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REFLECTION OP-ED

Why mining is an insult to the young people of Limpopo – Venda environmentalist

Why mining is an insult to the young people of Limpopo – Venda environmentalist
Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo. (Photo: Supplied)

We no longer have peace and we no longer trust each other. We lost our land and we are fighting to get it back. We don’t have Ubuntu because we lost connection with nature. I believe we need to be close to nature to have Ubuntu, as nature is able to trigger empathy.

I am Adivhaho Nengwekhulu, and I am from Thengwe Muledzhi. The place I stay in is full of life. In our village, we have beautiful indigenous plants and animals and natural resources. Limpopo, at large, has lots of natural resources and the whole Vhembe Biosphere is so full of life. We have got so many trees, such as the baobab and marula. Here in Limpopo, the marula trees make so many seedlings that spread all over. Just like the baobab. 

I don’t think other places have so many trees and natural resources like in Limpopo. Limpopo is my favourite place in the world.  

Now, there are mining companies and developers coming to Venda, coming to mine the coal and minerals. As a young person from Venda, I feel like it is an insult to the Vhembe Biosphere. This is a place we are supposed to protect and preserve. Instead, we will end up destroying it through mining activities. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Why has Limpopo dumped its biodiversity protection plan into a dark hole?

People are not even trying to innovate the indigenous ways of extracting these minerals in a sustainable manner without harming the environment and its surrounding. I think creativity and innovation is what we, as people, are missing. We have the ability to extract what we want from nature without destroying nature or compromising the health of other living beings.

The ceremonial baskets used by the Vavenda during some of their cultural events. These form part of their heritage. (Photo: Supplied)

When there is mining, we are calling on drought. Mining activities require lots of water. Drought will destroy the land, making it dry and toxic. Imagine the small creatures, how will they survive? Imagine those creatures were your family, your siblings. How will you survive in such conditions without water to drink? Just dry land, without food and water. 

We need to learn from the taboos and the totems that were used in the past.

Mining activities are for economic growth, but we all know that people can get diseases and infections from working on the mines. This means that the mining activities will compromise the social and environmental development of the area.

We need to think about the indigenous trees that will be destroyed. I believe that trees are very important. When I started studying natural sciences in Grade 4 I was taught about photosynthesis. And I thought, that is magic that man didn’t make. Mankind wants to destroy nature because we didn’t make it. Where will we get air to breathe if we destroy the trees, just to extract the minerals in the ground?

Sometimes I wish we could just stop the things we do today. I wish we could live like how indigenous people used to live. 

Commercial farmers keep people out through security measures. This farm has a Zwifho on it. (Photo: Supplied)

Phiphidi Waterfall is a Zwifho that has been turned into a tourist attraction. (Photo: Supplied)

I wish young people could not be obsessed with social media. When I look at young people, I think that we have lost the ways to interact beyond social media. I say this, even though I am a young person. We are not thinking about what we can do better to learn our indigenous ways of preserving and conserving nature, we are just using social media in a way that we do not benefit from. 

I feel like we have missed out learning from the indigenous people of Venda – the first people who stayed in Venda. They would sit around the fire and see the stars. Nowadays, they tell us stories about how they saw the world in the dark. We have never experienced such. And we don’t see the importance of learning how our ancestors used to transmit the knowledge. 

The knowledge of life

The future for young people is to protect and preserve our cultural and living heritage. If we still believe our ancestors are important, it will help us to understand why we do certain practices. We might ask ourselves where certain beliefs come from, but we just have to talk to the people who came before us to understand them. We need to interact with nature to learn to share with nature. 

We need to learn from the taboos and the totems that were used in the past. 

For example, for many people, their totem is Ndou (elephant) and they don’t eat the meat of the Ndou – which leads to the cultural preservation of living animals. 

I have learnt that there are certain rules for the Zwifho custodians. Many people have lost their Zwifho (sacred natural sites). These sacred places are now either used for tourist attractions, parks or commercial farms. There are some places where there have been accidents, and these places are close to the sacred sites. I believe these accidents happen because people can no longer practise their libation or rituals. They can no longer follow how their forefathers did things. And this means the ancestors are upset. And I wonder, are these people being punished for abandoning their Zwifho? 

We have not only lost our interconnectedness with nature, but we have also lost our interconnectedness with our own blood.

We no longer have peace and we no longer trust each other. We lost our land and we are fighting to get it back. We don’t have Ubuntu, because we lost connection with nature. I believe we need to be close to nature to have ubuntu, as nature is able to trigger empathy.

Small-scale farming in Thohoyandou. (Photo: Supplied)

Thohoyandou. (Photo: Supplied)

Even in the bible, the first man was made out of sand. In the sand, all plants grow and the river flows over the sand. This means that we, as humans, connect with water. Our blood is water and so we are connected to nature. But we have stopped caring about nature, and we have stopped recognising the interconnectedness of humans and nature. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Indigenous voices speak the truth that can help save our planet

This is why we have depression and why we do not know our direction in life. For older Venda people, those who grew up in the same household, they loved each other. They are connected through all the activities that they had participated in as young children, such as indigenous games. They spent time together and got the resources they needed from nature. 

As today’s generation, we don’t even invite our relatives to our celebrations. We have not only lost our interconnectedness with nature, but we have also lost our interconnectedness with our own blood.

Mutavhatsindi

My grandmother used to call me “Mutavhatsindi wa Thengwe” – it was a phrase that she praised me with. I wasn’t sure what it meant but I only knew that the tree, Mutavhatsindi, grew next to where I lived. It could be found in only one area. 

The first day I arrived at Dzomo La Mupo, they were discussing the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ). They told me there was Mutavhatsindi in the area where there will be the MMSEZ. I wondered how this could be possible, because it is a very rare species. 

Photo: Supplied

Adivhaho Nengwekhulu.

If the Mutavhatsindi is there, it means that the area is full of life. I researched the area and I found out there are many wetlands there. If you go there, you can feel that your spirit is calm. And then you imagine the tractors that could come in and destroy everything.

According to my understanding of how we connect with nature, the MMSEZ is going to break the bond between people, the tree and the soil that nourishes the tree. I am planning to have a family, and I will tell them my grandmother used to praise me and call me Mutavhatsindi. If they ask what that means, I will tell them it was this species, but it no longer exists in the world. If they go to the area, they will not find it, they will only find a development that the Chinese built. 

Justice for me is when the government can recognise the interconnectedness of indigenous people with nature, rather than only caring about economic development.

How are they thinking of destroying the Zwifho and just “making another one”. They are destroying the whole sacred place. Ten generations before used to go there and pour libation to the other 10 generations that came before them. The foundation of that soil is the snuff that the Makhadzi (female relatives that perform sacred rituals on behalf of families) used to go and pour on the ground. There is a layer, a big layer, of this snuff, from the first person who used to go there. You are going to remove it. 

To replace a Zwifho… it will not be the same thing. The place will lose its sacredness. It will no longer connect to the ancestors. The ancestors are there on the ground – all the libations and all the blessings are there. It will no longer make sense.

People forget that people are spiritually and socially connected. And also psychologically. When you are born, you are introduced to your ancestors, and they will then welcome you. If they do not welcome you, you need to perform a ritual. This connects the bloodline from the very first person. And it blesses the child. But removing the Zwifho, you can cut this line. 

It is not up to us to make decisions about the Zwifho, because we have no idea what it will do to the people who are connected there.  

When you ask about environmental justice… justice for me is when the government can recognise the interconnectedness of indigenous people with nature, rather than only caring about economic development. In most cases, what comes to us is only economic development – but these activities are affecting our health and mental well-being. It is also affecting our spiritual well-being and our interconnectedness with nature. But it is also going to affect how we connect to those who look after us, who are above us, and who guide us. DM

Adivhaho Nengwekhulu is a young leader in her community and, together with Dzomo La Mupo (a community-based environmental justice organisation), promotes the protection of the sacred natural sites (Zwifho) of Venda.

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