The guard at Thurlow gate was puzzled when four women turned up in the drizzle at first light and told him they were going for a walk. “In the rain?” he asked. “Well, it is only water, we won’t melt” was the quick response.
The intrepid explorers, all members of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, thought the weather pretty perfect for exploring the uMthinzima River from the spot where it enters Midmar, all the way through Mpophomeni township, to the hills where it rises.
“Siqalile, siqalile – This journey has begun”
The Autumn grasses literally glowed in the low light. We identified many different ones – Hyperennia, Sporobolus, Ngongoni, discussing which were best for thatching (inthunga) or making brooms. Phragmites and other reeds lined the banks of the fast flowing steam.
“You can make anything from these reeds. My mother used to make great mats.” Ntombenhle Mtambo told us. “She liked to use iKwazi because it was the strongest, or iNcema. iNgobosi has the most beautiful colours, but is not very strong.”
The stream looked really murky. “The reed beds clean the water, so the e-coli count is a lot lower here than further up.” Penz Malinga explained. She used to take samples of the water here regularly for DUCT.
We helped a really long earthworm cross the road so that it wouldn’t be squashed by passing cars.
The stream was heavily invaded by wattles and we were not able to walk along the edge. We joined it again at the bridge on the road to Boston.
On the Mpophomeni side of the bridge, the ground was well trampled by the many cows which graze in the area and very slippery. We discovered a cascade, which we immediately named the “uMthinzima Falls.”
The area was farmed before the township was settled and drainage ditches were evident everywhere. It is obviously one big wetland. Apparently, there used to be houses right in the wetland – the area known as ‘Burkina Faso’. During the floods of 1999, most of the houses were destroyed. Lives were lost and people lived in tents for years until new houses were built for them on higher ground.
The hilltops were shrouded in mist and in rained on and off all morning.
At the spot where uMhlangeni (place of the reeds) and the Nguga tributaries joined the uMthinzima, plovers explored the muddy edges watched by a shrike from a stand of Berkheya nearby. A duck flew off and headed towards Thurlow.
We talked about the medicinal uses of plants as we trudged through the wet grass. “Many of the yellow flowered plants are for stomach problems” Tutu Zuma told us.
The smell of sewage worsened the closer we got to the main settlement. Opposite the municipal offices it was pretty awful. There is a perennial problem of blocked and broken pipes and over flowing manholes.
Meshack Nzuza of Ezemvelo had joined us for the day. He works at Thurlow and is in charge of the water supply to the offices and houses there. “I am really worried about the water quality at this part of Midmar dam. I put chlorine every day but I worry that not all the germs are killed. I am not happy.” He said. “I speak to the counsellor and the municipality about the sewage which is going into the dam, but they fix one problem and then there is another one.”
We worked our way though the long grass and reeds with lovely views of the hills alongside us. Having hiked up there before, we recalled the Dais cotonifolia, Ziziphus muconata and other trees which are clustered in the gorges.
“Aye, it’s very wet.” We sploshed along the cattle paths and were excited to find a big shiny purple beetle in a pile of dung.
There were some new houses built in the flood plain – “Eish, don’t they remember what happened in 1999?” pondered Penz.
The riverine vegetation improved visibly in the area known as Cabazini. There were fewer cattle here and the houses less dense. “You can tell we are getting to the more rural area” said Ntombehle. “Rural people take much better care of the water because they use it for cooking and drinking.”
Lots of Leucosidea serica (umTshitshi) lined the banks which were quite steep in places. Ouhout is great firewood – hard and slow burning. However, with all the wattle around there was obviously plenty of wood for cooking fires.
The wet weather meant there were not many people about and it seemed as if we had the valley all to ourselves, despite being so close to the houses. We sang as loudly as we felt like.
As we reached Emashingeni the imposing cliffs on the west caught our attention. Lots of aloes on the slopes, big rocks and interesting ravines which we decided to come back and explore another day.
Down towards the river there was plenty of Leonotis leonorus in full flower – often attended by sunbirds – living up to its Zulu name utshwala bezinyoni.
An enormous Cussonia on the opposite bank drew us toward the river.
It was really wonderful to push through the dense vegetation and find a beautiful stream gurgling over the rocks.
Penz was exited to discover Caddis Fly casings on the underside of the rocks, illustrating that the water was in good condition. “This is a mini sass score of 9” she declared, “pretty good.”
“it is unbelievable that in only 6kms the water becomes so polluted.” commented Meshack, who had not visited the area before.
We were quiet for a moment, admiring all the indigenous vegetation – Grewia occidentalis, Maytenus heterophylla, Halleria lucida, lots of Rhamnus prinoides, Trimeria and understory Plectranthus, Stachys aethiopica, Isoglossa, Chlorophytum and ferns.
Bright yellow flowers of Senecio tamoides clambored through the canopy and Kniphofia caulescens had just finished flowering on the edge of the stream.
We could not see a way to get to the source of the uMthinzima without invading the space of the people who lived there. We were certain that it rose in the forest near the ridge and planned to ask the iNkosi for permission to explore more in the area. “We should bring our Mpophomeni Kids Club members for a picnic up here” said Ntombenhle, “they would love it.”
“How amazing to have this adventure so close to our homes.” added Tutu as we headed back down the hill deciding the local is definitely lekker. N3 Toll Concession support the Mpophomeni Conservation Group and the work they do inspiring their communities around environmental issues, food growing, animal rights, values and sustainable living.