Black Water


There are several conservancies here in the Midlands (Curry’s Post, Lion’s Bush, Balgowan and Dargle) that, as well as concerning themselves with the preservation of natural resources, organise walks, talks and social events. Last weekend we joined a group from the Dargle Conservancy doing a miniSASS on a section of the Dargle River, a tributary of the Umngeni River which supplies Durban with its water. “MiniSASS is a simple tool which can be used by anyone to monitor the health of a river. You collect a sample of macro invertebrates (small animals) from the water, and depending on which groups are found, you have a measure of the general river health and water quality in that river” (

We arrived at a farm in the Dargle to be greeted with a cup of tea, melt-in-the-mouth homemade scones and friendly people. We were given an interesting presentation by Penny Rees from Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) who had walked the length of the Dargle River to assess the water quality and establish contributing factors to poor water quality. The Dargle Conservancy encourages and assists landowners with river frontage to  restore the health of the river by clearing invasives (mainly wattle and bugweed) and crops from the riparian zone (the interface between land and a river or stream), limiting cattle access to the water and not dumping rubbish in the water which restricts the flow of water. The farmer who was hosting the miniSASS had already cleared a lot of wattle away from the river banks (no mean feat as wattle is hard to eradicate) and his stretch of river turned out to be quite healthy. It was fun pottering about in the water collecting nunus and just enjoying the cool, flowing water.

Penny checking the nunus  collected from the river

Penny checking the nunus collected from the river

the farmer's beautiful hereford cattle getting ready for the royal show

the farmer’s beautiful hereford cattle getting ready for the royal show


the dargle river

farm building

farm building

I’ve always been seduced by rivers, just not however by KwaZulu-Natal’s big, sludgy waterways. I grew up in the Eastern Cape where the rivers of my childhood were clear and enticing. Sundays, Swartkops, Krom, Van Stadens and Nahoon – these are the rivers I can remember swimming in. You can keep your Mkomazi, Umngeni,Tugela and Pongola Rivers, thank you very much! Recently a friend posted some pictures on Facebook of the Baviaanskloof River and I could almost smell the water. For some reason my olfactory senses seem to be stronger in my memories. Many years ago, as we drove into my home town of Port Elizabeth en route to Cape Town I asked the kids to roll down their windows (before we got to the Carbon Black factory!) so that we could inhale the smell of the herbal fynbos because that is my recollection of the Eastern Cape. 

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4 Responses to Black Water

  1. Louise says:

    Hi Cathy I have a photo of Baviaanskloof that I would like to share with you, I was hoping that I could attach it to this post but unfortunately not able to.

  2. Paul Williams says:

    We share your strong linking of smells and scents too memories, Cathy. As I type this I can conjure up the scent of the fynbos On the Cape Town side of Riversdale. It means we are going to be with family in Mossel Bay soon. I liked your disdain for the kzn rivers. Darrol Smith, who taught so many of us to use scuba used to have a test for bilharzia in waters East of the Drakensberg. If you dip your finger in and it comes out wet, it has bilharzia.

  3. James says:

    Yes. Black Water is an unfortunate synonym for bilharzia. We never went into the water of KZN coastal rivers. Well hardly ever. Shongweni was a maze of canals, caves and water. You couldn’t go anywhere without stepping in water.

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