A Cape Town Anglican has devised an innovative way of drawing attention to the industrial and domestic pollution that poisons his city’s waterways: a 15-km kayak ride. Kevin Winter, a member of Christ Church, Kenilworth in Cape Town, is an international expert on water justice; but while the challenges are global, he understands that the solution is local.
“The health of a City is seen in its waterways,” he said. “The challenge is not just the scarcity of water but also the quality of water. The City is connected by its waterways, which are often polluted by domestic and industrial waste.”
The Peninsula Paddle brought together more than 80 people for a grueling journey from the False Bay beach-side Cape Town suburb of Muizenberg to Milnerton, on the Atlantic coast. The 15-km journey took participants through canals, rivers and vleis – shallow seasonal lakes. Parts of the course were not possible to traverse and participants had to drag their kayaks through these parts of the passage.
“The idea of the Peninsular Paddle [is] to get people onto kayaks and to explore the rivers, to see and experience for themselves the beauty of the rivers as well as the pollution,” the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said. “The Peninsular Paddle has two goals: to raise awareness about the blue-green water corridors that have potential to join our divided city; and to bring to the attention of the City of Cape Town and public the condition of the waterways. The third goal is to have fun on the water!
“There was a huge variety of birdlife, which was heartening to see, but it was also sad to see how much litter, especially plastic, was on the banks of the rivers and to pass pipes leaking unpleasant things into the river.
“We were all inspired to make a difference, to treasure our waterways and inspire others to do the same.”
Young people take part in the Peninsula Paddle in Cape Town.
Photo: Gavin Lawson / The Zandvlei Trust
The paddle is a long standing initiative of community-based conservation organisations, with the leading role being played by the Future Water Institute of the University of Cape Town and the Friends of the Liesbeek. Kevin Winter works for the FWI. This year he will gave a speech on water justice at the International Water Justice Conference held at St George’s Cathedral as well as the annual general meeting of the Christian environmental campaign group A Rocha South Africa.
The FWI said: “Along the way, the paddlers get a close-up view of the city’s waterways following months of accumulated litter, aquatic weeds and contaminated water that regularly flows into the canals and lakes.
“The blue and green waterways are the veins of the city that connect well-established suburbs to some of the poorest parts of the city. We all share the waterways. Whatever gets dumped into storm-water drains and is allowed to flow into the waterways will eventually find its way to the sea.”
Dr Mash added: “The recent rains flushed tons of trash, plastics and other materials out to sea. Once solid waste gets into the water, it is almost impossible to get it out. The challenge of addressing the pollution of Cape Town’s waterways and beaches is overwhelming the City’s resources. Regular cleaning and maintenance is necessary, but this is unsustainable in the long term.
“The heart of the challenge is about enabling citizens to enjoy and value these waterways – this is the long term vision of the Peninsula Paddle.”