UCT’s Future Water Institute will lead the 11th annual Peninsula Paddle on World Rivers Day, 27 September 2020, in partnership with Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET), Friends of the Liesbeek, Khayelitsha Canoe Club, Zandvlei Trust and the City of Cape Town (represented by the Zandvlei Nature Reserve). The event will continue to raise awareness of the plight of our waterways and to challenge the actions of Cape citizens.
According to Dr Kevin Winter, representing Future Water Institute, “The Peninsula Paddle began with four people who wanted to challenge themselves to see if it was possible to traverse the Cape Peninsula from Muizenberg to Woodstock beaches in kayaks. A route via canals, rivers and lakes was easy to identify on the map, but the possibility of paddling or pulling kayaks had never been tested before. More importantly, the intention was always to challenge the City of Cape Town and its citizens about the state of the city’s waterways, which have become nothing more than convenient conduits for disposing solid waste, plastics, material and much more, all of which could potentially find its way into canals, lakes and eventually the sea.”
Dr Winter says, “At the heart of the litter problem are two major failures: a systemic failure in which large parts of the city have inadequate waste services, and human behaviour where little thought is given to the consequences of litter and other waste. Yet, things could be different, but not without serious challenges. It will take more than a paddle to change the history of the city and the current state of the waterways, but it is a start. Imagine a city where citizens could safely traverse its waterways in clean water and where the surrounding rivers and canalised banks offer safe, pleasant public spaces.”
According to CTEET CEO, Dr Anthony Roberts, “CTEET has embarked on a partnership with the City of Cape Town to mitigate negative behaviours and impacts on our degraded urban rivers. In March 2020 we officially launched the River Ambassadors programme, which seeks to upskill and employ youth from residential areas in close proximity to these river systems. At a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, particularly for youth, where unemployment sits at over 60%, it is essential to be creative in how we can use the Green Economy to bolster employment for a semi-skilled workforce. For people to see nature as the solution has multiple benefits in building that relationship with the natural world.”
Dr Winter tells us that valuable lessons have been learnt in the last ten years, “When the first Peninsula Paddle took place in 2010, conditions were so dire that the paddlers coined the phrase, “The health of the city is seen in its waterways”. It was a difficult journey for these paddlers with large sections of the route blocked by solid waste and the overgrowth of weeds. Parts were simply unnavigable”, he says.
According to Dr Winter, “The paddle route was purposely chosen to highlight poorer socio-economic sections of the city. The paddlers engaged in conversations with citizens along the route to understand how they were affected by these waterways. This led to a second important lesson that was used in subsequent Peninsula Paddles: “We are all connected to the city’s waterways”. It meant that even though people live some distance from a canal or river, their misplaced litter finds its way into stormwater pipelines and eventually to the canals, and likely into the sea.”
A typical scenario is when drinking straws, cigarette butts and plastic bags – items we so often see in abundance in the canals – are tossed from passing car and will likely find their way into these waterways, causing a cascade of problems. In connecting people to waterways, the spatial and economic divisions in the city can be bridged by these blue and green corridors running through the city.
Collectively we are failing to appreciate the opportunities that are offered by these vital waterways and how improvements in their condition could transform the city for all its inhabitants – human, flora and fauna.
Testing the waters
The Peninsula Paddle will be slightly different in 2020. Lockdown conditions will reduce the number of people who can participate. This year many fewer paddlers will be responsible for paddling each of the four legs of the traditional journey, which starts at Zandvlei in the early hours of Sunday 27 September 2020. Each paddler will be equipped with cameras and recording equipment. The aim is to make a short documentary on the state of the waterways from Muizenberg to Milnerton. Along the route the paddlers will take water samples to test for bacteria, nutrients and heavy metals and compare these results with water samples from previous years. It will be disappointing not to have our usual number of paddlers join this year, but we hope that in documenting the event the story can be used as a tool for taking further action