The future of Northern Farm, bordering the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, hangs in the balance. Joburg Water has given notice that all farming activities must be terminated within the next few months. That involves selling the 2 000-strong herd of Bovelder cattle, all the farm equipment, including nine centre pivots and other irrigation systems which presently irrigate 350 hectares of grazing, mealies and other crops. Some 70 contract staff are being laid off.
The reason given is that farming is not part of Joburg Water's core business. Joburg Municipality is touted to take over but it is unclear how Northern Farm will be utilised in future. About 20 megalitres of water from Northern Works' sewage treatment plant are presently circulated through the farm's dams before flowing into the Jukskei River. A major issue is what happens to these dams, wetlands, water courses and extensive irrigation systems through which this water flows, without regular upkeep.
Apart from agriculture the farm's open spaces and trails are enjoyed over weekends by thousands of mountain bikers, birdwatchers, hikers and horse riders. About 300 birds have been identified on the reserve which is part of SA Birdlife's birding route. A full Olympic standard equestrian course is used for annual shows.
In Hills and Dales all roads don't lead to Rome. When it rains like it did in January, they lead into mud holes. Huge, sucking, ruthless, slithery, swallowing mud holes.
I hope our roads are never tarred – anyway, there doesn't seem to be enough tar to fill the potholes on the R114. I think dirt roads are ideal for community building. There are few things as conducive to community-building as being stuck in a mud hole and mercifully being dragged out by neighbours, or vice versa - towing neighbours out of mud holes. Hills and Dales residents took turns in being the victim or the rescuer. We also got to know which neighbours don't give a fig for community. Those can stay stuck and sink...
The January rains played havoc with all her work. Then the management of the nearby PPC quarry came to the rescue, delivering 250 tons of rock and gravel to fill a series of mud holes over a 200 metres stretch. Bonnie managed to persuade Joburg Metro to provide scrapers and rollers to level the clay, mud and stone mix. Neighbour Adrian Hampson supervised the whole effort, including the small army of local workers who helped with outlets and potholes. Guess who will get the Heroes' Trophies this year...
A disaster quietly unfolding on the West Rand is moving rapidly towards the Crocodile River which flows through the RNC.
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), the toxic and dangerous water that started overflowing from disused mine-shafts near Krugersdorp at the end of January, is flowing into the streams that feed the Crocodile River and the Tweelopies Spruit, the source of Potchefstroom’s water.
On 30 January, Mariette Liefferink, executive director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE, of which the RNC is a member), took a delegation of interested parties to see what this AMD was all about. This poisonous water comes from the flooding of underground caverns in disused mines where it absorbs the sulphates and heavy metals in the rock left behind. Untreated, the underground pollution flows out of whatever vent it can find, specifically disused mineshafts.
Millions of litres of this polluted water are now flowing daily out of two shafts towards the Limpopo (via the Crocodile River) and Vaal River catchment areas.
“The environmental damage being caused is irreversible and the ramifications enormous,” Liefferink said.
Besides the above-surface damage, the polluted water is also rapidly eating away the sub-surface dolomitic stone, causing cavities and new sinkholes (there are already more than 4 000) across the West Rand - one of the consequences of more than a century of exploitation by mining companies.
This West Rand basin is one of four compartments stretching along the Witwatersrand and the first to vomit out its toxic contents. “At the rate this polluted stream is moving, the Witwatersrand, including Johannesburg will become a second Grand Canyon,” said one West Rand resident who has been monitoring AMD for more than a decade. More information: www.fse.org.za.
Poisonous water flowing over the veld near the Krugersdorp Game Reserve
A warm welcome to new Conservancy members: Cathy Sexton (RSE), Jakes Parsons (H&D), Nick and Christine Hanks (VF); Taco and Jeanne Voogt (DR), Simon and Mary Scott (DR), Peter Nagel (Rhenosterspruit), Steve and Michelle Panos (Rhenosterspruit), Mike and Michele Hlava (RK) and our first Laezonia members: Christine and Attila Woessner!
The Bathabile School's “green classroom” is gathering interest and support from near and far. The rains have slowed progress and project manager Niko Knigge from Doornrandje has had to juggle labour and working times, plus contend with theft of material. The floor was thrown on Monday 22 February so the structure is ready for its roof and the strawbale walls.
Niko arranged a Film in the Veld fundraising evening recently and the crowd of visitors was most generous in their donations. A group visited the school to view progress and those who had joined the adobe brick-making workshop the previous week proudly showed their handiwork.
Volunteers and donors get their hands dirty making adobe bricks
More support is needed – “Give a Strawbale”! Each “bale” donated is worth R25 and your name will go on a brick on Niko's drawing of the schoolroom. Donations can be made to the Rhenosterspruit Conservancy, FNB Fourways (Current Account), Branch code 251 655 and Acc No 620 926 378 79. Put Your name/Straw in the reference line so we know who to thank!
Doornrandje and Laezonia will soon have a local depot to recycle their glass. After lengthy negotiations the Glass Recycling Company has allocated a bottle bank to Bathabile School for the collection of glass. The site is ready and all that's needed now is the actual bottle bank. VeldTalk will let all know when it has arrived. Efforts are being made to set up a system at Bathabile for the collection of paper, metal and plastic as well.
A local resident is again being threatened by a developer's lawyers.
Rob Garbett of Riverside Estates (RSE), who exercised his constitutional right to question aspects of the Mountainview Estate development bordering RSE, recently received a letter from VFV Mseleku, attorneys for Mountainview, threatening him with court action if he did not “desist from vexatious action”.
Rob has replied, challenging the threat: “In my view the legal profession should not be used as a conduit to make hollow and unsubstantiated threats”.
This country-wide tendency by some developers to try and intimidate members of the public has been noted by the media. “Perhaps the most immediate threat comes from those with money and power who are using the courts, or threat of the courts, to stifle critical voices,” said the Mail&Guardian (28/10/05). This type of action is called a SLAPP suit – Strategic Litigation against Public Participants.
The threat of SLAPP suits has also contributed to the establishment of organisations such as the Centre for Environmental Rights and Northern Environmental Rights Forum.
In 2005 Wraypex, developer of the Blair Atholl Golf Estate bordering the Conservancy, sued five members of the Conservancy committee in their private capacity for R210 million for alleged damages and defamation. The case has been postponed three times and has now been set down for 20 court days in November 2010.
Some people dream big, some don't dream at all and some of the big dreamers actually wake up and start making things happen. Scott Cundill is one of those. He launched Planting Season South Africa last year, aiming to get one million people planting vegetables.
“The simple fact is that we cannot wait for a political leader to 'show up' and save the planet. We need to be the leaders of an organic tomorrow. Others will follow in our footsteps,” he says.
HeronBridge College, where many Conservancy kids are enrolled, has embraced this challenge wholeheartedly. “One thousand learners are going to be planting vegetables with a budget of only R2 500 for the whole school!” says Scott. “They are purchasing one pot, some soil and two seeds for every child – R2 500. Each grade will get seeds for a different variety of vegetable and each student will be charged R10. That raises R10 000. Just imagine if 15 schools did this in planting season. That would be 15 000 families taking a step towards sustainability. If every school in South Africa did this a new country would be born!” www.plantingseason.co.za.
Many conservancies, including Rhenosterspruit, have been burdened with a continual stream of development applications.
Yet the legal process, specifically public participation, is often felt to be inadequate and flawed by those who are trying to protect the “sense of place” that characterises their area.
South Africa has been using Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) as one of the tools to decide on the suitability, or otherwise, of a development that impacts significantly on an area. In November 2008, the results of an in-depth assessment of the effectiveness of the EIA process was presented by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to all sectors dealing with EIAs. A Steering Committee was appointed to develop a strategy for more effective measurement of environmental impacts.
The interests of private landowners, conservationists, communities and civil society are represented on this Steering Committee by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) and local RNC resident, Mercia Komen, founder of the Custodian Project.
In February, this Steering Committee was mandated to develop a strategy to “rationalise the EIA as a tool and investigate the use of alternative tools for assessing and managing environmental impacts to either replace or complement EIA”, says Mercia.
For further details go to www.custodianproject.co.za. Use this site to direct your opinions as well.