New, healthy life for filthy river

Teams from various workplaces join hands in an enormous river clean-up along the Umhlatuzana River in Clairwood in honour of World Water Week. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

Teams from various workplaces join hands in an enormous river clean-up along the Umhlatuzana River in Clairwood in honour of World Water Week. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

Published Aug 26, 2023


Durban - An adventurer’s epic traverse of SA, cycling, sailing, riding a surf ski and trail running led to a corporate-driven effort to celebrate Water Week by putting the finishing touches to the transformation of a stretch of the canalised, filthy Umhlatuzana River in Clairwood.

Participants in the Water Week clean up of Unitrans’ riverfront along the Umhlatuzana, in Clairwood, gather around a coral tree that heralds the return of indigenous vegetation after years of alien domination. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

Unitrans had sponsored KZN-born Cape Town adventurer Paul Moxley, whose mission was to raise awareness about pollution. Having crossed every river between the Mozambique border and Durban, taking notes of the grime, he told the company about the NGO Adopt-a-River.

Unitrans employees, from left, Lunga Mkhosana, Philani Mkhosana and Tholinhlanhla Mthembu carrying the necessary equipment to make their company’s waterfront along the Umhlatuzana River an ecological example for others to follow. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

“It is so pleasing to hear that the link up between Unitrans and Adopt-a-River is producing a positive outcome,” Moxley told the Independent on Saturday from Cape Town.

“The work that Adopt-a-River does is a civic service that I wish more corporates would support. The problem is so big but can be overcome by joint efforts like this.”

Tyres, compost, spekboom and aloe shrubs will contribute to preventing access to heavy vehicles being driven in for illegal dumping along Unitrans’ stretch of the Umhlatuzana River in Clairwood. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

Ten months ago, Unitrans started clearing alien vegetation and mountains of litter from the nearly 1km-long bank bordering its Clairwood depot. Wednesday saw teams from Unitrans and other companies ‒ Steinweg Bridge, MassMart, Sims Gas and Nu-Eco ‒ join Adopt A River, eThekwini Municipality and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to roll their sleeves up to plant shrubs in tyres reinforced with cement to prevent lorries from entering the stretch to carry out illegal dumping; plant indigenous coral trees and grass to stabilise the soil and bring back wildlife; pick up more litter; test the water quality and decorate a renovated container in a green theme.

Mpho Shili takes a selfie of her Unitrans colleagues Hlengiwe Phungula, centre, and Mpume Dlamini and the backdrop of mural artist Giffy Duminy’s painting of a spoonbill which he saw foraging in the Umhlatuzana River, and its next meal, a crab. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency ANA

“We hope this becomes a catalyst for other businesses in the area to say that we all have a responsibility for the environment,” said Hoosen Moola, a senior manager of eThekwini Municipality's Inner eThekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (iTrump).

Experts were roped in to lead the teams.

Taking a break from heaving heavy tyres through the dust, Viren Sookdeo, who heads the iTrump area base management rooftop garden, was setting up a barrier of plants growing in tyres to act as a barricade to stop illegal dumping.

“The plan is to stick these tyres up as high as possible and stabilise them with concrete inside, so they can’t be moved. Businesses are willing to put up a fence, which will deter people such as vagrants that are going through this area.”

Conservancy doyen and honorary ranger Rosemary Harrison, supervising the planting of a coral tree, said they would stabilise the bank and plant grass to cool the trees.

“The grass will attract birds and butterflies as well as encourage a seed source, providing a mother stock. There were so many alien plants here beforehand,” she said.

After carrying out a water test in the river, Ferrial Adam and Jonathan Erasmus, of the WaterCAN NGO, rushed to clean their hands after sensing the water they tested with their citizen scientist kits was pretty filthy.

“Some of the chemical parameters are concerning. The phosphate levels are borderline. It has high nitrites and the pH is quite high,” said Fleur.

“It could be due to many things. It could be industrial pollution, it could be fertiliser, it could be high levels of sewage.”

Durban’s famous mural artist Giffy Duminy led team members in spray painting an old container on the Unitrans side of the fence dividing its depot from the river. It was waterlogged in the floods of April last year and became derelict.

The team added colour to the mural on which Duminy had painted a spoonbill and a crab.

“I came for a site meeting and we were looking for what I could paint on the mural and I saw a spoonbill in the river sifting through some rubbish looking for some crabs, and I thought that would be the perfect subject and theme for the mural. I really hope that my art can help people to appreciate nature more, and hopefully through appreciation they can conserve it.”

The cleared river bank on the south side of the Umhlatuzana is in stark contrast to the north bank where alien vegetation has choked indigenous growth.

Adopt-a-River founder Janet Simpkins looked downstream to where chunks of concrete lay in the water – a reminder of last year’s floods – and spoke of her future plans.

“We hope to have a litter boom there, hopefully in the next few months. It wouldn’t have worked until now because of all the illegal dumping.”

Moxley, meanwhile, is working on a litter trap design in Cape Town.

The Independent on Saturday