MABOLA TO PONGOLA
Outdoor classroom and a final boat ride
The last place you expect to see an albatross is in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
A photograph of a dead albatross chick, killed by plastic fed to it by its devoted parents – held up as an example of what happens if plastic pollution in our waterways is uncontrolled. The photograph was part of a show-and-tell at a recycling project in the Ncotshane township on the outskirts of the town of Pongola.
As the result of a clean-up of the rivers in the area, a rudimentary recycling project has sprung up. Although not without difficulties, as Sipho Mthenjwa, the man in charge, told us. He doesn’t have a working vehicle to ferry the materials to recycling depots.
The last hill of the trip had been a short slog up a steep slope leading to the water reservoir overlooking Ncotshane. At the top, the Ophongolo High School choir greeted us with a song about a lovesick person sitting by a water well musing about her wayward lover.
The #JourneyofWater theme continued.
This hill is the vantage point the volunteer Enviro Champs go to check where the water problems are. Volunteer Nelisiwe Thwala told us how if they see water running down a road, they notify the Zululand District Municipality so the problem can be attended to timeously.
Our day up to this point had been packed with activity and full of learnings.
It started out with an SABC 2 Morning Live broadcast on the shore of the Bivane Dam where #JourneyofWater champion swimmer Ryan Stramrood took to the water again, this time live on national TV. With the mist rising off the dam, everyone gathered on the sidelines to give the final hurrah.
Soon we were all bundled into the vans again and heading up and over the mountains on a dusty road towards sugarcane country.
ONLY A FRAGMENT OF REMAINING PEEL REPRESENTED THE ARABLE SOIL AVAILABLE TO US
First stop was a badly eroded piece of land where we had an outdoor geography lesson that included a demonstration by Samir Randera-Rees (WWF water source areas manager), using the hair on his head and a handful of soil, to illustrate how vegetation can prevent runoff.
Fellow outdoor teachers Johann Boonzaaier and Mattie Beukes showed us the effect of water on different types of soil, with Mattie bringing the message home using a huge knife to slice an apple into little bits until only a fragment of remaining peel represented the arable soil available to us.
Our second stop was the Grootdraai weir just beyond a crocodile farm where marabou storks attended dams full of baby crocodiles. Here the water lessons continued, in particular around the needs of local sugar farmers, but proceedings were interrupted when Johann handed out sticks of sugar cane for us to chew on.
By the time we reached Ncotshane, we were chasing the clock again, heading for the Pongolapoort Dam where a cruise boat – the Shayamanzi II – was waiting to ferry us across the water to our final port of call.
Arriving at the Phongolo Nature Reserve, an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserve, we were treated to the sight of hippos popping their heads out of the water and a white rhino grazing on an island across the way. Snacks and drinks awaited on board – and a final sunset where conversations and newly forged friendships continued.
Our limbs were a little sore, heads overloaded with information, but our hearts were filled with new bonds and real understanding of the long and arduous journey water takes to reach our homes. The last three days have truly shown water doesn’t come from a tap.