Returning a river to life

2010-09-10 00:00

NOMVULA Malinga has fond memories of swimming in the Isipingo River when she was growing up, but it has become impossible for today’s youngsters to enjoy the river.

The 43-year-old Malinga and a few other women from the area have decided to take action and clean up the river which has been subjected to severe levels of pollution and degradation over the years.

Malinga said the river became a disgusting sight with people using it as a “rubbish dump filled with sewage, dead animals and overgrown weeds”.

Part of the clean-up team is Zodwa Elizabeth Ndlovu, who said that the river was “absolutely filthy, even the water was receding … there was a foul smell coming from the river and most children in the area started developing asthma”.

Malinga said that the women of the area decided to get together as a community to see what could be done about the river. “Other people were not taking a stand and doing something about it. And in 2008, about 100 of us started discussing how we could contribute to ensuring that the river was in the state that it was those many years ago,” she said.

Their project only lifted off and became operational in February 2009. The women were driven by their desire for a better life and cleaner environment, and therefore started to clean the river without being paid.

Last month, Water and Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi officially launched the Adopt-a-River project in Durban. The project aims to create awareness within communities about the need and importance of protecting water resources. R1,7 million has been allocated for the Isipingo Adopt-a-River Project.

“This project was initiated by the women themselves. They did not wait for the department to approach them. Therefore, we know that it is a sustainable project. We have since formalised this project and it has been rolled out in various parts of the country,” said the deputy minister’s spokesperson, Peter Mbelengwa.

The 100 women from the Umlazi area, including Malinga and Ndlovu, will continue with the cleaning of the river for a period of 12 months.

“We were volunteering our services and doing it for the betterment of our community. It was tough when we started because we did not have the necessary equipment,” said Ndlovu.

The spirit of unbuntu is rampant among the women who help each other out in different ways.

“I remember a day when a man walked past us and saw what we were doing. He asked us if we had food and of course we didn’t, but he pulled out R20 and told us to get food. Many of the women who work on this project cannot afford certain things, so we try to help each other out in terms of taking lunch when we are working,” said Ndlovu.

Pangas and sickles were used to cut away the weeds or small trees that are hazardous to the environment.

“We also pick up the rubbish in the river. We wear overalls, boots and gloves to ensure that we do not get sick, and we use black refuse bags to collect the refuse. We work from 8 am to noon daily,” said Malinga.

The women also planted crops in the cleared areas.

“We also have our own vegetable gardens in the areas where we have cleared weeds and refuse. We also want to have a nursery and a park that we will name. We want to give back to our community,” said Ndlovu.

Malinga urged South Africans to be considerate.

“In everything that you do, ensure that it won’t adversely affect your community. Our families get ill because of the things that we throw away in our rivers and streets. Our municipalities provide us with black bags to put our refuse in. Use them,” said Malinga.

Women need not wait for government grants, said Ndlovu. The mother of two feels that South African women need to stand up and think for themselves.

“Go out in your community and look at how you can help. Because of this project, we were able to have our own vegetable gardens and we have also been able to use water from the river,” said Ndlovu.

The women have now received training and intend on using the information to educate their communities.

“We know that we can make an impact in our communities by doing this. I have also taught my three children about the work I do and my daughter and I often go around in our community teaching other women and their daughters about keeping their environment clean,” said Malinga.

“When I started this I did not have previous knowledge about rivers, so the work that the other women and I have been doing has helped us learn new things,” she explained.

At some point, the women intend on starting their own market where they will sell the produce from their vegetable gardens.

Ndlovu is setting a great example for her 15 and 21-year-old daughters, who also have vegetable gardens.

“I want them to carry on my legacy and help their communities and make a meaningful contribution,” said Ndlovu.

Added Mbelengwa: “The women didn’t just take the initiative to clean rivers but also to grow vegetable gardens and help themselves. They are making a huge difference to their lives and communities. The great thing about this project is that locals living close to the rivers are involved.”

Meanwhile, a similar project is running in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, with a group of 100 women cleaning up the Luvuvhu River.

The women from the rural area will also obtain a monthly stipend and be trained on water-resource management, like their counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal.

— BuaNews.

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