I grew up overlooking a river in Pretoria next to the Moreleta Spruit. It flooded one day, washing our lounge furniture into the garden, and I remember my mom putting on her favourite burgundy velvet evening gown, grabbing her jewellery box in haste, and shouting, “Kids, we have to get out of here!” Fortunately, the storm subsided and all was not lost, bar ruined curtains and carpets. My philosophy after that was: never live next to a river.
There is, however, something powerfully magnetic about a river and I find myself once again living close to one.
The Hennops River, the longest river in Gauteng, whispers of bygone beauty and abundance, but is now in shaggy disarray, coated in sewage and layers of plastic. She calls out my name and, when I did try to ignore her overwhelming distress, my daughter tugged at my arm and said, “Mommy, you have to do something!”
Thus it was that in April 2013 I responded to an email inviting members of Southdowns Estate in Irene to come together to help the river. Five years later the author of that email, Dave Cochrane, opened an NPO, Hennops Blue Horizon, and I joined him as a director together with Amanda Jacobs, the chairperson of the Hennops River Forum. Our aim is to raise awareness and galvanise civil society, corporations and government to unite in rehabilitating the Hennops River.
Using social media as an effective platform I created the Facebook page Heal the Hennops River and began to boost posts about river cleans, limiting single-use plastic and living life according to creating a greener footprint. Through this page, amazing connections and relationships have been forged to help heal the river. Last year a friend sent me a video Willem Snyman from fresh.ngo had made about restoring the Hennops. We met over a cup of tea and honey and a golden spark of activation was united.
The awareness campaign took me to Tembisa, to Freedom Street, to be exact, and pulling out soiled nappies, used condoms and countless other extensions of humanity’s waste, we were embraced by a community in a clean-up campaign called Arehlwekiseng – Let’s clean.
With a beloved friend by my side, Lynn Hinde, who drives me to the cleans with her car filled with gumboots and gloves, we have delighted in the friendships and connections while cleaning the Sedibeng Stream. Partnering with local recycling company Destination Green, Ward Committee for Environment leader Sarah Mashigo, Freedom Street resident Alitha Malele, ward councillor Mabotha Phokwane, the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Good Green Deeds Campaign and countless volunteers, the campaign has grown from strength to strength.
We return each month and with the Arehlwekiseng song created by Malele and friends – calling men, women and children to unite and clean – on our lips, we move in a celebration to honour Mother Earth and our living waters.
Today we are on our eighth clean of Freedom Street and the movement is expanding, with Mashigo activating volunteers in another area of Tembisa to clean. Bags and bags of rubbish are filled by smiling people, sporting bright yellow T-shirts and the face of our beaming president. At the end of the clean, Sam Machokoto arrives in a van filled with sandwiches, fruit and water, sponsored by Outsurance and organised by Mariska Keyter and Louan van Rooyen.
Malele has taken the campaign further, motivating a group of residents to clean Freedom Street every Tuesday and Thursday. A sign has been erected next to the stream reading “No Dumping” with the campaign logo, and a new park taking shape next to the stream is testimony to positive change on the horizon.
Recently, I addressed the Hennops River Forum outlining the effectiveness of the Arehlwekiseng Campaign and as a result, Sizakele Ndzhukula from the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) for Environment and Sustainability has asked to join the campaign.
Last weekend, we danced at a Sokkie for the Hennops organised by Platteland in Centurion. Funds were raised and donated to the excellent work fresh.ngo is doing on the river. Malele and friends joined us there from Tembisa, uniting cultures on the open dance floor, with hearts connected in a common goal: to heal our rivers in South Africa.
We are often contacted by a new person, group, organisation or government official asking how they can get involved. This makes it vital that we keep working on a strategic approach to unite our efforts and restore the Hennops River to her former glory. Ekurhuleni Water Company (ERWAT) has met with us at the Hennops River Forum and outlined its plans to restore its waste-water treatment plant at Olifantsfontein.
I recently created a clean-up and education campaign called Ubuntu Flow. The logo is a rainbow lion, symbolising the power and strength of connection through single acts of kindness and compassion, through ubuntu. Together with other volunteers we have talked at schools, educating our youth about the importance of healing our rivers and that change starts at home. With funding and further support, we can take this education campaign a long way.
To go forward we need to continue uniting civil society, corporations and government in our quest to heal the Hennops River and in turn all rivers in South Africa. Together we can! Water is life and rivers are a fundamental source of this life. More valuable than gold. Education is key to this process.
Here’s to healing the Hennops River. MC
Katherine Fillmore is director of NPO Hennops Blue Horizon. She works as a yoga teacher and reiki healer.
English boy band Blue were in NYC after the 9/11 attacks. They infamously commented that "animals are more important" thereby losing themselves a major US record deal.