A river runs through it

2 Oct

riverA while back, I was sitting in the car, waiting for my husband. In the parking lot was a man and his assistant, busy mending shopping carts. I am a great supporter of the small entrepreneur being involved in creating his or her own workspace. This man, however, opened the storm water drain and all the plastic scraps and other broken pieces from the cart were thrown into the storm water drain. Now, my town has a small river running through it. As the crow flies, the Hennops River is about 2 kilometres from this shopping centre. With the rainy season imminent, those plastic scraps will go straight into the river.
The Grade 6 and 7 learners in our school did a research project on the level of pollution in our little river. We walked around the school block, took photos, collected water samples and conducted an interview with a man living on the banks of the river for the last 18 years. The learners asked questions about the level of pollution. We also tried to see how much animal life was still in the river. Their research revealed shocking facts. The little river has in the last few years become a raging river in the rainy season. It overruns its banks, closing streets and endangering the houses of people who have been living next to the river for the last 20 years. When I was a child and when my children were teenagers this river was a source of pride and joy. My sons fished in it, and caught enormous fish. There were huge crabs and numerous small water animals in the stream. Several species of birds lived on and next to the stream. All this have changed. All we have now is a sewage-polluted river with plastic waste hanging on the dead branches of trees. The banks of the river are eroded and consequently the abundant plant life of the past has also been eroded and damaged.
How did all of this happen? It does not help to point fingers. Many people blame the municipal authorities. Certainly the raw sewage is their responsibility, but can we really make a difference by pointing fingers? This little river is a priceless asset in our environment. There are concerned groups like church youth groups that occasionally “clean up” the most obvious waste. This, however, makes very little change to the sad plight of our river.
I read in one of the recent National Geographic Magazines about the plight of the Yellow River in China. This river is the stuff of legends –  a famous concerto is dedicated to it. The sad thing is that this river, the lifeline of China, is, like our little river, for all practical purposes dead. The last river dolphin in the world was declared officially extinct a couple of years ago. The Yellow River porpoise is in the process of becoming extinct. It is as if people, ordinary rational people, are turning away from the environment. If you talk to them, they share your concerns but no one does anything.
I do not have an answer. I only know that if we cannot raise the awareness of the plight of rivers, small or large, we will suffer and our children will turn around and ask: “Why? Why did you not do something?”
I did not get out of the car to talk to the man who was throwing his waste in the storm water drain. I looked at him and knew that I was only going to get a torrent of abuse for my interference. Maybe that is the reason why we do not organise ourselves into active groups to put pressure on the authorities, on companies and on individuals that are ignorant and do not care. And the river keeps on running sluggishly; smelling of decay and neglect.


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