Something fishy? Follow your nose




It’s late afternoon when I land at home. I’m dusty, smelly and thirsty from a day spent following the trail of destruction along the Umgeni and Msunduzi rivers left by a massive oil and chemical spill from the Willowton Oils plant in Pietermaritzburg.

It’s been a depressing day. Nearly a week has passed since holding tanks collapsed at Willowton, which makes Sunfoil cooking oil, releasing hundreds of tonnes of what the company politely calls “product” into Baynespruit. From there the lethal mix of oil and caustic soda poured into the Msunduzi and then the Umgeni, killing every organism in its path, all the way into Inanda Dam, 87km from the spill site. At KwaXimba, where clean-up crews have already hauled off tonnes of dead fish, every bend in the river was clogged with newly killed fish and rotting carcasses that had been washed downstream. Cattle and goats were grazing alongside the river, oblivious of the mass death around them. The water was discoloured and still capped with white and yellow foam, evidence that the battle to cleanse the river of pollutants was far from over. The dirt road running along the river to the bridge at Manyavu was dotted with clean plastic bags filled with dead fish, left there by the clean-up crews for collection later in the day and eventual incineration. We were under the bridge when Vukani Mkhize came scrambling down the river bank. Mkhize fishes for a living, makes up to R1 500 a day using a cast net, so he was dead keen to find out when the river would be fit for fishing. Mkhize was pretty disappointed to find out that we were journalists and not water specialists come to test the water. His face brightened up a bit when a team of toxicologists arrived while we were interviewing him. It fell again when he heard the bad news: anything from six months to two years, depending on the extent of the damage, something the experts don’t know yet.

The river was in no way pristine before the Willowton spill. The piles of rubbish along the banks are ample proof of this. It did, however, sustain people such as Mkhize and thousands of others who use it for their livestock and to irrigate their crops. Until the river is rehabilitated and the water made safe, it’s Willowton’s responsibility to ensure that they have an alternative. The company needs to account for what happened and make reparations for the damage it has caused to the environment and to the livelihoods of people who are already battling to survive.

The stench of rotting fish, toxic chemicals and capitalism is still clinging to my nostrils and my clothes when I get home.

Despite this, I’m starving. Ravenous, actually.

Payday is still far away. As a result, lunch had been restricted to a can of Coke and a banana from Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) chairperson Jerome Ngwenya’s service station at Adams Mission. We had popped in for a surreptitious stop and shoot on the way back from KwaXimba. Our man wasn’t around.

The banana was good. The sugar from the Coke gave me the rush I needed to keep me going till I got home. Poor fare, but what does one do when one wasn’t on the EFT list for Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC back in 2017?

I’m stoked that the financial records for Ramabosasa’s CR17 campaign — or some of them anyhow — have been made public. At least we know now where the whole Thuma Mina thing comes from. It wasn’t send me, as in “deploy me to do good”, as suggested in Bra Hugh Masekela’s song, but rather, send me an EFT, or an eWallet for that matter, Baba.

It makes sense, in a twisted, cynical, ANC kind of a way. I wonder if Bra Hugh would have approved?


The figures are mad, though. One Billion White Monopoly Capital Rands. One Billion. That’s a fuckload of KFC for the voting comrades. An ocean of two-litre cooldrinks. A Mount Everest of mini loaves.

Perhaps that’s why the senior comrades in the CR17 mob allegedly chowed the cash themselves: KFC ran out of chicken and they didn’t know what to do with the rest of the billion, so they bought the odd mansion or two. Just in case.


I’d love to see the financial records for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. They must have spent almost as much, given the close result and the fact that both sides were buying delegates like Smarties on the road to Nasrec, with a good number taking cash from both sides.

Perhaps the NDZ campaign records will surface.

Perhaps not: black bin bags of cash may be rather 2007, but they don’t leave an electronic footprint.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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