphesenti ayishumi nesithupha maphakathi nesifundazwe.


Ngemuva kochuchungechunge oluvuthayo ngesikhathi semihlangano yomphakathi emadolobheni amaningana ngenyanga eyedlule, abakwaRhino baxwayiswe ukuthi bangabhekana nezinyathelo zenkantolo ngenxa yokuphambana nemigomo emayelana ne Fracking egwema ukubholwa noma ukuqhumbuzwa kwezindawo lapho kungadungeka imifula, imithombo kanye namaxhaphozi.


Emihlanganweni yomphakathi ekade ise Ashburton, Lions River, Mooi River nakwezinye izindawo, abaRhino bathola ukuphikiswa kakhulu ngabalimi bendawo kanye namalungu omphakathi. Abanye babephethe izingqwembe ezibhalwe “Angifun’ Ifracking”, “Amandla elanga Kunawe Gesi”. uPhillip Steyn wakwa Rhino Oil & Gas wahluleka ukuphendula imibuzo eminingi, Omunye wawo ilapho ebuzwa uFrancois Du Toit ophethe iAfrican Conservation Trust ukuthi bazimesele ngokudlisa ushevu abantwana abangaki ukuze bagcwalise amaphakethe abo noma bafeze izidingo zabo.


Umphakathi waKwaZulu- Natal uzokhumbula futhi kumele ukuxwaye ukuthi inkampani yakwa Soekor yachitha iminyaka, ubhola izimbobo ngemishini ngesikhathi sangama 1960 kodwa abazange bawuthole uwoyela.


Balinganiselwa kwizinkulungwane ezintathu abantu asebesayine isicelo simayelana nokungavumeli ukuhlolwa ngalaba abafake lesisicelo semvume. uNikki Brighton wase Dargle uthe “abantwana besikole bangenele ngokuthi babhale izincwadi eziphikisayo, zithumelelwe kuhulumeni.


Umhlangano owawuse Matatiele wavalwa uModimo Lebenya ngelithi habashwe, ukhala ngokungabi khona kwenhlonipho kulaba abafaka isicelo ngokungaceli imvumo kuye kuqala Ngaphambi kokuba baze ukuzomutshela ukuthi bazokwenzani endaweni yakhe kanye nabantu bakhe. Elinye ilunga lomphakathi kade liqeda ukubabuza ukuthi bayayazi yini iNkosi yakulendawo abakhuluma ngayo, laqhubeka lathi banenhlanhla yokuthi abantu sebaphucezeka bayalalela ngoba ngesikhathi esidlule bebezovele bathi “HABASHWE” bashiswe babulawe.


Hlanganyela kanye nathi kwiMashi emayelana nokuguquka kwesimo sezulu, ezobe iseHowick, ngeSonto, ngesikhathi kugamanxa ihora leshumi nanye, ezobe ikuMain Street iphelele eNogqaza



Wild Water Walk

The sun rose high and hot on the morning of the 3rd of October – a perfect day for a Water Festival!

As a part of the Mpophomeni Enviro Club’s work towards becoming Water Explorers, and for the WESSA EcoSchools water project supported by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Enviro Club members hosted a Water Festival to share what they have learnt about water with their community.

Seven Water Stations were set up along a route which started at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial Wall, went up Mandela Drive, past the taxi rank, and into Mhlongo Rd, ending  at the Mpophomeni Community Garden.

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Zamile Mtambo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) had been collecting cardboard and with some children, painting bright banners to encourage everyone to stop polluting the streams of Mpophomeni.   Her dream is to create a park along the eMhlangeni stream, with a path from the Community Garden all the way to the Library, with clean flowing water, indigenous plants, eco-benches and trees to sit under.

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Each station along the Water Walk focused on a different topic. At the Library the public were enticed to participate and watch a very entertaining edu-active puppet show by Yo-Puppet Co.

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At the next stop, everyone learnt about ‘secret water’ – the water which goes into the production of everyday items (for example: did you know that it take 10 500L to make a pair of Jeans?)  Philani Ncgobo commented “This secret water was the fact that amazed people the most.”

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Youngsters got to experience how water makes music and how the water cycle works.

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Ayanda Lipheyana of MCG/DUCT was not able to conduct a miniSASS test in the stream as the water quality was simply too awful with an overflowing manhole nearby. Instead they did a mock miniSASS and discussed what to do about the dilemma of bursting manholes. We need to encourage residents to take responsibility for reporting overflowing sewers and monitoring the condition of the streams near their homes. Water leakages and sewage problems should be reported to:

  • uMngungundlovu District Municipality Call Centre 080 0864 911
  • Ayanda Lipheyana 076 434 6719

Passers-by learnt how to tell if water is polluted, how to purify it and were encouraged to write their own pledge to protect precious water.

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One station shared ideas on how to save water in your home and garden.

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The Enviro Club kids estimated that they had collectively spoken to 105 people during the course of the morning spreading the message that water is extremely precious.

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Ntombenhle Mtambo from MCG showed the visitors around her waterwise garden, emphasising the importance of swales to harvest and store water and mulch to prevent evaporation.

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” I was so impressed, theses kids know what they are talking about! I liked it that they used real experiences from their home and community to explain.  I thought I knew a lot about water, but they have even taught me somethings today.  I believe that these kids can make a big difference, changing things in our community.”

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Julia Colvin and Bridget Ringdahl from the Water Explorers programme, funded by GAP, attended the festival, and awarded the kids with book prizes for their efforts.

If you missed out on the fun, we hope to have another festival next year during National Water Week in March. Keep your eyes and ears open for news!

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Love your environment.


Mr Mlondi Cele lives in close proximity to an illegal communal rubbish dump that exists and has flourished because for years the rubbish truck did not drive on his street on collection day, the street had been previously inaccessible because one of the RDP houses was built smack bang in the middle of the street blocking access also the road was too narrow and overgrown. He also lives in close proximity of a manhole that is constantly surcharging with sewerage right on the uMthinzima stream, which has become a great contributor of raised E-coli levels in Midmar Dam.


Baba Cele is one of the Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (MSEP) environment champions employed by the Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) to monitor the spilling manholes, illegal dumping and to educate people regarding why these problems occur and to find out what can be done to reduce or stop these problems.


Baba Celes’ interest in these issues started long before the inception of the MSEP project in 2011. He likes to live in a clean healthy environment free from rubbish and the stench of sewerage, so he was very active in engaging with the municipal councillors and bringing up the issues during community meetings which he still attends religiously.


In his spare time he doubles as a handyman, tilling people’s homes and spends much of his time doing his garden next to the stream, where he is making good use of the floodplain opposite his house. “ I grew up in this area when it was still beautiful, the rivers were intact, the view of the hills were marvellous, it would be nice to see Mpophomeni return to its former glory and be clean and beautiful again” said Mr Cele. He also added that if you love yourself, your environment should reflect the love you have for it. He has much pride and joy in his Kids Club “The Cheetahs’ led by one of his daughters Nomcebo joined by other children from the neighbourhood. He hopes to inspire the neighbours and their children to leave in a beautiful environment.

Wilderness Weekend

“This was the best Woman’s Day ever”  commented Antonia Mkhabela as she connected to the Earth hiking barefoot in the mountains.  “It was a very special time which I have never thought I will ever have.  I understand that Mother Earth has so much to give to me. The responsibility I have is to look after her.”  Also without her boots on, Penz Malinga agreed “A real privilege to be in the Wilderness today.”

The hike was part of a three day Wilderness Awareness Weekend at Cobham Nature Reserve organised by the Southern Berg Honorary Officers and Wilderness Action Group (WAG), to provide attendees with a practical understanding and appreciation of Wilderness – philosophy, ethics, the history, value, context and importance of wilderness, and the principles of wilderness management.

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Six environmental enthusiasts from Mpophomeni were invited to attend.  A seminar on the concept of Wilderness was held on the first day, beginning with an introduction to why the Maloti Drakensberg Park so very special.  The unique geomorphology, incredible biodiversity, outstanding cultural heritage, birthplace of rivers and immense natural beauty has led to the region achieving World Heritage Site status.  There are many zones in the park, not all of them Wilderness.  Pristine Wilderness is defined as untouched by modern man, where humans are only visitors – areas with an intrinsic wild appearance and character.  The seven principles of Leave No Trace were explained with everyone agreeing to abide by them.  Meeting the legendary Bill Bainbridge was a highlight for many, Penz asked for his autograph.

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We learned that the Wilderness cause can be argued around four distinct themes:

  • experiential, the direct value of the Wilderness experience
  • the value of Wilderness as a scientific resource and environmental baseline
  • the symbolic and spiritual values of Wilderness to the nation and the world
  • the value of Wilderness as a commodity or place that generates direct or indirect economic benefits through ecosystem services.

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Back at Cobham in the late afternoon, everyone headed to the river and the hills to explore, crossing the swing bridge spanning the Pholela River. “I am so afraid of heights” said Gugu Zuma nervously, but on observing Zamile Mtambo conquer her fear and cross safely, she followed suit.

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Ayanda Lipheyana headed through the rocks to the plateau where the views were amazing. “We could see the farms in the distance on the one side, but on the other it was just wilderness with no manmade structures, only ecological infrastructure. I really liked that.”

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Penz explored the streams, searching for invertebrates under the rocks and splashing in the icy water. “I’m a rivers person” she said, “I am enjoying this cleansing ceremony in the pristine water. Back home the water is so filthy.”   Ayanda Lipheyana conducted a quick miniSASS and came up with a score of 9.8!  Swimming, floating and splashing was great fun, despite the chill.

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As night fell, a bonfire was lit and animated debates were fuelled by the flames. Discussions ranged from religion to vegetarianism and, of course, the state of the planet. Lindiwe Mkhize thoroughly enjoyed meeting other people, young and old, hearing their environmental ideas and learning about their lives.  “The arguments around the camp fire got me thinking, I can learn from those stories. Sitting around the fire was so good I wanted to stay there forever.”

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Not wanting to miss a moment of the magical star studded skies, some people snuggled down around the fire place to sleep in the open air. “I loved feeling safe here,” said Sanele Duma, “we couldn’t do this at home.”  Others lay on the swing bridge watching shooting stars with the river beneath them and the call of jackals echoing across the hills, before heading to bed.

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Everyone rose early the next beautiful morning in anticipation of the hike.  Organiser Philip Grant explained that we would carry no water, snacks or cameras today. “This is an awareness weekend – walk in silence as much as possible.  We want to you think about your needs, use all your senses and when you are thirsty search for water. We will explore the landscape as our ancestors did, without all modern conveniences.”

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Starting in the Low Use Zone of the Cobham Campsite, we headed towards the snow sprinkled mountains following well-marked paths, not carrying any water or snacks.  We saw all the different zones we had learnt about – buffer zones, low use zone and pristine and primitive wilderness.

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While some were disappointed not to be able to take cameras, Ayanda Kwhali agreed with the idea as it would help us focus on our surroundings rather than sharing everything on social media, an excuse to stop actually looking. Nathi Majola, a teacher, was pleased to be able to put the previous day’s learning into practice – moving from theory to experiential learning.

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A Bearded Vulture swooped low over the rocks. One of only 400 left in the wild – their numbers decimated by lack of suitable habitat, through poisonings and collisions or electrocutions with power lines, wind farms and traditional medicine.  The hike leaders were very knowledgeable. They were able to answer questions to ensure that everything made sense in terms of environmental challenges, animals and plants.

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In awe we observed herds of Eland, iMpofu, the antelope sacred to the Bushmen or San people who lived in harmony with nature in the area before colonisation by Nguni and European settlers.  Sanele told us proudly “My forefathers were here, I have Khoisan ancestors and now I am home.”  Ayanda Kwhali, who was visiting the Drakensberg for the very first time added “I walked on a path where the Bushmen used to walk‎ in ancient times. I felt like I was a Bushman when I was looking at the Eland and Baboons around me.” Gugu Zuma also loved this, although she was not sure about the baboons watching her as she took a toilet break (far from the path and streams as instructed)!

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We drank from the cold clear streams, marvelling at the taste of pure water. Refreshing and delicious.  This was the highlight for many participants – Penz Malinga in particular loved kneeling to drink as an animal would “siwaphuza ngomlomo.”

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For everyone, the opportunity to sit entirely alone for 30 minutes was a highlight.  A few people relaxed so much that they fell asleep, for others it was an emotional connection to the original people and animals of the area. “I will treasure the sound of the birds, the water and the wind, being in the forest was epic,” said Lindiwe Mkhize, wishing that there had been more opportunities for quiet over the weekend.

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We found rocks shaped like tortoises and another like a monkey, learned how the Escarpment was formed and explored the overhangs and caves in the sandstone. In one we found Rock Art and participated in conversations about the San people who had created the paintings.

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On the last day, thick mist rolled in making it too dangerous to hike.  We sat around the fire, sharing all the precious moments and the things that we felt could improve. With so many creative environmental educators in the group, there were plenty of suggestions on how to make the seminar section of the weekend more effective – with less lecture style teacher-centric methods, more interaction and challenging group activities.  Nkanyiso Ndlela thought there was too much good information to grab in just one day. “We can help create fun, interactive and more effective ways of delivering the Wilderness message,”  he offered, “It made me realize how essential good education in school and society is. I hope Wilderness Awareness Weekends continue, as it is possible to change one’s behaviour and that might lead to others taking responsible action towards our precious environment.”  Nkululeko Mdladla thought a short illustrative video that could also be shared on social media would be the best way to get the attention of young people.

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Lindiwe Mkhize loved that there was no network to get in touch with the outside world. Ayanda Lipheyana agreed that having no phone signal for four days was an amazing experience. “After the wilderness weekend I have started to look life in a different manner,” he said.

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After we all got aback to the unreal world and work, Antonia Mkhabela was astonished at the synchronicity of events.  “It is unbelievable that today at school we were visited by Sbusiso Velane – the first African who climbed Mount Everest. He came at the right time while I still feel the highs of the weekend in the mountains.  Sibusiso spoke how to accomplish what you would like in life and of the enjoyment one gets from being in nature.

I told the learners how safe I felt in the Maloti Drakensberg compared to my usual environment – I experienced peace, love, a sense of belonging, connection with mother earth and have strengthened my relationship with nature. I really enjoyed being surrounded by lovely young people who have the same passion for the environment as me. It is so exciting to hear and see them so involved in environmental sustainability projects. They have such great minds that will make our country a better place to live.”

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Hiking evolves beyond recreation. When we find it leads to call and clarity, hiking becomes meditation. And when bliss swells within us during communion with wilderness, we realise we are not just exploring the Earth but venturing into mystical terrain. We discover that our feet can take us as far as it is possible to go.

Quote from Kathy and Crag Copeland’s book Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within.

Funding for the MCG members to attend came from WAG, and N3TC through the Midlands Conservancies Forum Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme.

A Stream Ran Through It

This article, written by Leonie Joubert,  is part of the SANBI Ecological Infrastructure Series. This case study focusses on our very own uMthinzima Stream, examining how a healthy river system cleans up effluent and improves water quality to the economically critical Midmar Dam.  

CALL TO ACTION: Keep municipal waste water infrastructure, like sewage systems and storm water drains, properly maintained. This supports healthy rivers and wetlands, and improves water quality, thereby boosting human health.

A Stream Ran Through it

mThinzima Stream, may not be a large watercourse, but together with all the other veins that feed into the Midmar Dam near Pietermaritzburg, it is one of the critical small tributaries that meander through the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and feed into a dam that supplies water to one of the largest economic hubs in the country.

At its headwaters, mThinzima’s water quality is excellent, seeping into the streambed from a relatively pristine catchment. But, as it meanders down towards the dam, it picks up large volumes of raw sewage which trickle down into the stream from some of the poorly serviced townships that have been built on the surrounding hillsides.

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The quality of the water downstream of here, according to local WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) environmental educator Dr Jim Taylor, is ‘appalling’. The bacterial load in  the water is obviously a grave concern, since it can contribute to the kind of diarrheal disease that is the leading cause of death amongst children under the age of five globally.

Another worry here is the potentially toxic build-up of nutrients in the water that will eventually suffocate the dam and render its water prohibitively expensive to treat and recover.

When large volumes of excess nutrients flush into a water course – be it from overfertilisation of farmlands, or raw sewage leaking into the system, for instance – it’s like putting too much fertiliser on your lawn, says local environmental consultant Dr Mark Graham.

‘The more you put on, the more the grass grows, the more you have to mow the lawn,’ he explains.

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In a river system, it means that the influx of phosphates and nitrates from the sewage give massive amounts of food for algae to grow on. As this aquatic ‘lawn’ blooms, it strips oxygen from the water, effectively suffocating the microscopic animal life (the zooplankton) in the water, and bigger animals like fish.

These algal blooms can also flush the water with potent toxins that have been known to kill animals that drink the water.

Meanwhile the dense algae can clog up pumps and water filters in treatment plants. This kind of eutrophication has made parts of the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province unusable, something which has called for a clean-up operation which is expected to run up to hundreds of millions.

According to Taylor and Graham, eutrophication in the Midmar Dam is expected within just 15 years, if the current rate of nutrient pollution continues.

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But something remarkable is also happening here – a sign of nature’s resilience, the importance of the services which a working natural system would offer us, and a warning of the need to help watercourses like the mThinzima stream stay healthy and functioning.

Graham and colleagues at the consulting firm, Ground Truth, have been working with WESSA and local communities over several months to test the quality of the water in the mThinzima stream.

Starting at the point where it meets the Midmar Dam, and working steadily up towards the headwaters, various teams sampled the water and tested it to see how abundant the small animal life was, these ‘micro-invertebrates’ or little insects. If there’s abundant life, the river is healthy; if not, it’s taken a hammering.

All this information was loaded into a new tool available to such researchers, called the Stream Assessment Scoring System, or MiniSASS, which then overlays the information onto an aerial photograph of the stream system, using the graphic of a crab to flag where the stream was sampled.

If the sample shows the water is healthy, the site is flagged with a blue crab. If it’s beginning to deteriorate, the crab colour changes to orange. If it’s very poor quality – meaning there is very little micro-animal life in the water – the crab will show up as red.

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Too much raw sewage puts terrible strain on the river’s clean up systems and there is only so much a river can be expected to carry before it collapses, affecting people, livestock and crops. This is where the astonishing thing comes in. Looking at the aerial photograph of the mThinzima stream, the graphic of the crab at its headwaters is blue – healthy.

As the water runs down through mPophomeni township outside Howick, the crab flagging the testing site lights up with an angry red, indicating insect life in the river is collapsing. But a bit further downstream, the crab colour softens to a less aggressive yellow, meaning the river is recovering, and animal life responsible for processing the sewage is bouncing back again.

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Here, according to Dr Mark Graham, is what’s going on at a scale too small for the naked eye to see: river systems have their own ecological pyramid. It’s just like in the Kruger National Park, you will have grass and trees; then you’ll have impala and other buck grazing; lions killing the buck; and vultures picking apart the remains.

Similarly, in a healthy river system you have algae growing on the rocks; minute grazing organisms eating the algae and reeds and other plant-based sediments; there are mayflies and dragonflies, the latter of which are predators, which eat these creatures, all the way up to the fish at the top of the food chain; then you have the crabs and shrimps which are the vultures and scavengers of this aquatic ‘veld’.

When raw sewage leaks into the river, the aquatic insects at their larval stage that are present in the water start to eat up the nutrients in the sewage, reducing this solid waste to their very basic components, namely nitrates and phosphates. Some insects shred the solid matter, some suck it up and pass it on to fish, as they themselves are eaten.

This suite of micro-animals are cleaning and processing and filtering the water. Some of the reeds and other water plants will use these nutrients to grow, banking them away in their stems and leaves.

These plants may be eaten by grazing animals or fall into the river and get trapped in the mud, meaning they are locked away for a period of time. Some insects might metamorphose into the adult stage and fly away from the river, ‘exporting’ those nutrients from the system. It’s a vast, dynamic and often invisible process.

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But when the system is overloaded with nutrients, it’s over to the algae which, just like an over-fertilised lawn, grow in abundance. In the process, they strip the water of oxygen, leaving the micro-invertebrates to suffocate. As they die, the miniSASS crab turns to red.

However, further downstream, because the crab lights up as yellow, this indicates that in this particular case, animal life in the stream has somehow been able to recover, in spite of the water being overloaded with nutrients from the sewage.

But by the time the water reaches the Midmar, the miniSASS crab turns back to red because of the additional build-up of pollution in the water.

Two lessons emerge from this story. Firstly, a tool like miniSASS is a‘game-changer’, says Graham. Previously, water quality testing was usually done by municipalities, and the resulting water management decisions remained with the authorities. (This created ‘a power gradient’ between people on the ground, and government officials responsible for managing their water, maintains Taylor.)

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‘In all my years in aquatic science, this is the first time we’ve been able to represent water health in such a simple way, so that you can show a municipal manager or a politician, and they can see immediately what’s going on in the water system,’ explains Graham.

MiniSASS is a way of allowing citizen scientists to feed trustworthy data into a mapping system that everyone can see. A visual representation of changing water quality, in this way, makes it immediately obvious to the viewer what’s going on in the river. Here, citizen science helps democratise water management – the citizens know what’s going on in the water system, and they can hold their water managers accountable for decisions being made on their behalf.

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Secondly, though, is that the clean-up services offered free to us by healthy functioning rivers are the very basis for keeping water safe and clean.

But there’s only so much workload any river can be expected to carry before it collapses under the strain.

If the tributaries of the Midmar Dam continue to be the default sluice for under-serviced communities in the surrounding catchments, the entire eThekwini water system will be compromised in the very near future. Stormwater drains and sewage infrastructure must be maintained so they don’t fail and spill out their contents into nearby streams and rivers.

Municipalities around the country need to take urgent action to ensure that sanitation and service delivery to historically neglected communities is prioritised; that stormwater drains and sewerage infrastructure don’t fail and spill out their contents into nearby streams and rivers, and that the tributaries feeding important water sources are conserved.

The situation, as it is, is a ‘time bomb’, according to Graham.


Dr Mark Graham

Ground Truth

Phone: 033 343 2229; 082 377 7089

Email: mark@groundtruth.co.za

Dr Jim Taylor


Phone: 033 330 3931; 082 458 0976

Email: jt@wessa.co.za


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.

See: http://www.journeyofwater.co.za/blog/7

Citizen Science is Seriously Cool

Recently, the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) hosted a Citizen Science Tools Workshop focussed on water, in Mpophomeni.  70 people attended, some of whom were scientists, others were students, representatives from school enviro clubs, members of MCG and Enviro Champs from Mpophomeni and from the neighbouring community of KwaMevana. There were even visitors from Sweden.


The purpose of the workshop was to learn about and try out six different Citizen Science tools that are used to test and teach about the environment with focus on water. Liz Taylor of DUCT gave a brief introduction of the day’s festivities followed by Ntombentle Mtambo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG). Ntombentle spoke about preserving the essential resource that is water and suggested various ways to save water in our own homes. She highlighted the importance of practical, active learning and motivated the youth to hlonipha – to respect themselves and their surroundings.  “We are not teachers, we are co-teachers. You children need to come forward to teach others. We can learn from each other! Together we can make a difference, you have the power. It is not good just knowing the theory in your mind, you must practice it to understand more. You must smell it and touch it and try it! Do it practically and learn! Today we are going to be citizen scientists!”

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Charlene Russell of WESSA Eco Schools described Mpophomeni as an environmental education and biodiversity hotspot. She encouraged learners to enter their environmental efforts into various science projects and Expos.  Lindokuhle Sithole of EcoWonders said “It is great to come together as people who are passionate about the environment and learn more about what we can do to preserve it for future generations”.  Eco Wonders are a group of youth that reports and follows up on water wastage in KwaMevane.

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The participants were then divided into six groups to take on the role of being Citizen Scientists for the day – rotating between six different demonstration stations. Citizen Science means ordinary citizens like you and me can participate in conducting scientific research.   “What a great day, I learnt a lot too. It would be good to have these activities more often.” said Nkululeko Mdladla.

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At the first station Baba Cele was assisting the participants test out water samples of different levels of turbidity using the clarity tube.  Samples of water from Mpophomeni streams ranging from really dirty to cleaner were used as examples.  Everyone enjoyed peering into the tube.  Tutu Zuma asked “How does the water get dirty? It starts in your homes.”

Mpophomeni Conservation Group - Water research day -Baba Cele explaining how to use a turbidity meter

At another Bonisile Mnguni and Sthe Nkomo were sharing the challenges and general experiences as River Care team workers clearing river banks of invasive alien vegetation and rubbish. After their short presentation, everyone picked up litter in the area surrounding them.

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Thandanani Luvuno and Thululeni Nxumalo were stationed at the drama stage where participants were briefed on the script and were given roles to play. The drama was intended create awareness around the dangers of not taking out your rubbish on time for the municipal collection and the dumping of household waste in storm water drains and sewerage manholes. It was about basic sanitation – as in what actually is supposed to go into your toilet bowl. My Andersson and Karolina Lidsell had their big acting break playing the very important truck driver! “We believe that theatre is a very good way to engage people in society issues and all participants seem to very much enjoy this station,” they commented afterwards.

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Charlene Russell had created a virtual river to demonstrate MiniSASS (South African Scoring System).  The health of the river was calculated by looking at which Invertebrates could be found and working out a total from their sensitivity scores.

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Although some of the learners had done MiniSASS in the rivers before, this was a quick way of demonstrating the method – and of course, MANY more invertebrates could be found that are usually in the Mpophomeni streams.

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Ayanda Lipheyana shared his experiences as an MSEP Enviro Champ and showed participants how to fill in data collection sheets to report surcharging manholes and burst pipes.  Lindiwe Mkhize of MCG really enjoyed meeting new people and hearing about the work that they do.

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Ayanda Khweli and Fresh Ngubo illustrated the differences between a healthy river and a contaminated one using the Enviro picture building game.  Mondli Mazeka of African Conservation Trust said “We enjoyed the activities a lot.”

Discovering new issues in the picture

The overcast weather did not get in the way of the activities and it was an enjoyable experience being a Citizen Scientist for a day. MCG hopes it does not stop here and becomes a regular activity for Mpophomeni residents in the future.   Hope Makhanye said “I can see that people are not always the problem. we have people in places where things are good and people in places where things are bad. It’s the actions that people do that cause the problems. If we do good, good things happen.”

Thanks to Rotary PMB who sponsored the occasion.

MCG plans to host more community learning and sharing days in future.

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We Love Mpop

During February, the activities of the Mpop Kidz Club were filled with love. Rescuing a chameleon from the river, crafting cards for Valentine’s day, adopting bits of the stream, delightedly discovering places that make Mpop special, sharing knowledge with others and splashing in the sunshine. Activities were funded by the DUCT Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (Rotary) and MCG (N3TC).

The monthly walk across the road to Nguga stream revealed masses of bright red hot pokers – Kniphofia caulescens – in flower.   Sihle Mnikathi explained to everyone the importance of citizen science and the opportunity that everyone has to care for the planet by monitoring rivers and doing miniSASS tests. “MiniSASS is very cheap and anyone can conduct the tests, both literate and illiterate people.” He said. “It is important that we monitor Nguga stream because it feeds Midmar dam which feeds us all with fresh clean water.”

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At the first miniSASS site we found flatworm, crabs or shrimps, minnow mayflies, dragon flies, bugs and beetles and snails – a score of 5 (largely modified).r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 012

In site two Ntokozo Kunene noticed that river has condition has improved (score 5.6). As nobody was cleaning the river, he concluded “Nature can take care of itself if it not disturbed and it can recover if has given enough time from whatever impact has caused damage.”r nguga Mpop Feb 2015 035

Sihle Ngcobo picked a Kniphofia flower and used it as a microphone to interview Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi. Sihle asked “Sbonginhlanhla, how are you feeling and what have you learned today?” Sbonginhlanhla said “I am happy and proud to be part and parcel of Mpop Kidz Club because I always learn during outings and I am grateful to be exposed to nature.”

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It certainly is a wonderful feeling to be part of a group that cares about their surroundings and one another.

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The sun was shining and everyone had great fun splashing and swimming in the stream.

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Penz Malinga and Ayanga Lipheyana attended the UEIP ‘Save Midmar’ meeting on 11 February.  Many caring people gathered in Mpophomeni to contribute to improved water security in the upper uMngeni River Catchment. Some notes:

Midmar Dam is important for supplying water to almost half the province’s population. The catchment of the Midmar Dam is a highly complex social and ecological system of land uses and activities that affect the flow and quality of water into the dam.

There are major challenges related to improving the quality and quantity of water flowing into the Midmar dam. The quality of water flowing in has declined due to contamination from sewerage, solid wastes, and agricultural activities. Wetlands have been severely degraded and the Mthinzima stream, which runs through the Mpophomeni Township, is impacted by massive pollution in particular from the dysfunctional sewerage systems. Although Mpophomeni occupies less than 3% of the dam’s catchment area, it produced about 51% of the E. coli and 15% of the phosphorous load in Midmar dam. Sewer surcharge and run off from agricultural activities in particular are gradually leading to the development of eutrophic conditions in the dam. If current trends of pollution load entering Midmar dam continue it is estimated that the dam will turn eutrophic by 2028. This will have major economic, social and ecological consequences similar to those now experienced by Hartbeespoort Dam.

MCG believe that be working together with all partners and focussing on education including all members of the community, the water quality of Midmar will be improved.

ayanda at save midmar meeting

Ethembeni Family Centre that cares for vulnerable children is keen to adopt a section of onr umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 148e of the Mpophomeni Rivers to look after. This month we hosted 36 children for an afternoon of water sampling on the uMhlanga stream. We did MiniSASS sampling and water testing in two sites – the first in a tributary to uMhlanga stream (miniSASS score 7.2 and water clarity 45 -58 cm – natural condition),

and the second in uMhlanga stream. We found the main stream to be in good condition too with a score of 6.2 and clarity of 30-41, this is good news.

r Mpop Feb 2015 164Mpophomeni Conservation Group has been given permission by the Municipality to create a park in the public open space opposite the Community Garden and along the uMhlanga stream. This is an exciting project and we intend to encourage young people from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club, Midlands Meander Education project interns programme and local schools Enviro Clubs to participate in creating something everyone in the area will love.r umhlanga Mpop Feb 2015 155

On Valentine’s Day, a group gathered at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial to show how much they loved Mother Earth (and their own mothers) by making cards from handmade paper. This simple activity helped the kids to understand how important it is love Nature and to take of Nature.

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Samke asked if she could decorate her card with flowers and soon all the kids were picking leaves and different kinds of flowers. While tearing paper and glueing hearts, Uyikhokonke Mthembu said “I wish people can stop hitting horses because I love horses. They are helpful. Especially if you don’t have a car you can ride them and they can take where ever you want to go.”

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Tutu Zuma (facilitator) commented “The kids loved making the cards with their hands and decorating with what they have, not wasting money. Parents loved their presents too.”

Ayanda Lipheyana (facilitator) comments “It was very interesting to see how the young kids think about the interrelationship between people and the environment. They learned that they must conserve natural resources for the future generations.”

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On 21 February Liz Taylor and Thandanani Luvuno from DUCT joined the group for the day, sampling the water at three sites on the uMthinzima stream – two in Mpophomeni and one at eMashingeni.

From the Mpophomeni library we walked behind the uMngeni Municipality offices to collect our first sample. The river condition was very poor or critical modified (score 3.2)


Then we headed upstream for about 1,5 kilometres, chatting about the different species of grasses we saw. Everyone collected different grass flower species as they walked.


Liz Taylor explained the difference between grasses and other plants. Participants had found lot of different grass species. Liz said “The variety of plants shows that biodiversity is healthy here. If the area was just planted with sugarcane that would be monoculture. Monocultures are more vulnerable to disease, because all the same plants could be destroyed, but in a healthy diverse environment a disease would attack one species and other species will survive.” The youngsters were fascinated to learn that meilies, sugarcane and rice are all grass species!


We conducted the second MiniSASS sampling. Sihle Mnikathi suddenly shouted “Wow, we found a stonefly!” Everyone thought he was joking, but went to look and confirm that his group had found one. We were amazed as no one expected to find the stonefly in Mpophomeni. Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “This is our first stonefly in Mpophomeni and we will find many more in the near future.” The score was 9.8 indicating the stream was in natural condition.


Feeling happy with our exciting find we walked upstream to eMashingeni. Mzwandile Dlamini spotted chameleon floating in the stream and quickly rescued it. “It must have fallen out of the trees” he said, gently holding it for everyone to see.


At site 3 we found 4 stoneflies! We found the average score of 8.2. To find 5 stoneflies in one MiniSASS fieldtrip was an amazing experience for all of us.

Sbonginhlanhla Buthelezi said “I have just fallen in love with the upper part of uMthinzima stream. I wish you could leave me here with this beautiful environment.” Liz Taylor concluded “It was such a wonderful day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Such a stark contrast at the three sites moving from the polluted area in Mpophomeni upstream to the almost totally natural site just below Nxamalala school.”


During February we certainly spread a little love around. Siyanthanda iMpop!