So this is it. The final episode of my first season. It’s been quite something. I’ve met so many amazing people along the way, people who have completely changed my outlook on things. People who have challenged me and inspired me. Not to mention all the interesting information I learned about how much it actually takes to work into the various areas of need in KwaZulu-Natal. But, for now let me focus on Episode 8 itself, an episode all about this province’s rivers.
As I said in my last post it was through the Kloof Conservancy that this all started. As any good podcaster would I researched them and some of the work that they do before meeting with Paulo. In my research I came across their Aller River project. Basically this project was aimed at trying to clean up this river in the Clermont/New Germany area. But man, did that involve a lot of work! Paulo explained to me how they interviewed members of that community to appoint Eco Champs that would help do the practical work.
Their role involved helping to clean up the river as well as monitoring its overall health. He put me in touch with the Community Liaison Officer who heads up the team. Thozeka Ntlukwane agreed to meet with me on a Saturday, on a day where SA would be playing in a 2019 World Cup game no less! Seeing as neither of us are big fans we didn’t even know. Anyway, I made my way to her home in New Germany where she told me more about this project and what it meant to her.
In talking with both herself and Paulo I discovered that the main aim of the project was to remove nappies from the river as they are an enormous source of pollution in that area. They were both concerned about river health, because as Paulo explained rivers are “the lifeblood of an ecosystem”. As the Aller flows through industries and informal settlements the river is exposed to so many different pollutants.
Thozeka was thrilled to be part of the team who could work to promote this river’s health. She has always loved the environment and felt that there was a clear need for people to be educated about the environment so they could have the necessary respect for the natural world. She spoke fondly of how people used to love spending time on river banks, clearly saddened by the fact that this is no longer the case due to severe pollution.
A large part of this project involved training the Eco Champs about the natural environment and how humans’ actions impact on our world. The team clearly took this new knowledge on board, monitoring the health of the river and explaining its importance to their friends. The seven successful candidates were selected from 123 potential candidates. They were paid for their work, but unfortunately there was not enough funding to employ them more than a few days a month.
But looking after the river is a full-time job! And the Eco Champs treated it as such, alerting Thozeka to new developments in the river whenever they noticed something…even when they are not on duty. Their work involved getting buy-in from the community by attending meetings as well as starting Eco Clubs at schools. Through this process they noticed that the sewers in the area kept becoming blocked. This is how they discovered that nappies are a huge problem in this area. And they decided to target this item specifically!
This project involved so much. Through Paulo’s support they were able to source strong refuse bags that could hold these heavy items. They also found that by installing special bins into the community ablution blocks they could educate people about why nappies are bad for the environment and then encourage people to leave their dirty nappies in these bins. This made a huge difference to the river! They also found that the sewers became blocked less often so the whole community benefited from this.
Something else I learned was that townships don’t receive black bags from the municipality, that is because these “free” bags are reserved for rate payers. Thank goodness they were able to obtain help from a company called Verigreen who supplied them with those durable bags! Thanks to the funding they managed to obtain from different companies they worked together to remove 21 272 nappies from the river in just three months.
But now funding has dried up and Thozeka is quite concerned about the future health of the rivers in her area. And another major concern she has is around the general attitude people have about caring for the environment. She explained how people expect someone else to do the job of cleaning up, because that is seen as job creation. It seems that many people feel that cleaning up after themselves should not be their own problem, because if they don’t someone else would surely have to be employed to do it. This has made her feel despondent.
Through my conversations with both Thozeka and Paulo I realised just how important this project was. It is vital that we take action and try and stop refuse from ending up in our rivers and, eventually, in our oceans. Not only can this polluted river water make people sick, but every time that it rains we end up with a situation where there are hundreds of thousands of plastic items washed up on our beaches too. Like what happened in Easter 2019. Personally I think this is an amazing project to fund because it actually works…they were actually making a difference. You can see more about the project here.
Another person who is currently working to try and keep KZN’s rivers healthy is Durbanite Cameron Service. He heads up a well-known NPO called The Litterboom Project. They’ve come up with an amazing way to try and stop waste from moving down into the ocean by installing booms on the Umgeni River. This is a much more effective way of trying to clean up the river as they catch between 300 000 and 500 000 kg of litter in this way on a daily basis!
I met up with Cameron over dinner (that one of my friends kindly cooked for us). While we ate he explained that the reason he felt moved to do something about the Umgeni river’s health is because he has always lived a very outdoor lifestyle and he particularly loves surfing. It just made sense to him that something like this could work to significantly reduce the amount of waste that floats into the ocean. He decided to install these booms to see if it would work. And it did!
When I asked him whether he had to request permission from anyone to do this he laughed and told me that sometimes it’s easier to just go ahead and do something and see what happens, rather than getting bogged down by endless red tape. Thanks to his attitude an NPO that truly makes a difference was founded. Their goal is to trial this in KZN and hopefully roll it out in other parts of South Africa, and the rest of the world too. You can follow them on Facebook to keep up to date with their work and all latest developments!
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