Mission: The uMvothi River and Sand Mining for The North Coast Courier
Date: 6 December 2009
Requesting organisation: Khululiwe Makhaye of The North Coast Courier
Location: Mvothi River, KwaZulu Natal
Pilot: Paul Dutton
The uMvothi, one of KZN North Coast’s largest rivers constantly bleeds red soil from its denuded catchment into the Indian Ocean
Pilot’s story of the mission, by Paul Dutton
Sand mining on all the main rivers of KZN’s North coast, to satisfy an insatiable demand for coarse river-washed sand – to construct a new airport, sport stadium and a plethora of supermarkets and housing estates – is placing a huge burden on the hydrology of our country’s few functioning rivers. However, flying over the uMvothi on 6th December in Spirit of the Wilderness and witnessing one of the north coast’s larger river systems bleeding red silt into the ocean made me realise that it is not only the sand mining but also the entire water catchment that needs the urgent attention of government. Previous flights over the rugged landscape on a number of occasions had shown that it did not require a hydrologist to declare the catchment a disaster area. Informal agriculture and homesteads on friable slopes without any grass or forest to capture and attenuate rain could not put be down to Global Warming – this is more a case of Global Swarming.
There is no control on sand mining on the lower uMvothi where vegetated river margins are vitally important in preventing bank erosion.
The two disparate forms of land and river use are however different in their dynamics. The sand mining, as young journalist Khululiwe Makhaye of The North Coast Courier is currently discovering, is being driven by corrupt councillors from the local municipality. Furthermore, she is receiving threats not only from political quarters, but from the people actually involved in the mining operations. Seeing, as she did today on our flight, the extent of the riverine perturbation has made her more determined to follow through with her quest to expose the corruption. However, her task is being made all the more difficult with provincial agencies such as the Department of Water Affairs (DWAF) and the Department of Agriculture & Environmental Affairs (DAEA) offering minimal support to her quest. It is a case of the rivers not running as deep as the corruption.Excessive removal of sand from coastal rivers starves the North Coast beaches of their defence against coastal erosion.
The second instance of habitat loss through soil erosion is a result of most of the inhabitants living in the Unvothi’s catchment being poor, generally unhealthy, uneducated but certainly not short on fecundity. Our government seems to have forgotten these people whilst huge budgets are squandered on football stadia and a white elephant international airport.
What I saw today gave me a clear indication that our current leaders are not aware of how most ancient civilizations crashed when concrete took precedence over the conservation of humankind’s most important resource – water. But the most immediate negative effect that mining will have will be the starvation of sand that is normally transported seawards to replenish beach profiles that protect our vulnerable coast from insidious coastal erosion.
Journalist Khululiwe Makhaye safely back on the ground at Ballito Microlight strip, after her first time flight in a small aircraft, now has all the visual material necessary to assist her in her investigations into the “dark side” of sand mining.