01 JUNE 2022
MICHELLE CONSTANT SPEECH “Water Doesn’t Come from a Tap”
The Journey of Water remains a highlight of my career, and also of my personal life. Not least because on the last day of the walk I took a tumble down a hill and fractured my wrist, the bone sticking out like a small sapling branch. This required some of us to hike kms to the nearest road in order for an ambulance to scoop me up, drug me up up, even after I was g’d up from three days of exceptional experiences. I have the scar to prove it.
Every time someone asks me about the red marker on my wrist, it acts as a memento of a time where I learnt to respect water; to understand what water security really means; how I talk about it on my radio show, how I write about it, and communicate it, recognising my role in the stewardship of our environment and weaving this through my professional career. The scar is the mark of my tribe, those that believe in the protection of water and our environment – the tribe of water warriors.
As we speak, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape is moving relentlessly towards water ‘s day zero in a few weeks, the mother city in the WC has its eye on her dams, and KZN has towns with ne’er a drop in the broken pipes of a ravaged landscape, scarred much like my wrist, after the floods. Then of course we have citizens of this country, who have never ever had piped water, or proper sewage systems. The battle of now is water, and if we think that sounds dystopic – like a futuristic Charlize Theron in a Mad Max movie – we should remind ourselves that dystopia is now.
In doing the Journey of Water from Source to City, from the Drakensberg uKhahlamba to Howick in the midlands, we recognised our responsibility, as described by the poet David Whyte in a poem called Pilgrim;
“I promise myself to the mountain, and to the foundation from which my future comes”
The mountain embraces the source of the water, offering fresh clear streams and wetlands dappled with dragonfly; this is the foundation from which our future comes. It is a foundation we can protect or destroy. In the walking we were reminded that with each step we made one of two life choices – protect the streams and wetlands. Or choose not to.
The learnings over those few days were momentous for me – the acknowledgement that the earth’s water system is a closed system, tip the glass and it is half empty, not half full. Tip the glass again and it is empty, never to be refilled by a tap or pipe or stream. Yes, it is the foundation of the future but also the present, and we are the guardians, not simply for ourselves and future generations, but for the earth, and all the creatures on it.
We saw this in the powerful activism of the youthful citizen scientists walking the route with us – young people testing the water near Midmar Dam, their excitement at finding some small water creature, an indicator of possible diminishing pollution in the streams; other young activists bravely evaluating the stenching sewage pouring behind the Howick Falls. I was humbled by their absolute determination. And fearlessness.
As someone born in KZN – this was my turf, yet each day I discovered what I did not know, and what is possible if we are ferociously proactive. I was lucky; I followed that trip with a microphone, crossing to SAFM daily about the journey we were tracing, communicating our discoveries to a broader audience – to Freddy the truckdriver, Donald, a shop owner in Rustenburg, with a love of geography, retired Liz and her husband Charlie in Port Alfred, Mzi the student in Stellenbosch, and Gugu, a mother from Gqeberha. Every day we told the story of water, well beyond the group of citizen scientists, the actors telling the story of water, the academics, public and private sector participants, my fellow walkers in the group. So often we go on these “media” and “celebrity” jaunts; so often we simply see it as a paid for fun filled break. I was marked by this event, both physically and metaphorically – it was a scar to remind me of my role as a communicator and storyteller, it seeded my subsequent involvement in projects like the Jojo FWFL podcasts, strengthening my determination to make a difference. I suddenly became water’s wingman.
With that invite to follow the Journey of Water – WWF you achieved your objective with me and I have no doubt that we will continue to walk this powerful journey together. Thank you.