Nature's laundromat: 'quaint' for some, a nuisance for others

2011-09-16 00:00

VISITING the natural splendour of Howick Falls and seeing people in the distance washing their laundry elicits responses such as “quaint”, “colourful” and “African” or “appalling”, depending on the speaker’s origin.

So say Friends of the Falls volunteers Howard Richardson and Alison Hopkins.

“It’s interesting the reaction you get,” Richardson said, pointing out that foreign tourists usually make romantic observations, while South Africans decry the aesthetic nuisance of this natural laundromat.

Durban tourist Tiaan Lewis said, “I’m more worried about the water rather than tourism.”

But Richardson said the amount of washing soap that flows into the water is minimal compared to other waste sources.

Shiyabazali resident Nobusa Ngubane said people discard their soap packets in the water and they plummet down the falls never to be seen again. Musician Mandla Ngcobo, who has been busking at the falls for over a decade, said, “I don’t think it’s right because the river should be kept clean.”

But while a steady flow of water pushes past the rock where Ngubane sits with her green and red washing buckets and the wind blows cool in the fiery sunshine, nature’s beautiful laundromat is not free from danger with its precarious position and changing water flow.

“We’re all scared to do our washing here, but we have no choice,” Ngubane said

The informal settlement is without a steady water supply and the truckloads of water provided by the municipality are used for drinking and cooking.

Ngubane said more than 20 people wash their clothes at the falls every day.

Friends of the Falls co-organiser Des Wright said he doubts the 10 000 tourists who visit the falls monthly, 80% of whom are South African, are affected by people washing their clothes. Those who have said they would never return because of it are “few and far between”.

“We’ve approached various authorities to resolve the matter,” Wright said.

The municipality told him that the residents of the informal settlement will be moved to near Midmar Dam. The Witness reported in 2008 that the residents are reluctant to move.

Their presence elicits surprise initially, Richardson said, but the tourists are moved to sympathy when they realise there is no alternative for these impoverished residents of Howick.

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