Life and death by water

A stream of life – the unpolluted water of the Upper Zambezi. With an abundance of aquatic life it provides most of the needs of this boy and his dog.
Issue Date: 30 November 2007

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A stream of life – the unpolluted water of the Upper Zambezi. With an abundance
of aquatic life it provides most of the needs of this boy and his dog.

Leaving behind the vast expanses of Hartebeespoort Dam with my outboard quietly idling along, I slowly made my way up the Crocodile River. Bank anglers had their lines in the water and not wanting to disturb them, kept to the middle of the river. It was mid-morning and there was an eerie silence on both banks. At one point passed a family that sat motionless like zombies, just staring at the water. felt quite uneasy. T he river level was quite low, as this was before Johannesburg’s sewage kept the dam full.

Rocks soon blocked my way upstream and had to turn back, and upon reaching the zombies was surprised to see them still sitting like statues. When approached them to find out what was amiss, an old man came towards me. With trembling lips he told me that having no car, they arrived the previous afternoon by train and fished through the night. Just after dawn his son, who was the only swimmer in the family, swam to the middle of the river and dived to retrieve his father’s stuck line. He surfaced once, yelled in agony and sank to drown before their eyes. Promising to return, raced to my car and sped off to the nearest plaaswinkel on one of the farms that surrounded the dam, to alert the police. also bought a roll of heavy line and a handful of big treble hooks, stocked by the shopkeeper for the illegal tilapia jiggers.

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Back on the dam, rounded up a few boat anglers to help search for the body. Uniformed police arrived later and having no boat, we took them on board. We dredged for hours and found a lot, but not a body. It’s astonishing what people dump in the water – a pair of trousers, part of a pram, a folding camp chair and heaps of discarded fishing line.

Late that afternoon after some boats had left, hooked something heavy and slowly pulled up a sight I’ll never forget. Suspended on my dredge line was the convulsed body of a young boy who had died an agonising death. His mouth, with lips already partly consumed by crabs, and his terrified eyes were wide open. outstretched hands were desperate, pale claws that reached vainly into space. We couldn’t pull him aboard though, as he was somehow stuck to the bottom. Only when the police officer hooked my gaff onto the body and we pulled with all our strength, did the line snap that held him back. Imbedded in the bridge of his foot was a large, rusted hook attached to a strong fishing line. must have panicked and it cost him his life. he sight haunted me for weeks. realised that water, which is so vital for life, can also be a killer. Throughout history wars have been fought over land, but water is more valuable than diamonds or gold. Water is life itself, but it can kill you because it can carry other things too. Many of the substances that are nowadays carried in our rivers are formulated to terminate life – they are poisons, but many are not designed for killing and some are simply waste products.

However, when they are in the water, they have the same effect as poison. Millions of fish have died because of pollution in rivers, and whole river systems have become killer streams. Just one thing stands between a river of life and one of death – the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. It has one of the most powerful water acts in the world, but it’s not implementing it. The act is dead in the water. – Abré J Steyn Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822. |fw