17 September 2010
When Nomvula Malinga was growing up, she used to swim in the Isipingo River – something that years of pollution and degradation have since made impossible. In February 2009, Malinga, together with other women from Durban’s Umlazi area, began cleaning up the river themselves.
Malinga says the river had become a disgusting sight with people using it as a “rubbish dump filled with sewage, dead animals and overgrown weeds”.
Zodwa Elizabeth Ndlovu agrees, saying 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”.
“As women of the area, we decided to get together to see what we could do,” says Malinga. “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 in those many years ago.”
In February 2009, the women started to clean the river without being paid.
The Adopt-a-River Project
Last month, Deputy Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi officially launched the Isipingo Adopt-a-River Project, with an allocation of R1.7-million.
Adopt-a-River aims to create awareness among communities about the importance of protecting water resources. Local women are paid a monthly stipend, and receive training in water resource management.
A similar project is running in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, where a group of 100 women are cleaning up the Luvuvhu River.
In the case of the Isipingo River, the project “was initiated by the women themselves,” says Mabudafhasi’s spokesman, Peter Mbelengwa. “They did not wait for the department to approach them. Therefore we know that it is a sustainable project.
“The women didn’t just take the initiative to clean rivers, but also grow vegetable gardens and help themselves,” says Mbelengwa. “They are making such a huge difference to their lives and communities.”
The 100 women from the Umlazi area, including Malinga and Ndlovu, will continue cleaning the river for a period of 12 months.
“We were volunteering our services and doing it for the betterment of our community,” says Ndlovu. “It was tough when we started, because we did not have the necessary equipment.”
Spirit of ubuntu
The spirit of unbuntu is thriving 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 a R20 and told us to get food,” says Ndlovu. “Many of the women who work on this project cannot afford certain things, so we try to help each other out in terms of bringing lunch when we are working.”
Pangas and sickles are used to cut away weeds and alien vegetation. “We also pick up the rubbish in the river,” says Malinga. “We wear overalls, boots, and gloves to ensure that we do not get sick, and use black refuse bags to collect the refuse. We work from 8am to 12pm daily.”
The women also plant crops in the cleared areas.
“We also have our own vegetable gardens in the areas where we have cleared weeds and refuse,” says Ndlovu. “We also want to have a nursery and a park that we will name. We want to give back to our community.
‘Be considerate in your actions’
Malinga urges South Africans to be considerate about their actions.
“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, streets, etc. Our municipalities provide us with black bags to throw away our refuse. Use those,” she says.
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.”
The women have now received training, and intend to use the information to educate their communities.
“We know that we can make an impact in our communities by doing this,” says Malinga. “I have also taught my three kids about the work that I do, and my daughter and I often go around in our community teaching other women and their daughters about keeping their environment clean.
“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.”
Eventually, the women aim to start their own market to 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 where they can and make a meaningful contribution.”