The vision of the Dargle Conservancy is to strengthen its effectiveness as an independent organisation, and in coalition with other like-minded people and bodies, to work proactively to achieve a greater Midlands area that is wisely managed by all to ensure long term environmental sustainability.
The recent Covid-19 Crisis has demanded that Dargle Conservancy expand its activities to include assistance for vulnerable communities affected by Lockdown and loss of income. For over a decade, Dargle Conservancy has supported initiatives in local schools and communities which aim to increase awareness of the importance of caring for the natural environment and the creation of vegetable gardens. There can be no doubt that when communities are stressed and hungry, there will be a negative impact on wildlife and nature.
Zuzokuhle (Zu) is situated beside the road between Dargle and Howick. Tucked between the motorway and the railway line in Tweedie, it is a small settlement of dwellings creatively built from scrap wood from the local pallet factory. While there are advantages to living close to the town of Howick, life without basic services is pretty challenging at the best of times. Convid-19 and the Lockdown, meant that many sources of employment dried up and vulnerable people became even more desperate. Through local networks it become clear that many people had suddenly lost their income generating opportunities (from recycling, car guarding) and needed help.
Dargle Conservancy set about supporting this community by providing basic provisions and toiletries. Local farmers have contributed too. Manny Salgado delivering cabbages and butternuts and dozens of eggs from Kevin Barnsley. Gugu Mungwe, a young woman passionate about her community, who has lived at Zuzokuhle her entire life, is the connection to ensure that the food aid is distributed to those who need it most.
Along the Petrusstroom Road in Dargle, residents of Nxamalala Village have also been affected. Many homeowners here rely on casual employment, hawking snacks at the local school or seasonal work on farms. For lots of children, the meal provided by the school feeding scheme, is their main one of the day, so with schools closed, they are hungry. Dargle Conservancy committee member Gugu Zuma says things are hard and people are starting to panic. “Shops are so far away, even if you have money it is a challenge to get groceries now. Luckily, some of us have food gardens which are helping, and we are sharing our groceries with those who need it.”
The Dargle Conservancy Covid-19 fund is also supporting vulnerable families in neighbouring Impendle, where many depend on social grants supplemented by occasional work, and hundreds of children rely on the meal they receive at school. “With no way of earning even a small amount of money, families are desperately waiting for their child grants to come in May,” says Impendle resident Zandile Sikhakane, “Thank you to all members of Dargle for supporting these families. I was so touched by the words of Miss Thembi Ndlela. She said ‘I don’t have the words to say thank you for the food. Me and my children we were going to drink water and sleep with only water if this organization didn’t save us. Please pass my thanks to them. I cry when my children say they are hungry.’
In the Hlelolusha area, Nomvula Mnikathi is extremely concerned about all the children who are not getting a meal while the schools are closed. These two women are helping identify families in need and distribute food parcels with assistance from the Dargle community.
Plenty of pledges from members of the Conservancy, and a generous donation of R20 000 from the St Andrews Dargle Community Church to the relief project, has meant that more families (over 80 so far) are receiving some help. Thank you.
Lynne Garbutt (treasurer of the Dargle Conservancy) has never been involved in anything like this before but is using her corporate skills to get organised rapidly, raising funds as needed and making sure the produce gets to the right people. “Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying this and meeting such interesting people,” she says.
Should you wish to support this community particularly, contact Lynne Garbutt 082 457 2583, or make a donation directly to: Dargle Conservancy, First National Bank, Howick Branch code: 220725, Acc : 622 1187 9236, Ref: Covid19
A few years ago, Gugu Zuma showed some bored kids in her community how to make wallets out of discarded tetrapak.
“They loved this and I thought why not make more things and have a Trashion Show?” she remembers. “I mentioned this to my friend and fellow Dargle Conservancy committee member, Nikki Brighton, and together we made it happen. The first show was not that well supported but after that everyone wanted to be part of it! Some of them still use those wallets today and many make toys out of rubbish. I am so pleased because it stops the burning of rubbish.”
Every year the creativity and committed effort of eco-conscious learners who participate astonishes, but this year’s event (the fourth time) held in Howick on Saturday 9 June 2018 was truly inspiring.
More than 200 learners arrived to showcase their creative use of waste in celebration of World Environment Day and World Oceans Day –
and to have as much fun as possible, because the best way to spread an environmental message is with laughter and infectious enthusiasm. For the learners from Enkelabantwana School in Boston it was the first time they had visited Howick or modelled on a runway. These things were already a treat, but they also went home with new attitudes to waste, determination to influence others and to make more craft from rubbish.
Since the first Dargle Trashion Show, held in 2014, when a dozen children participated, the event has grown exponentially. This year, a partnership with the Water Explorer Programme meant schools from across KwaZulu-Natal were invited to astonished us with their trash-fashion.
Misty Meadows School in Dargle encourages self-directed projects. Principal Cassie Janisch was delighted with the outfits the children made all on their own – inspired by princesses and pirates. Proud Kai Goodwin took home a prize for the best variety of waste material used in his costume and Jaydon Darroll was rewarded for his great effort.
Mjila School came all the way from Donnybrook. “We believe the Trashion Show fights poverty and unemployment. It develops craft skills, promotes critical thinking and maths skills,” commented the delighted teachers. “There are many things we can do with waste plastic – shoes, bags, dresses, hats and mats. This will help the rivers, because the plastics that fly into rivers affect the animals who live in that habitat.”
Blessed Luyanda School from Bulwer were impressed to see what other creative learners came up with and enjoyed learning more about recycling from the various stands in the garden. Alondwe Nkweyama’s outfit was judged to be ‘on point’- a real fashionista and Sisanda Mzizi’s costume was pointed out for its attention to detail.
The Meander Chronicle’s Nerissa Card joined the team judging the very difficult Junior School Girls category. There were 108 entrants in this category! Sthembile Magwaza of Singakwenza, Tinks Fowler, Nomfundo Mnyeni and Lindiwe Phikwane did an incredible job choosing the 20 best creations from all that loveliness.
Jesse and Hannah Zunckel in their spectacular Swan Lake ballerina tutus were Nomfundo Mnyeni’s favourites “The girls really put waste to good use constructing beautiful, creative and wearable outfits – even with matching hair bands and ballet shoes. I adored the bubble wrap petticoats.”
Indhya Sheman’s mum drinks a lot of tea, which means there are lots of used teabags in her house. She dried them out and sewed them together with metal and plastic to create a particularly unusual outfit.
Ziyanda Ndlela a teacher from Mpethapetha Primary, a deep rural school, was stunned. “Oh my word, what an amazing experience,” she exclaimed. “It was really overwhelming to see what can be done with waste. My heart is deep into this, I will do so much to teach about saving the environment and be part of the movement of world changers. We are already thinking about next year’s outfits. I think we will organise a Trashion Show soon with neighbouring schools.”
Danielle Mouton of Oasis Prep looked fabulous in her folded paper finery as did the entourage from Kings School.
Jezelle John from Rustic Manor Primary in Durban thought it was an amazing day. “I got to see so many creative things and realised there are some really talented people out there. It was fantastic to learn that people sell products made from recycled materials and make a living from it. I will spread the message about recycling to my friends.” Imaan Alladin, in a dress made of chip packets was pleased she attended. “My dress was very uncomfortable, but I won a prize with my friends Leah Naidoo and Miah Pillay. We must recycle so that the plastics don’t end up in the stomachs of fish and cause their death.”
The kids from Thembilihle Primary in Howick had been preparing for weeks (with a little help from Darryn Tucker of the MMEP). Using unconventional materials, such as two litre plastic bottles and old electric fans they created eclectic and unusual costumes. Darryn comments “They knew the sort of competition they would be facing from last year, so really stepped up their game. They had a fantastic time as well!” Onele Nondo won for her balloon ballgown and Zuziwe Sibiya for her good use of materials, and a fabulous handbag.
Other Junior Girl winners, who received prizes of iPhepha paper bead necklaces,Water Explorer hats, patchwork fabric pencil cases made by Meriel Mitchell, glass water bottles, banner pencil bags from E’Yako Green and skipping ropes made from plastic bags by Singakwenza, were: Angelina Pillay from Scottville Primary for Best Hat,
Nolwazi Bhebhe, also from Scottsville, for her magnificent umbrella made of bottle tops and her CD necklace; Elihle Dlamini from Inchanga Primary for her well-constructed dress; Nosihle Ngcobo from Mphephetha for her lovely flowers cut from tissue boxes;
from Muntuza School in Estcourt, Nokwanda Hlongwane won for her wedding dress, and Sphelele Mbele won for her traditional Makoti outfit.
Kyra Pearce from Northdene in Durban made an outfit that was very wearable, as was the dress Thobeka Ngcobo from Howick West Primary created. Nosipo and Nelly Mnikathi from Mpophomeni were delightful in their matching black and white dresses with beautiful skirts and necklaces.
Little Zama Dlamini of Masongo Primary stole the show in her South African Flag ensemble made mostly from pencil shavings!
Karen Zunckel judged the Junior Boys Category alongside Vusi Hoyi, Londiwe Xulu and Antoinette McInnes. They awarded prizes for Rock Star (Sifundo Ndlovu of Nonqanda Primary), Fantasy ((Aphelele Mncwabe of Oasis Prep), Traditional Attire (Lindelwa Mtshali of Muntuza Primary), Smarty Pants (Fezokuhle Nzimande of Phumelelani Primary), Most Colourful (Lungelo Malinga of Phumelelani Primary), Best Shoes (Mpilwenhle Mthalane of Entelabantwana Primary), Best Accessories (Spesihle Zondi of Inchanga Primary). “This is a star-studded showstopper that gets better and better every year. We had such fun and will definitely be back next year,” said Karen, with Vusi Hoyi adding “The highlight was seeing the amount of effort the participants put into their outfits and the choice of materials they used. The hard part was deciding who should win!”
Themba Zakwe, who along with Lindokuhle Mshengu, Mandy Crooks and Jane Linley-Thomas, judged the High School Girls class, was pleasantly surprised by how creative the girls were with their designs and presentations. “Each girl brought their own flair, with their personalities coming through so clearly in their dresses. As incredible as this was, it made judging quite challenging because the bar was set so high. My personal favourite was Asanda Malinga who wore a blue and white ‘makoti’ inspired dress that was certainly runway ready. I had fun and the message about the importance of recycling and re-using items was reiterated throughout the day.”
Lindokuhle Mshengu was surprised at how difficult the task of judging was because the creations were so excellent. “My favourite things were watching learners on the catwalk and chatting to them about how they came up with their creations because reduce, re-use, recycle are issues close to my heart.”
Mordan Robertson impressed with her use of old fashion magazines to make her pleated evening dress. Nosipho Mlambo who attends Jabula High School in Lidgetton was ‘best dressed’- her accessories included bracelets, earrings and shoes. Siphokazi Mkhize from Mpophomeni High School wore a traditional outfit, with a shawl that really impressed. Jane Linley Thomas thought that Amahle Sokhela’s high fashion look was something that Nicki Minaj the American-Trinidadian rapper would wear! Fellow Shea O’Connor learner, Nokwazi Madondo, used bubble wrap and newspaper to innovative effect. Larissa van Wyk from Grace College caught the judges eye with her attention to detail – she even had a zip to ensure her frock fitted perfectly. Ashlee Rock, also from Grace College, used discarded towing strap, milk bottles and denim bows to create her show stopper.
In the grounds of the Howick Hall, the Pink team had been sharing the importance of re-usable and bio-degradable menstrual products with participants. Pink generously donated the prizes for the High School girls – pretty, locally made washable pads and a menstrual cup. These will go a long way to helping reduce the impact used menstrual products have on our rivers and environment. Lucky winners in this category also received a bar of local, handmade Rondavel soap. Larissa “ccccc “ Ashlee “ccc”
Fashionista and DJ, Jane Linley-Thomas of East Coast Radio told the crowd that she had found the perfect jacket amongst all the ensembles to wear to the Durban July. “Hey, why don’t some of you fabulous trashionistas come to the July?” she asked.
The audience was entranced. “The children are so talented and their imagination knows no bounds. I cheered, clapped and cried and wished I could ululate!” enthused Yvonne Munk. “I really enjoyed the wonderful colours, the friendly people and the great organisation. The children were fabulous and brave. It was a good to forget all about the problems and realise that nothing is trash – everything is useful,” said Wendy Mkwanasa. “The show was quite something – uplifting and inspiring,” added Penny Rees.
There can be little doubt that youngsters these days understand completely that things cannot stay the same if humanity is to have any chance of surviving on this planet.
They know that 2500l of water is used to make just one t-shirt and that 4kg of Co2 is generated in the process. They know that clearing rainforest to grow food for cattle to make cheap leather shoes is a bad idea. They know that only 4% of waste in Africa is recycled. They know that we are using far more of the Earth’s resources than it is possible to replenish.
So, what do they do? They gather garbage, dive into recycling bins and pick up sweet papers outside tuck shops to turn into fabulous fashion – otherwise known as trashion. In the process they influence their families, neighbours and friends to view waste differently. “I am sending a message that people must reuse trash to make something useful because my feelings about littering are sadness and disappointment. I am inspired seeing lots of others who favour using waste to be creative.” Asanda Malinga told us in her couture gown.
Clearly the Trashion Show was a spectacular success. Not only for the kids – there were plenty of adults who got into the spirit of things too! For the first time we awarded prizes for adults.
Bongekile Ngcongo came all the way from Folweni, south of Durban. Bongekile is an active member of the Wise Wayz Water Care Programme working on clearing rivers and streams of waste. She gathers all the useful trash – including discarded jerseys – washes and unravels them and crochets the reclaimed wool into useful garments. How gorgeous is this striped dress modelled by Gugu Shinga?
Kevin and Karen Zunckel won meals from Rocket Cafe for their outfits too, making great use of pet food bags. Njabulo Mwelase, Nuyiswa Nzimande and Samkelisiwe Ngcobo from Midlands Community College (MCC) strutted their stuff with style – all winning copies of Mnandi a Taste of Mpophomeni – donated by Mpophomeni Conservation Group. “MCC was privileged to take part in the phenomenal Midlands Trashion Show today. We were blown away by the most amazing clothes made from waste materials. We learnt that the ladies from our ECD Class can not only make amazing outfits, but model them too! We shared our learning resources made from waste with so many eager minds. We have realised that there is no excuse, no matter how under resourced, for ECD centres and ECD practitioners, not to have a section in their classrooms for fantasy play, including dress up clothes. I am planning to take this forward as one of our workshops with the ECD Practitioners. I saw the most amazing hats and glasses! There should be no excuses! We met awesome Midlands NGO’s all working together to support education and the environment,” enthused Rebecca Wakeford, Director of MCC afterwards .
Adult category judge Nicole Stroebel (in a magnificent cat food packaging hat) declared Simangaliso Dlamini’s stylish outfit “utterly fabulous!” – and his moves on the dance floor thrilled everyone as well! Antonia Mkhabela looked as if she was about to attend a Royal Wedding in her elegant suit and hat.
Mark Liptrot, Sustainability Manager for Afripak, assists with judging each year and always wears stylish rubbish. This year he really impressed as even his belt was made of scrap material! He received a gift voucher from Steampunk Coffee for his efforts.
Nonkanyiso Dladla from Shea O’Connor Combined School told us, “I have developed a love of art. Trashion has helped me to reveal the hidden talent I have for design. Through my new passion I want people to know more about this amazing Earth we have, how saving our precious resources is important and that it is up to us individually to make the change.”
Nelisa Ndlovu the Social Worker for Khazimula Children’s Home thought the show this year was fantastic because there were more entrants from other areas and she believes that it is good for children to participate. “I realize that when children are on the stage they feel ownership, confidence, and important for what they are doing. That is great.” Neli also loved seeing Jane Linley-Thomas “East Coast Radio is my favourite station. I like her voice especially when she laughs! She understands all types of people and sounds generous. It was my first time seeing her and that was awesome.”
Katie Robinson of the charming Lemonwood Cottages beside the mist-belt forest in the Dargle Nature Reserve offered to host Jane for the weekend. She brought along her family and friends and they had a wonderful time. Well, who doesn’t in Dargle?
In the High School Boys class, Blessward Chataika won an E’Yako green school bag for his interesting hat, saying “Trashion Show you are a star because you are cleaning the world. In future I hope that almost the whole world will be following me to make beautiful things from trash. My message is – keep re-making clothes from waste and you will become a celebrity.” Brynn Parr won for the most wearable and colourful outfit, Gareth Edwards for his clever use of a sack and Zolani Ntombela for the best use of discarded shopping bags.
Antoinette McInnes, owner of E’Yako Green, who donated many of the prizes, told the audience “Waste can be a tremendous resource and has created all kinds of opportunities. It’s a precious alternative source for depleted natural resources. It can be recycled into products such as packaging and piping. E’Yako Green runs a profitable business upcycling waste PVC billboard into unique and creative promotional products such as conference bags, school bags, travel wallets and many more. Merging commercialism with sustainability is the new world order!”
Garth Johnstone of The Meander Chronicle judged the hotly contested wire car competition, with Barry Downard. The prizes of Solar Jars were donated by Pauline Holden of Dargle Conservancy. Thabiso Ngcobo from Corrie Lynn Primary provided his own music and won a prize for being the loudest taxi!
Also from Corrie Lynn, Nqobani Mpangase had the best suspension. Zolani Ntombela made the best wheels and Siyamthando Nxumalo (both from Shea O‘Connor) won with his technical details. Garth said “These kids deserve a lot of credit for the ingenuity in making these vehicles, which actually work.”
Official Photographers Tania Kuhl and Ian Dickinson could hardly focus their lenses with all the excitement, but fortunately did manage to capture the gorgeous images used in this story. “It was our first Trashion Show so we weren’t quite sure what to expect and then…BOOM! We were blown away by the level of creativity, the resourcefulness and the vibrant personalities that the stars of the show presented. Underneath the laughter and rubbish outfits was a strong environmental message that was appreciated by all – recycle and re-purpose. Think before you buy. A well-organized event that proved to be a fun Saturday outing for all ages. Our only regret is that we didn’t make outfits of our own so we are looking forward to next year’s show for an opportunity to try our hand at trashion-design.”
The Trashion Show has always been powered by volunteers – the generous Midlands community who make magic things happen.
Thank you Leanne Pelzer and Jenny Goddard for making kilos of popcorn and cutting up bags of oranges, Gugu Zuma, all the local celebrity judges, the DUCT Enviro Champs from Mpophomeni and Shiyabazali who assisted with setting up and winding down, Zandile Sikhakane, Zihle Msimango, Darryn Tucker and Gail Osborne from MMEP, Eidin Griffin the inimitable compere, Barry Downard for designing the advertising poster, Charlene Russell for building the Musical Wall from rubbish, Ntombenhle Mntambo for the vetkoek and salad, Bridget Ringdahl and Julia Colvin of Water Explorer for enthusing so many schools, and Nikki Brighton who put it all together.
Julia Colvin of Spekboom Tours, a nature-based, ecologically minded, adventure tour company, has spent many months getting to know local landowners and exploring the Dargle hills, so was thrilled when a large group of people turned up to try out her new route – The Samango Trail.
On a sparkling Saturday morning, Julia led the group from Lemonwood cottages in the beautiful Dargle valley into the indigenous mistbelt forest, to follow a trail that wound through the old trees and dense understorey, then out into the bright sunshine of the grasslands, rich with a variety of wildflowers.
It was hard to say which was more absorbing – immersion in the cool lushness of the Kilgobbin forest at Crab Apple Cottages or walking in the clear air of the grasslands up on a high ridge of Old Kilgobbin and Carlisle Farms that provided panoramic views of the Midlands landscapes below.
Walking slack packing style with a convivial group of people, breaking for snacks along the way, a picnic lunch at Pleasant Places, and stopping at Lythwood Lodge for afternoon drinks, was both relaxing and invigorating. It was lovely way to get in touch with diverse natural habitats, enjoy the fresh air and even drink clear natural water from forest streams.
Many hikers stayed the night in the farm-style cottages on Blesberg Farm, where we gathered for an evening braai and array of delicious salads on the broad veranda of the gracious farmhouse.
In a presentation in a comfy lounge, Julia Colvin shared with us her vision for Spekboom Tours “We wish to work closely with conservancies to get school groups and communities to also experience the natural treasures that exist in the area. Previously humans have tried subdue wild places and as a result some people argue that society is experiencing a nature deficit disorder. Exposure to green spaces helps to moderate our mood and improve our attention span. If we see ourselves as separate or removed rather than interconnected to nature, we will lack the compassion and motivation to do what is right for the planet. It all starts with an awe and appreciation for what we have in our own back yard.”
After supper, Wade Whitehead, CEO of FREEME KZN Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, filled us in on the latest releases that form part of FREEME’s ongoing Blue Duiker Reintroduction Project in the Dargle Forest. Raptor specialist Tammy Caine followed up with her well-illustrated presentation on forest raptors in the region, reminding us how the indigenous forests are at the heart of a complex and fragile eco-system.
Early on Sunday morning, everyone gathered at Blesberg farmhouse for breakfast.
With the farm dogs in tow, we set off through the forested area, crossing a spectacular water feature built by previous owners the Molly and Murray Campbell.
Then it was over a stone wall and out onto the grassland. Grasslands cover approximately 30% of SA are are seriously transformed with only 3% of the original area protected. Frosts, fire and grazing maintain the grass dominance and prevent the establishment of trees.
There were not a lot of flowers in this grassland, but we were pleased to find Pachycarpus natalensis.
It was hot in the sunshine, but a brisk breeze and the sight of water cooled us all.
The hills beckoned, so we didn’t linger for long. We spotted three oribi bounding out of sight ahead of us.
The resident cows were curious about all the unexpected visitors.
We were pleased to note that the small grassland streams were flowing, although not strongly.
We climbed the hill to the lone old oak tree that has provided shade for generations of picnickers.
Enjoying 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. Snow on the mountains to the west,
Across the valley to Lidgetton, Curry’s Post and Karkloof
South towards Inhlosane and Boston.
Scilla nervosa flowering in the spots that the cows can’t trample. A small night adder slithered under a rock nearby.
Then we headed down towards the forest at Lemonwood,
thankful for the shade and fresh cold water in the forest streams.
Walker Yvonne Spain commented “It was a fantastic weekend. The mix of people was serendipitous. Everyone really seemed to click with each other, and it was a very happy social time. For me, the most commendable aspect of this initiative is that it is sensitive to the surrounding community of farmers/landowners and young people from disadvantaged communities. Your picture of the group around that big tree moved me, as did the knowledge that a percentage of your turnover is directed to developmental organisations. Participants in Spekboom hikes can know that they are really walking the talk and are part of thoughtful eco- tourism.”
Julia hopes one day to connect all the conservancies in the Midlands from the Kamberg and Nottingham Road to Hilton – giving people an opportunity to explore the biodiversity that occurs on private land, and benefiting conservation efforts by charging trail fees.
Spekboom Tours donates 10% of the profits to local conservancies, makes a point of serving locally sourced mostly vegetarian meals, supports the local economy by using small homestays and allows people to experience a way of living which is sustainable, creative and rooted in environmental principles.
Dargle Conservancy is very grateful for the substantial donation towards the Dargle River Project received from the proceeds of this hike.
It is the first day of a Meandering the Midlands cycle tour (organised by Spekboom Cycle Tours) and thankfully the Dargle mist and mizzle has faded and we are greeted with clear blue skies and gorgeous wintery light. Perfect for exploring the Dargle Valley.
Christiano and Simone, our German visitors, stand gingerly beside handsome Friesian horses (instead of their bicycles). The Midlands is fast being discovered as a place offering cycle tourists not just trips focused purely on the bike and the end destination, but rather journeys filled with unique cultural and natural experiences. One of these forms the start to our trip – a Horse Play session masterfully facilitated by well-known horse guru, Carlene Bronner. Unlike the simple react and response mechanisms of a bike, our guests will spend the next hour discovering the art of horse communication using subtle body gestures as a cue for gentle persuasion. Although the couple confess that they were not familiar with handling horses, it was amazing how, with new found respect and understanding, they quickly eased into the experience and had their horses eating out of their hands (admittedly the tufts of green grass may have helped).
After a hearty farm-cooked breakfast, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the Nelson Mandela Capture Site using quiet country back roads. As a local South African, who has pored through each page of the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Julia felt well versed in the life and times of our Tata Madiba and was rather surprised that the museum tour at the capture site offered many more fascinating insights into the life of our great statesman. Brilliantly guided by the enthusiastic Ayanda. Under no circumstances were we allowed to ride down the path to the impressive sculpture of Mandela’s face. “After all” quipped Ayanda, “it’s not called a long walk for nothing”.
We then made our way through a network of forest paths to the Caversham Mill restaurant overlooking the Lions River. Tucking into a well-deserved signature trout dish, we marvelled at the thought that once this great valley was a royal Zulu hunting ground abundant with lions and elephant. On shooting the last lion of the region, this river was ironically named Lions River.
Later after climbing up through the hills of Lidgetton, we enjoyed panoramic views of the Dargle valley. Authentic Italian wood-fired pizza washed down with Lions River craft beer at everyone’s favourtie Il Postino Pizzeria was a fitting end to our day. Bellisimo!
On our final day we welcomed the opportunity to gently warm up tired legs with a stroll through the Dargle mist-belt forest lead by its passionate and knowledgeable custodian, Barend Booysen. With Barend’s charming stories of Zulu myths, local legends, and impressive botanical knowledge of these indigenous trees, the secrets of the forest were revealed. It is inspiring to hear how a group of Dargle landowners had taken stewardship into their own hands through the formation of Dargle nature Reserve under the Biodeiversity Stewardshipo Programme. Short term gains in destructive cattle farming and other agricultural practices needed to be sacrificed for the long term survival of these rich and biodiverse forest and grasslands.
“For me the highlight of the walk was spotting the Samango monkeys playing in the Cape Chesnut trees”, beamed Simone. Samango Monkeys are the only true arboreal monkeys left in South Africa. Unable to adjust their lives to the rapidly changing world. If we lose these precious pockets of Afro-Montane forest, the Samangos could disappear with them too.
Leaving Dargle behind, we headed across the hills to the cycling mecca of the Karkloof Valley – a network of world class trails. We selected the well-marked 15km Falls loop that swept us through the plantation on immaculately sculpted paths to the iconic Karkloof waterfalls. The beautiful falls in full flow provided the perfect backdrop to our final picnic spread of local Midland’s cheese, cured meats, artisan bread and cold beer.
“When we signed up for a bike tour, we did not know what to expect” remarked a satisfied Christiano. With all the cultural, ecological and historical diversity the Midlands has to offer, as the Spekboom Tour’s logo says, “expect the unexpected”. In Dargle, that is certainly true.
Spekboom Cycle Tours is a member of the Dargle Conservancy and donates part of profits from these tours to Conservancy Project. Why not join one? Find out more here.
People across the planet cleaned up beaches in celebration of World Oceans Day in early June, but there are no beaches in the Midlands.
The least we could do was prevent more plastic from entering our rivers, and ultimately oceans, by turning foraged finds into fabulous trash-fashion!
On the banks of the uMngeni River, the Howick Agricultural Hall exploded with colour and catcalls as 120 learners strutted their spectacular stuff. Everyone was astonished at their creativity and imagination – each outfit was unique and used a vast array of foraged materials – coke cans, feed bags, paper cups, onion sacks, discarded CDs, old newspapers and juice cartons.
Erica Brown, who has attended all the events, since the small beginnings at Corrie Lynn School in Dargle a few years ago, commented, “I thought the first one with just 15 kids was fantastic, but it gets bigger, better and more amazing each time. A sensational show!”
Part of the waste extravaganza was a musical wall built from rubbish. Cleverly constructed by Kings School teacher, Charlene Russell and friends, from discarded bicycle wheels, coffee cans, repurposed plastic pipes and cake tins. This was a great hit with the kids and kept them entertained as more and more taxis rolled up filled with creative and enthusiastic children.
There was a parade of wire cars with prizes awarded for the best delivery van, the best woman driver and the best wheels. The country kids took the top honours with Abahle Zuma from uBunye in Impendle being awarded best driver for his wire car, while Thabiso Ngcobo of Corrie Lynn took the prize for best steering. The award for the best Box Car went to Nhlakanipho Duma of Jabula Primary in Lidgetton.
Innovative technology lessons facilitated by the MMEP in local schools, use waste materials to teach this subject. Learners proudly showed off their 3D models of houses with water tanks, furniture, cars and model laptops.
Shea O’Connor Combined School from Nottingham Road stunned us with their inspired creations and took home many of the prizes. Siphesihle and Akhona Mchunu made great use of multiple types of waste to create their original outfits.
The teams of judges had a challenging task, but thoroughly enjoyed chatting to the learners about their creations and admiring the details up close.
Noluthando Mnguni looked splendid in her traditional isixolo (hat) made of waste card, while Mpo Chinowe’s sunglasses and earrings caught the judges eye. Asanda Malinga’s Nike branded outfit attracted a lot of attention as did Nonkanyiso Dladla’s bridal gown.
Grade 11 learner Nombulelo Ndabezitha designed many of the outfits and looked particularly stylish in discarded poly-propolene packaging with red bottle top accents. One simply never knows what treasures you will find at the recycling centre (or in the gutter).
From Misty Meadows School, Dineo Ziqubu created a froth from old newspapers for her ballerina skirt, Gina Rayner wore a clever coke can combo and Yaelah Sharpley got a special prize for her outfit as a character from the movie Frozen.
Zandile Sikhakhane, who accompanied learners from Impendle, says the were so surprised to see the ‘out of this world’ outfits created by other schools. On their way home, they started planning their 2018 creations! One parent commented afterwards that she thought waste was meant to burnt, but now she has changed her mind.
Thembilihle kids, who put a lot of effort into their costumes, had a great time despite feeling a little overwhelmed by the vibrant occasion. Siyabonga Nyawuza’s outfit with cardboard hat got a special mention and Zaziwe Sibaya’s ensemble was declared ‘Wow’!
Hannah Zunckel of Laddsworth delighted everyone with her pirate costume complete with cutlass made from an HTH bottle and cardboard.
To keep energy levels up there was fresh popcorn to snack on (in folded newspaper cups) and in-season oranges, while everyone mingled and admired the displays. Singakwenza showcased their trash toys and clever ideas for early childhood development tools using waste. iPhepha Beads displayed beautiful paper bead jewelry made from discarded calendars. A Grandmother from Bruntville, inspired by her grandson’s trashion creations last year, started her own business crocheting bags from waste plastic and brought along her wares to show off.
Children from Khazimula in Lidgetton entertained the crowd with energetic traditional dancing which encouraged everyone in the audience to get on their feet for a final twirl to Brenda Fassie’s hit song Vulindlela.
Nikki Brighton of Dargle Conservancy pointed out that every minute one big rubbish truck of plastic waste is dumped into our oceans – so there is a lot of plastic floating about, entangling wildlife, being eaten by mistake by fish and birds and breaking down to form an invisible toxic plastic soup. Scientists estimate that in 30 years’ time, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. “We are celebrating creativity today, by not using new materials, but by scavenging waste – keeping it out of our rivers and giving it a new life. Thank you everyone for caring about the planet we share with so many other creatures,” she said.
Thandolwethu Khanyile couldn’t wait to get home to tell her mom she was a Trashion Star. “When I am older, I will open a fashion shop with my own brand of clothing made of trash and encourage everyone to take care of the environment,” she said. Vice-principal of Shea O’Connor School and proud teacher of these eco-conscious kids, Antonia Mkhabela, added “I wish all schools would do trashion because this is where environmental education becomes real. It develops creativity, critical thinking and new skills.”
This year the Trashion Show was a collaboration between Dargle Conservancy, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and Midlands Meander Education Project. Upcycled, earth friendly prizes were sponsored by E’Yako Green, Singakwenza, Pink Menstrual Products, Meriel Mitchell and Mark Liptrot. Many thanks to everyone for contributing to the success of the day.
The uMngeni was one of the first three rivers to be stocked with trout in May of 1890 (the others being the Bushmans River and the Mooi River).
Four generations of the Fowler family have grown up on the banks of the uMngeni and Andrew Fowler has fished it since the 1980s. Since 2013, Andrew has lead the Natal Fly Fishers Club doing exceptional work clearing invasive plants along the banks of the uMngeni in Upper Dargle, contributing to improved water resources for millions of downstream users. On Saturday, a group of river enthusiasts joined him for a seven kilometre walk along the banks to celebrate his passion for this river and the improvement to the riparian zone.
The river rises in uMngeni Vlei on a plateau between Fort Nottingham and Impendle and ambles just a few kilometres before plunging down a wooded kloof. Where it exits that kloof, it runs under a public road, and from there on down for just 17 kms, it is a viable trout stream. Where it runs under the bridge on the Dargle Impendle road, just moments before plunging over the Dargle Falls, marks the lower end of the trout water. 11km of that 17km stretch, is accessible to the public through the Natal Fly Fisher’s Club (NFFC). Over the past 30 years, club members have experienced insidious environmental degradation. Andrew’s mission is to reverse that.
Andrew tells us “As fly-fishermen, our interest in clearing the river is driven by a desire for a river which is less prone to siltation, more diverse in its aquatic and terrestrial insect population, and is therefore more suited to healthy fish populations. We desire well grassed banks, devoid of exotic invasive species that shade and denude, and better water flows. Easier going and casting are very much secondary benefits and are not the main aim at all. We are therefore supportive of clearing all the tributaries, and land in the catchment, and desire a restored grassland landscape with a healthy biodiversity, in which we are more likely to encounter wildlife and birdlife. The #BRU (Blue Ribbon uMngeni) initiative hopes to extend beyond just the farms to which the fishermen have access, in the interests of the entire catchment and river, and is intended to endure for the long run. It is our intention to hold annual clearing days in which follow up work is done to control wattle regrowth. Promoting the uMngeni as a great trout fishery, to ensure that it attracts future guardians, is also key to the long term success of our endeavours.”
While the trout fishermen have their own reasons for making this effort, the result is improved water for 6 million downstream users. The uMngeni catchment is not very big and huge demands are made on this river for farming, industrial and household use.
A synopsis of NFFC efforts so far:
The volunteer days in 2013 and 2014 saw relatively light work take place with members using their own chainsaws and spraying equipment, removing alien plants from the South bank of the Umgeni, starting on Brigadoon (owned by Russell Watson) and working upstream.
In 2015 about half a km above where the Furth stream enters the Umgeni, NFFC sponsored a team of contractors and Russell Watson provided tractors, staff and TLB, while volunteers joined in the effort to clear 1.5 kms. On a follow up day, volunteers sprayed bramble on about 3kms of river bank.
In 2016, two more volunteer days were held, where work was continued upstream onto the adjoining farm Furth. On one of those days there were only volunteers, on another a donation enabled a hired team of eight chainsaw operators. These days achieved clearing around 1.2 kms of water, again largely on the South bank.
In April of 2016, two days were held where a large team of contractors were joined by a DUCT team and Russell Watson’s tractors, TLB and staff. This was funded by the proceeds of Andrew Fowler’s book, Stippled Beauties and Anton and Alison Smith. Over two days, both banks were completely cleared of wattle, and all trees were dragged out of the river channel, leaving a stretch of about a km completely transformed.
In May, schoolboys from Michaelhouse and St Johns College (JHB) were hosted on Chris Howie’s and William Griffin’s properties, where wattle regrowth and bug weed were cleared. Saws, pangas and gloves were sponsored by the NFFC and TWK in Howick, and DUCT supplied chemicals to stop regrowth.
Two days of clearing with contractors and casual labour took place in late August along the South bank – made possible by a R10 000 donation from the Natal Fly Fishers Club. In October 2016 a volunteer day sprayed bramble for 2 kms along the banks.
Andrew engages riverside landowners as much as possible. He has been very impressed with the work Don McHardy has done clearing the banks of properties near the road bridge across the uMngeni. He is in discussion with landowners to clear areas on Rathmines and Ross Poultry properties.
Andrew discusses his preferred methods of working. “A team of labourers with a few chainsaws will be able to do a lot, but will not be able to fell and drag big trees. Also, those big trees are often best dragged out on the flatter side of the river, even if they were felled on the other side – for this e need tractors and a TLB. We believe it is very important not to fell trees into the river and leave them there to create logjams. We prefer to drag them free of the floodplain, and if there is a bare steep slope nearby, we lay them across the slope (on the contour) to assist erosion prevention. In Spring we plan to plant a seed mix of Teff and eragrostis or veld mix in places that have bare ground as a result of felling, to prevent erosion and provide a ground cover that will limit regrowth of wattles.”
Everyone who joined Andrew to explore the area was most impressed. Penny Rees, who had walked this section with her DUCT River Walk team exactly five years ago, was thrilled at the improvements. “We couldn’t actually walk on the bank here because it was so thick with wattle,” she enthused.
This is a dairy and beef farm, so there was much discussion about the effect on the water quality of nutrification from cattle manure and fertilizer used to grow grass. Pearl Gola observed “If the riparian buffer zones were wider (the legal requirement is 32m) many of the excess nutrients would be filtered out by the natural vegetation before entering the river.” Judy Bell added “By bringing the fences back from the edge of the river, one would also create corridors for the movement of wildlife.”
There were plenty of log jams created by fallen wattle trees. It was very clear how these slowed down the flow and caused siltation upstream. While in rivers in America indigenous beavers actually build such barriers, here in KZN the streams never had trees along them – simply meandering through grassland, so these piles of alien branches in the river have no positive function.
All morning, Inhlosane towered above us, enticing us along the banks through rye grass paddocks and grassland.
Besides all the interesting discussion about trout and water and river health, we were thrilled to observe Jackal Buzzards right overhead, a Bushbuck emerging from the Ouhout thicket and a number of Reedbuck watching us from the top of a hill.
We were delighted when Andrew lead us towards some rapids and a cooler box filled with ice cold drinks, taking the opportunity to kick of our shoes and paddle in the cold water so loved by trout. Someone even spotted one!
The citizen scientists among us were unable to resist the opportunity to explore the riverbed rocks for invertebrates (which give an indication of the health of the river). We turned over stones and found minute prongills and caddisfly larvae.
Chair of Dargle Conservancy, Nikki Brighton, thanked Andrew for his efforts on behalf of the well-being of the wider community and biodiversity. “Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands – the ‘water factories’ – of the Midlands. Much of the original grassland riparian zone is degraded – most often with invasive plants like wattle, bramble and bamboo, which transform the natural landscape and overrun the original biodiversity. The plants shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and dense stands prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. Six million people live downstream of the water catchment in Dargle, relying on correct management of this natural resource to provide their daily water. Andrew’s passion for the river has a positive impact way beyond Dargle.”
The Dargle Conservancy have made Andrew an Honorary Life Member of the organisation and presented him with a Dargle Dassie Certificate thanking him for his contribution to conservation.
Andrew concludes “I am truly excited by what we have been able to achieve on some short stretches of river. The results are fantastic, but we have to be realistic and realise that the stream’s biodiversity will take time to recover fully. Added to the conservation efforts of WWF in the area, Working for Water’s programme, the Dargle Conservancy clearing along the Dargle River, the River Walk team lead by Penny Rees and the sterling work of DUCT further downstream, there is a real groundswell of support for this river. This is true conservation, not just banners and bumper stickers. The enthusiasm has been infectious, and many members of the NFFC have displayed commitment and passion. Having been part of these days, I can personally attest to the camaraderie and drive as the guys get stuck in, dragging logs and cutting branches until their backs ache. I am proud to be part of it.”
However, when uber-gardener Lawrence Qholloi decides to grow bananas (and coffee, mango and casava) – they do! “I am a bit obsessed with tropical fruit at the moment,” he laughs, plucking an almost ripe papaya from the tree inside his tunnel beside the mist-belt forest.
Clearly, the forest inspires him. “It is a perfect system, constantly recycling nutrients, generating huge biomass, and thriving with no inputs besides sunlight and water.” This resilient natural system is what he aims to replicate through permaculture by creating a food forest.
The trees provide much needed shade for crops that don’t like the heat – so his harvest of black kale has been extended considerably and lettuce can grow even in summer.
Naturally, beans twine up the four varieties of heirloom maize he has planted and squash covers the ground. Cleverly, each maize variety has been planted six weeks apart to ensure that cross pollination does not take place, and keep the seed pure. “Lots grows happily in the shade, especially brassicas”, he says, “so one should not be put off food gardening if you don’t have full sun like the seed packets say.” The biggest challenge in the tunnel has been soil building. Green manure cover crops help, as does the addition of organic matter from the farmyard. Lawrence has also added Beneficial Micro-Organisms (BIM) to help the food forest start building its own soil. To create BIM, Lawrence puts a cup of rice in an old nylon stocking and buries it for a month near natural, old growth forest. After 30 days, the rice ball has been colonised by mould and other organisms and is placed in a brew of 75% water and 25% molasses for a further 30 days, before being diluted 1:10 parts of water and spread around the garden. Mulch is added constantly to keep the soil covered and allow micro-organisms to work.
Outside the tunnel, he is transforming an old orchard into a polyculture system. Pigs have been at work, getting rid of invasive kikuyu grass and now chickens forage amongst the fruit trees, eating insects and leaving manure.
In small boxes with chicken wire tops, Lawrence has planted quick growing pioneers like buckwheat, lucern and chia that the chickens can snack on without digging up the plants. Chickens will also spend time inside the tunnel beneath the trees clearing out old beds and preparing the soil. “Chickens are originally a forest species, so feel safe in this habitat. I keep the groups small (less than 12) as they get really stressed in large groups.”
How does he manage to keep the banana happy during the frosty midlands winter? The large, leafy top is chopped off and left around the base of the plant. Next to the trunk a big drum filled with water acts as a solar energy store, warming during the day and slowly releasing the heat at night. Decomposing compost heaps nearby also help raise the temperature. Clever.
Lawrence has created permaculture gardens all over the globe, is passionate about turning scarcity into abundance and improving food security through holistic land management. Should you want advice on your project, that may or may not include bananas, he is just the consultant you need. firstname.lastname@example.org
Twice a week a motley crew of Midlanders gather to play Ultimate Frisbee on the fields at Lions River Club in Dargle. As the sun sets, artists, architects, photographers, farmers, shoemakers, students and IT-types aged between 16 and 56 dash across the 100m field, deftly flicking Frisbees. Sure, things get competitive sometimes, but never at the expense of fair play, respect between players, adherence to the rules and the joy of playing.
While Ultimate Frisbee might not be a sport that you are familiar with, it is growing fast and may be included at the 2020 Olympics. The game is non-contact, combines speed and grace and at least three women must be included in any team of seven.
Dedicated player Ryjin van Wyk “The culture of Frisbee is a beautiful thing. It appeals to those who have not played competitive sport before, are not keen on being battered. The spirit of the game is what counts most, so it brings out the best in people.” Ryjin was a pro-footballer for a while and remembers how, no matter how good the game was, the moment the whistle blew the teams separated and headed for the change room. In Frisbee, once the game is over, the teams form a tight circle with arms linked and discuss the game. “Here we tell the opposing team what they excelled at, and the winning team will share tips on how to do better. Then we unanimously choose a man of the match.”
Self-refereeing? The rules are simple – contact with another player constitutes a foul. There is a 30 second window for those involved to discuss who gets the advantage, and then play continues. No one cheats – even at the top level where there is plenty of money involved. Once a catch is completed within the ‘end zone’, that is a goal. The first team to reach 15 wins the game.
Last year, the Midlanders headed for Johannesburg for the Rocktober Frisbee Festival. ‘We had cotton t-shirts printed with Love Lions and random shorts, but soon realised for a rag-tag farming crew we were pretty good!” remembers Ryjin. Since then, they have attended and organised several tournaments, with sixteen-year-old Lindo Mpangese from Curry’s Post being voted Player of the Tournament three times in a row! Encouraging youngsters is an important part of the Lions philosophy. Ryjin coaches a group of 7 to 12 year olds once a week, who are sure to take their place in the competitive team soon.
The Lions started eight years ago, with stalwarts James Jordan, Nick Crookes, Dael Lithgow and Kim Goodwin as the core. They fondly remember how Justin McCarthy (now deceased) tore his achilles tendon playing his first ever game! Little doubt that Justin would be thrilled to see how the barefoot team has grown, with over 30 people playing twice a week and teams from across the country eager to come to Midlands tournaments where the fields are beautiful and the people are genuinely good.
In collaboration with the Pietermaritzburg based team The Long Donkeys, they have successfully secured the 2017 Ultimate Frisbee SA Nationals to be held in the Midlands.
Joburg based player, Sally Crompton joined in the fun at the MadHatlands tournament hosted by Lions River and the Long Donkeys recently and thought it was amazing (particularly the local, homegrown, homemade organic, vegetarian feast at lunchtime). “The Lions team has grown so much since the first time I saw them and is one of the few clubs in South Africa with a diverse range of players. Some talented young players were pulling off the most incredible throws, jumps and layouts this past weekend – Lindo and Sbu have pure natural talent which deserves to be nurtured and Josh, Alex and Michael have a lot of potential. The club has a refreshing creative spirit – one that is both focused on Spirit of the Game, but also on the high-paced talent of their members. I believe that the Lions and Long Donkeys will pull off something great in a green hills of the Midlands in May 2017.”
Keen for some fresh air and good fun? Check out their Facebook page Lions River Ultimate or contact email@example.com
In Dargle, beside everyone’s favourite pizzeria, il Postino have opened an Art Lounge.
This unique venue offers artists an opportunity to display their works and, according to curator, Kim Goodwin, is long overdue. “Although the Midlands is home to many artists, much of this creativity is not showcased locally,” he told us at the Opening on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Louis Bolton of Bolton Inc took the photographs.
The Art Lounge, rather than being run by a gallery owner, is a collaboration of passionate and supportive people working as a team to promote local art.
Chris Darroll, owner of il Postino adds “The art lounge is a long-time dream. Michael Mawsdley and I spent many nights conceptualizing this space where visitors can interact with the art. We have always had artworks for sale on the restaurant walls, now we have a dedicated gallery for bothtwo and three-dimensional art from around the country”. Michael, who designs under the well-known name of Viva Voce, has a workshop on-site, displaying his smaller pieces in baroque style glass cases while his bronze sculptures are featured around the gallery and restaurant.
For the summer of 2016/2017, the Art Lounge will feature bespoke art by Miranda Crooks, Elizabeth Balcomb and Grace Kotze. Miranda will exhibit works derived from a combination of printmaking techniques including linocut, collagraph, screen print, etching and collage. Elizabeth is a self-taught South African artist known for her haunting figurative sculptures that explore and expose aspects of human nature. Durban based, Grace, loves the versatile nature of oil paint that offers never-ending possibilities of exploration.
Kim hopes that there will be opportunities to offer artists space to work and live in the Midlands too, to integrate and share in the creative culture of the area. Featured artists would in turn attract collectors from further afield. Miranda Crooks concludes “The il Postino Art Lounge has all the ingredients necessary to be a great success. Kim Goodwin is an avid art collector and supporter of local artists and with his input as curator I am really excited about seeing the artwork that will be flowing through the gallery from the many wonderful artists in our community.”
Jayne Darroll envisages the space will be also used for intimate dinners, art auctions and un-plugged sessions with musicians and poets. This is a special and unusual space, where everyone will feel welcome.