Mercia Komen of the Custodian Project, delivered a paper at the International Association of Impact Assessment SA (IAIAsa) Conference in Cape Town in September.
She reported back: “Most of the 400 delegates were consultants and officials. My paper represented the 'public voice'. While public participation is a vital part of any of the processes officials or consultants follow, the public’s voice is still poorly represented in this forum. My paper encapsulated the failure in public participation and suggested an alternative method. The proposal addresses the activities already happening in two local conservancies - Gekco and the RNC. The suggestion was also forwarded for consideration in the strategy for environmental impact assessment and management, a current project of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
“There were powerful messages coming through at the conference. The keynote speaker, Ross Marshall of the UK Environment Agency, underscored our looming water crisis by using an analogy. Ross (a Brit) was wildly excited at the sight of monkeys beside the road while his South Afrcian travel companions shrugged off the experience.
“Ross warned that the water situation in SA was a 'monkeys beside the road moment', meaning we ought to be appalled at and put all in the fight to address the crises of water resources and pollution. 'Your water-scarce country has only 2% of its water reserve as unallocated,' he said. That is water for growth - industry, food production, growing population needs, etc. The growth targets set by government include the manufacturing sector, mining, beneficiation of mineral extraction and agriculture, all of which require water. We are heading for a crisis.
“Research among consultants in the Waterberg revealed that they don't know how to use Climate Change models. They do 'business as usual', fearing they will forfeit work if their findings factor in climate change and consequently result in a negative decision, or more costly mitigation. From the floor came a comment that Limpopo officials issue fraudulent authorisations to assist developers to get financing before the EIA has even begun.
“There are still many obstacles but I can see a shift happening and that gives hope.”
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The Jukskei Drift linking the east of Hills and Dales with the west has snared many a trusting driver following GPS directions.
“I've had to rescue even 4x4s stranded in the middle of the river,” says local resident, Jan Cornelessen. “People misjudge the depth of the water over the concrete slab, they panic and stall the engine.”
To make it worse, over the years several holes had been gouged out by the water in the middle of the drift, just waiting for unsuspecting wheels to drop in.
“Acting on the tried-and-trusted approach of ''n Boer maak 'n Plan', the local community decided to take matters in hand and fix the hole,” said Pieter Horn, one of the landowners. “Offers came from all sides - labour, cement, sand, gravel, plastic bags to fill with sand, a TLB to do the hard work, and plenty of advice. Plus donations of hotdogs, juices and boerewors to keep energy flowing and spirits up.”
The work started with considerable enthusiasm on Spring Day, Saturday 1 September, with the Jukskei at its usual winter low level. One-hundred and fifty bags, filled with sand and sewn up, were heaved in batches into the TLB's scoop and unloaded in the river to build a wall around the hole area. This necessitated a fair bit of underwater manoeuvring to pack a sturdy wall and advice and suggestions flowed as freely as the river. By now several more neighbours had arrived to watch and cheer on the Hole Team.
Next came the concrete, a strong and fairly dry mix, that was packed into the holes. “All we could do now was wait for a week for the concrete to set before the sandbags could be removed to see whether our effort was successful.”
We did not have a week. By the next Wednesday night the heavens opened over Johannesburg and eight hours later a wall of water arrived, effortlessly sweeping away the sandbags. Apologies to all living downstream, but with the tons of rubbish and plastic regularly washed down the long-suffering Jukskei, the bags will likely not even be noticed.
After days of waiting for the water level to drop the first drive-over was made. Still a slight bump in the middle, but the Hole was Whole!
“An outing where the first bird on the list is a Marsh owl, and the last an Orange-breasted bush shrike and a few million ladybirds thrown in for good measure has to go down as a huge success!” wrote Bev Williams of the Witwatersrand Bird Club.
The outing took place on 25 August in Hills and Dales in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy. “While we were drinking early morning tea and coffee supplied by our most hospitable hosts a Marsh 0wl was quartering across the veld right in front of us, providing magnificent close-up views. We then did a leisurely walk around the area with good sightings of Capped wheatear, White-throated swallows, Amethyst sunbird and Black-throated canary to name but a few. A total of 70 birds was seen on the outing.
“Later, some of the group drove to the base of a nearby koppie and walked to the top to find thousands of hibernating ladybirds clustered together on the stone walls of an abandoned building. Amazing sight! It was a wonderful venue and we hope to see it on the programme again.”
The ladybirds that fascinated the birders on their outing to the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy are Potato ladybirds - Epilachna dregei - reported Bev Williams afterwards.
“Worldwide, a number of ladybird species exhibit this behaviour to aggregate in large numbers. The adults may often congregate at or near the summit of higher-lying terrain.
“These aggregations are commonly interpreted as an overwintering strategy, but may also occur during summer. It is safe to say they aggregate to escape unfavourable environmental conditions, either in winter, or bad weather in summer. This species is best known for forming these large aggregations, typically against rocks, rock crevices, cement crevices in houses, trees etc. The beetles may return to the same place year after year.”
The famous winter aggregations of lady beetles at the Wonderboom Fort in Pretoria are also Epilachna dregei, converging there in winter. "Thanks to Duncan MacFadyen, Manager: Research and Conservation, E Oppenheimer & Son (Pty) Ltd, for this information."
“Very tough and technical, Very challenging!” panted a mountain bike rider as he stopped for a quick gulp at a Ride the Rhenoster water table. “I'll be back next year!”
This annual fundraiser is one of the early events on the cycling calendar and supports the conservation efforts of the landowners in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy. The 40km ride kicked off on 9 September from the Fourwheel Drive Club of SA's Base 4 in Doornrandje.
"It's an opportunity to get rid of the cobwebs," said trail-blazer, Miles Crisp, in his invite to riders. Miles is the “masochist” who ensures that the trail remains "tough and technical.” That jargon means a ride that will test stamina and skill and give plenty to brag about afterwards.
Bragging is apparently quite acceptable among the riders. This year, bragging rights were earned on Alistair Armstrong's property in Hills and Dales. Halfway through the ride the trail took the riders up to "Ladybird Castle", then plummeted down 112 meters over 1.5 km to the Jukskei River. Dubbed "Legstrong Hill", around Armstrong Hill, the route climbed a gruelling 93 m in only 0.8 km. The challenge issued by Miles at the start of the Ride was to make it up Legstrong without feet touching the ground. Few earned those bragging rights!
An event like Ride the Rhenoster does not happen without the cooperation and effort of many people. Many thanks to Miles Crisp, Abbey de Groot and Charles van den Akker who recce'd the Ride and marked the trail. The weather, beautiful on the Ride day, was bitingly cold during the recce.
The Ride exacted a price - scrapes, bruises and aching muscles, sunglasses lost and found, a cellphone, still missing. Many, many punctures and a broken saddle but no broken bones. One rider escaped the safety net provided by Base 4 for a short while after a trio took an impromptu wrong-turn. The rescue vehicle intercepted two of them, while the third raced away over Hills and Dales. Some time later, an eagle-eyed marshall spotted the rider and shepherded him safely back to Base 4.
The landowners make this event possible by allowing access: many thanks for the cooperation. Appreciation also for the volunteers who provided water tables and marshalled on the day. A special thanks to Base 4 for hosting the start and proving extraction teams and most of all to the Riders who came to support the event and whose evident enjoyment made the effort very worthwhile.
More photographs have been posted to www.ridetherhenoster.co.za.
Mark and Lee Ziervogel
Lise Essberger of Lethabo Estates in Vlakfontein offered a Ride the Rhenoster Lucky Draw Bonus this year. The prize is one of her delectable, romantic picnics on the banks of the Crocodile River. The lucky winner was Mark Ziervogel, who will take his wife, Lee, to Lethabo on her birthday. Lucky couple! See www.lethaboestates.com.
“The fire which gutted our thatched house in Doornrandje on 16 August was so fierce the window panes melted,” said Werner Hansen. “We built the house ourselves and we've lived here for the past 10 years.”
Howard Bichard was one of the neighbours who'd rushed out to help. In vain.
“A veld fire had been blazing in the area most of the night but we had it under control,” he said. “I was home long enough to have a cup of coffee when it flared up again. This happened three times and in the small hours of the morning the Hansen's thatch-roof caught fire. Their home was set against a small ridge and though the lawn around the house was short, the fierce wind fanned the flames from the ridge to the roof. The house was completely gutted.”
“Fortunately no one was in the house at the time,” said Werner, “because nobody could have survived.”
When you pursue a dream with enthusiasm, persistence and hard work, wonderful things can happen!
A group of women from Doornrandje decided to start a community library. “Our first hurdle was to find a suitable venue,” says one of the team, Heather van der Heiden. “Our first choice was the Green Classroom built with donations and by volunteers of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy at the local Bathabile School, but uncertainties around the future of the school ruled that out.”
“The problem of a suitable location was solved by Ian Wyethe, the new owner of Skyview Castle filling station on the R511,” says Mary Scott, another team member. “He kindly made available a small double-storey tower on the spacious premises of Skyview.”
Boxes full of books came from local residents and DiData donated the shelving. The team started cleaning, painting, sorting and cataloguing the books in earnest.
Freshly painted, the fledgeling library was launched on 15 September. Local residents and Hennops Primary School set up a produce market on the day and a 4x4 Expo added to the attractions.
“Several people drove in for fuel and ended up enquiring about the library,” says Mary. “The biggest surprise was when Minister Tokyo Sexwale came in for fuel and donated R1 000 to our new venture! He owns a property in nearby Hennops River. ”
The library is named the Dalene Laing Community Library in memory of Dalene, one of the original group, who passed away just months before their dream became a reality.
The library will be open on Saturdays from 09:00 to 14:00. "Life membership is R20," says Heather.
Greenie-beanies? Environmental activists finally had enough of Radio 702 Talk Show host John Robbie referring to them as Greenie-beanies on air.
The crunch came on Monday 10 September when John referred to the Government's lifting of the moratorium on fracking in the Karoo, saying “The greenie-beanies will go bananas!”
This was the last straw for many professional people who work tirelessly and often as unpaid volunteers on environmental issues such as destruction of wetlands, illegal mining, species extinction, acid mine drainage, fracking, inappropriate development - the list is endless.
Several letters went to the 702 Comment Line and to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA. John ruefully commented on the barrage of SMSs and Tweets he'd personally received and said “concerned activists” would have to suffice in future.
One small victory but when serious issues such as fracking face the nation, flippancy is uncalled for.
Acid Mine Drainage - how does it affect the Crocodile River and Hartbeespoort Dam? Speaker: Stephan du Toit, Specialist: Environmental Protection, Mogale City Local Municipality
Date: 8 October
Venue: Lethabo Estate, Vlakfontein
Just Environmental Action (JEA) Workshop - Saturday 20 October
Speaker: Dr Anthony Turton: social scientist specializing in water resource management
Other speakers to be announced.
Venue: Sunset Boma, Blue Hills, R55; refreshments served.
Cost: R120 pp; R100 (JEA members)
Calling all Artists - 27 October
Painting day - all levels of experience are welcome and any medium may be used.
A short talk on outdoor painting will be given for those interested.
Place: Sunset Farm, Hennops River, Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy
Time: 10am onwards. A finger lunch will be served.
Cost: R80 pp
Reliable registered farrier. Shoeing, trimming and corrective work.
Call Shane 072 249 0755.
Struggling with Maths?
Leigh Emmanuel on Monaghan Farm gives private maths lessons (all ages).
Contact her for details: 082 696 1062