The Rhenosterspruit Conservancy is becoming hippo country. Sightings of hippo are becoming a regular event. There are now three, including a juvenile, ranging over a large area, from the PPC and Gomes quarries to the east of the Conservancy, to Northern Farm, further towards HeronBridge College on the Jukskei River and back to Hills and Dales.
Mac Baloyi, who works on Northern Farm, has given up counting the number of times he's had to fix the perimeter fence. Mr Hippo (or Missus) simply walks through six strands of barbed wire, snapping it like string.
Paul and Alison Vorster spotted one of the hippos in their dam in the Notta River in Hills and Dales recently, not far from their house. From there it wandered further north-west and demolished a gate on Doug Sinclair's property. “We thought marauding cattle were the culprits, until we saw the spoor! Mighty big cattle...” said Doug.
Neighbour Bonnie Debbo complained about not having seen the hippo. “I guess my only option now is to look in the mirror!” she quipped. Not everyone wants to come up close, though. The Maynards have three dams on their land, but, says Carmen, “ever since one of them came up right next to our mokoro in Botswana, I can do without seeing hippos. If anyone wants to go and check the dams on our place, feel free!”
PPC Manager, Henk Wiltz, who first captured the hippo on camera last year, says his concern is for the safety of the security guards who patrol the area, especially at night. The Department of Conservation has been notified but there is a problem. “If you try to catch them by darting them with a sedative, they go for the water and drown,” explained an official. So it seems the Conservancy might have to change its name to Hippopotamus Conservancy - there are more hippos than “rhenosters” around
A lifetime up in flames
Liz Patterson is a true pioneer. Probably regarded as completely crazy by her friends and family, Liz started building a house on the banks of the Jukskei River in Hills and Dales in the mid-'60s. She was 19 years old and she lived in a tent for two years. Roads did not exist then and it was a slow process but this was where she wanted to live.
Imagine her despair when most of her house burnt down after being struck by lightning before dawn on Sunday 13 February this year. As the radio call for help went out neighbours rallied immediately. A major problem was getting across the swollen Jukskei. By the time the fire brigade found the place, some items had been salvaged but by then the thatched roof was burning beyond control.
It is a terrible experience seeing someone's house burn down, said neighbour Dave Muller who was one of the first on the scene. “Every year for the past four years a house in the area has gone up in flames, either from lightning or out-of-control veld fires. We're learning valuable lessons every time and we are building up the necessary equipment vital in case of such fires. Nobody can ever say - 'It won't happen to me'.”
The “Rhenosterspruit Four” have received so many messages of support and encouragement that it has not been possible to respond to each individually. This is to say Thank You to all - locally and across the country. This is what we hoped for - that winning the case will give courage to everyone out there doing battle on behalf of the environment.
About R1 million. That's what the Mail&Guardian reported Wraypex, developers of Blair Atholl Golfing Estate, will have to pay the legal team of the four members of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy (RNC).
The RNC Four won the R170 million defamation and damages case brought against them by Wraypex in the North Gauteng High Court with punitive costs awarded against Wraypex. Judge Stanley Sapire criticised “the belligerent style of Wraypex's attorney's letters which were calculated to intimidate and create enmity” and "the extravagant amount claimed by Wraypex" before saying the Wraypex case was generally weak.
The case received extensive coverage in the national media, from Gauteng to Western Cape and KZN.
One of the most recent reports - in Business Day of 18 February - quoted the Endangered Wildlife Trust as saying that Judge Sapire “has added to the arsenal available to communities and other groups opposed to potentially destructive development by awarding punitive costs against a developer who sued four environmentalists for defamation.”
Defamation law expert, Dario Milo of Webber Wentzel attorneys, said the judgement was "groundbreaking". It was a "salutary reminder to corporations and prominent individuals alike that the purpose of defamation actions is not to intimidate … but to vindicate a reputation that has been unjustly harmed".
Wildlife Trust CEO, Yolan Friedmann, said while the judgement would "probably not" stop the bullying tactics developers often use to silence opposition, the trust hoped it would give those who wished to halt or amend developments "some more clout". "People have a right to participate (in plans for the areas in which they live or work) and should be able to express that right without being bullied," she said.
University of the Witwatersrand environmental law professor, Tracy-Lynn Humby, also welcomed the judgement. She said it was "significant" because it recognised the concept of a Slapp suit in SA’s jurisprudence and linked Slapp suits to existing rules on punitive costs. (Slapp: Strategic Litigation against Public Participants.)
Centre for Environmental Rights director, Melissa Fourie, said the Wraypex case had been followed closely by environmental organisations - many of whom had been similarly threatened by developers - because of its status as one of SA’s first Slapp cases.
Ms Fourie said there were developers who respected the regulations, but there were others who "resent any objection to their proposed ventures, and show disregard for environmental rights, particularly the right of every person to participate in decisions that affect their environment".
Urban trash on rural road
When Paul van Niekerk discovered a truck-load of rubbish being dumped on the dirt road near his home in Hills and Dales on Thursday night, 24 February, he did not hesitate. Alerting the neighbourhood security group for backup, he confronted the driver and demanded he pick up the rubbish. Within minutes reinforcements turned up and the driver was persuaded to shovel his rubbish back onto the truck, which he did, with not too much grace. By then he had also summoned his own “backup” but luckily the situation did not get out of hand. The police patrolling in the area were called and they ensured the truck was escorted out of the area with its smelly cargo intact.
Rural areas - which generally do not have refuse removal services - often bear the brunt of indiscriminate dumping on the roads maintained by residents. A plea to urbanites - please do not make use of “service providers” who promise to take your rubbish to a landfill for a small fee. They don't. They take your money and we have to clean up your junk.
Delicious home-made meals - fresh or frozen, organic, low GI - delivered to the homes of residents of Riverside Estates and the close surrounding area? Jacqueline Eshelby does that with flair. “I really enjoy baking, cooking, sewing and many other crafty activities,” she says. “Since my first child was born and I stopped working full-time, I have had more time to involve myself in these activities. So I've started a business, Jacqueline's Kitchen, providing Oori residents with competitively-priced, wholesome, home-prepared meals.
“My meals, including the pasta itself, are all homemade from mainly fresh produce, organic and low GI as far as possible.”
Jacqueline’s menus include curries and lasagne, stirfries and rich soups, burger patties and “decadent chocolate cupcakes”, among a range of dishes that would delight everyone.
“In an effort to become more ‘eco-friendly’ I am now offering a refund for returned packaging,” she adds. She also makes large portions of food on order for small functions - up to 50 people.
“Netso”, the Scholtz's farm on the Gemstones Road near Koppie-Alleen, is a hive of activity. Typical farm noises come from the collection of cows, calves, piglets, chickens and geese and that warm smell of fresh straw meets you when you walk into the well-organised milking shed. Yolandie Johnson, Douw and Pietro Scholtz's daughter, is in charge and she takes you through all the aspects of the operation with infectious enthusiasm.
Netso's “Eendag Boerdery” produces ice-cold milk, cream, cottage cheese, butter, yogurt, eggs and chickens. If you supply the container, you walk out with fresh full-cream milk at R7 a litre. Chickens sell at R27 per kilo. Eggs - considerably larger than “shop” eggs - go at R1 an egg.
LS Home Baking, Lena Smith's business in Laezonia, has been going for the past 23 years. When I remarked that my complaint about baking was that hours of work get gobbled up in minutes, Lena's comment was: “But that's what I love about preparing food - seeing it disappear at speed because people so much enjoy eating it!”
From her home in Laezonia Lena provides, on order, platters, buffet meals, fruit cakes and “everything that used to flow abundantly from Grannie's pantry, such as jam, rusks, curried beans, canned fruit, pies, tarts, biscuits and koeksisters. You name it, I make it,” she says.
Lena is also contracted to the River Cabin on the Jukskei River, off the R114 near HeronBridge College, doing the catering for its functions.
Small function, big function? If you need something delicious, contact Lena on 083 656 0570. Give her 24 hours notice for platters and five days for function catering.
Robert Ridder and Riëtte of Roodekrans (quite a ring to that, yes?) started farming in March last year. “We grow cucumbers - extra extra large and extra extra thick - for retailers like Spar and local catering companies. This is a focal point but our goal is to supply families with fresh and superior quality vegetable baskets on a weekly basis,” says Riëtte.
“Fresh veggies that you can expect to find in the baskets include varieties of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, all the herbs you can think of, chillies (for every occasion), cabbage, peppers, peas, beans and the whole squash family.
“Anyone is welcome to visit us on the Gemstones Road in Roodekrans to see our production and what’s growing.”
The Kalidasa cucumbers made their debut at the HillDilly Country Market last October.
Spider Walk - Sunday 13 March
Place: Hills and Dales
Led by Astri Leroy of the Spider Club of SA
Cost: R50 pp, R40 for RNC and Associate Members, kids free.
Special General Meeting for RNC members - Sunday 13 March
Venue: SOS Training Village
SOAPKidz outing - Saturday 26 March
Organised by the Kruispaaie Outreach Group in conjuction with the RNC
Soiree - Thursday, June 16
Guest artists: Tessa Ziegler and Mike Pilot
Jakkaldans, Oori Game Reserve, Riverside Estates
Cost: R100 pp (R80 for Conservancy members)
April - Scorpion walk
May - Bat talk
July - RNC AGM
August - Astronomy evening
August - Geology walk
September - Ride the Rhenoster mountainbike ride
September - History Tour
Also: Bird walk, Horse picnic, Flower walk (dates to be announced).
Concern over Government neglect of the problems with Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) across the West Rand is reaching deep into the RNC. According to one expert, AMD has already reached Hartbeespoort Dam via the Crocodile River which flows through the Conservancy.
Garfield Krigge of African Environmental Development, who has been reporting on AMD on the West Rand since 2006, believes the toxic water reached the Dam “long ago”. AMD has been decanting from mine shafts between Krugersdorp and Randfontein since earlier in 2010 and gathers in the Tweelopiespruit before flowing into the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and later into the Crocodile River which then flows into Hartbeespoort Dam.
Over a year ago several civil society organisations called on the State to act with urgency and to take immediate action to avoid further pollution of our water supplies. To date, authorities have studied the problem but have taken no visible action.
Last month these civil society organisations, including the RNC, wrote to the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) set up to study AMD.
Says Melissa Fourie of the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER): “The IMC was established to determine a plan of action, but millions of litres of AMD have continued flowing into streams connected to both the Vaal and Crocodile River systems and into groundwater systems, with devastating consequences for communities and the environment.”
As there was no response to the letter sent on 25 January to the Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu, and to Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (both co-chairs of the IMC), the CER resorted to the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). By law a response is required within 30 days.
On 24 February - 30 days exactly - the Department of Water Affairs released a report on the situation. In response, the CER said they welcomed and supported the DWA’s efforts “to enforce these sections of the National Water Act and particularly the 'polluter pays' principle. We specifically welcome efforts to hold mining companies who contributed to the pollution in the past accountable.”
But, Melissa points out, the DWA has issued a number of weak but fiercely-resisted directives to mining companies to bear the cost of pumping and treating decanting acid mine drainage. “Some of the directives allowed mining companies to discharge partially-treated, still heavily-polluted, acid mine drainage into rivers and streams. Even these weak directives have been challenged and sometimes ignored by mining companies. The DWA must be prepared to take more stringent enforcement action to ensure that mining companies comply with their obligations under the National Water Act.”
Who is speaking for the earth? This was the concluding question from Princess Irene of the Netherlands, Patron of the RNC, in an interview with Carte Blanche recently. The programme focussed on the proposal by Royal Dutch Shell and other exploration companies to mine shale gas over many thousands square kilometres of the Karoo.
The companies intend using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract the gas. In the process they could drill tens of thousands of newly-drilled boreholes and billions of litres of water in what is an ecologically sensitive and water-stressed region.
During fracking water, sand and 500-odd chemicals, most of which are apparently toxic, carcinogenic as well as teratogenic, are pumped into boreholes at high pressure to release the gas trapped in layers of underground rock.
In the USA, where fracking has been used extensively, there have been hundreds of documented cases of this process resulting in catastrophic drinking water pollution, air pollution and general environmental degradation.
Shell's consultant, Golder, has been holding public meetings with residents the Karoo, where the response has been a resounding “no” to Shell’s plans. “The meetings are largely academic”, says Derek Light, one of the residents spearheading opposition to Shell, because farmers do not have any rights to the minerals below their soil and, therefore, no say in what happens to them.
Countrywide there is a growing groundswell of opposition to the use of fracking in South Africa by a broad coalition of environmental organisations, farmers and ordinary citizens. The Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy was joined by Gekco, Lammermoor and Hartebeestfontein Conservancies and many local residents in registering as Interested & Affected Parties in the Karoo application.
“In most cases, the extent of environmental disasters only becomes apparent in hindsight, when it’s too late,” says Andreas Spath, manager of Idasa’s Cape Town Democracy Centre. “On precious few occasions do we get an inkling of what environmental impact an activity is likely to have because others have done us the dubious favour of acting as their guinea pigs.”
Princess Irene, who owns land in the Karoo, has joined efforts to find better solutions. “It would be pretty naive if we weren’t concerned because if it happens, it’s the end of our livelihood and all the people we employ as well,” she said in the Carte Blanche interview. The presenter concurred: “All the applicants claim natural gas will alleviate SA's energy problems and that it will benefit the impoverished Karoo. Impoverished? The Karoo produces the most natural fibre of any farming region in the world and more red meat than any other part of the country. The gas will be exhausted in 10 to 15 years. The Karoo may never be the same again.”
More info from: http://www.treasurethekaroo.blogspot.com/