My second calling to the river | WWF South Africa

What would you like to search for?

My second calling to the river

Having a family full of abantu abamhlophe (people with a calling to become traditional healers), playing near the river was a dangerous game. As a result, my mother always used to tell me, and stress the fact, that I was not allowed to swim – whether in a river, dam or sea on school tours. It was believed that abantu abamhlophe would get pulled beneath the water in order to join their ancestors – and emerge as a Sangoma after a number of months underwater – if they do not accept the calling.

Lumka Madolo (right) with her mother and sister, preparing umqombothi (African beer) at home in Lady Frere.

I was born and raised in a big happy family – with great parents, siblings and many cousins and aunts – in the tiny village of Emthini in Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape.

I was an inquisitive happy child who asked a lot of questions to the point that adults gave me the name Nokhontoni, an isiXhosa term often used unfavourably to refer to a child who asks too many questions.  

Despite being called Nokhontoni, I enjoyed asking questions. I remember one day when I asked my father where water came from. He told me that it came from a crab, which I almost believed until I discovered that it was not true. I told myself that I would find out one day.

My curiosity was not limited to my home.  At primary school I was famous for asking questions, and the educators loved me for it. Those were the great times of my childhood and I was always first or second in my class.

My father slaughtered a sheep every December to celebrate when my siblings and I passed our exams. That was one of the things that motivated us to do well at school.

From a dusty village to a big city

When I completed Grade 9 in December 2000, I got to travel to Cape Town for the very first time to visit my sister. I had never been on a long journey before, let alone to a big city. Little did I know that I was coming to the Mother City to stay!

After spending a few weeks on holiday, my sister invited me to live with her and continue school in Cape Town. The rest is history.

In 2005 I completed Grade 12 at Manzomthombo Senior Secondary School in Mfuleni, an urban township in Cape Town.

Unfortunately, I could not go to university immediately after school due to financial challenges. After staying at home without a job for three years, I eventually found a job at a plant wholesaler in Kuils River where I prepared and delivered plants to nurseries and landscapers around the Western Cape.

The job exposed me to many different kinds of plants and I heard about horticulture as a career for the first time. It was also through this job that I learnt about Environmental Sciences.

Inspired by my interest in plants and my love for the environment, in 2009 I enrolled for a National Diploma in Environmental Management Sciences at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, graduating in 2012.

A close encounter with nature

My love and interest in this field grew stronger, and I decided to do a Bachelor of Technology in Environmental Management, looking at the impacts of illegal dumping on the environment.
The doors were starting to open and I could see the direction I was headed. During this time, I also heard about the WWF Internship programme. I applied and was successful.

After half a year of my internship at Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area, where I was placed by WWF, I realised that this was not entirely what I wanted to do. Even though I was interested in the clearing of water-thirsty alien vegetation, which was the focus of my internship, I was more interested in river and wetlands restoration.

In response to this interest I was offered an internship in WWF’s Water Balance Programme. In this position I was involved in mapping of alien plants, monitoring and evaluation of the Water Balance Programme and the whole process of riparian restoration. I learnt a lot about active restoration, from the propagation of indigenous plants to restoration planning and planting along the banks of a river.

Our focus area was the Riviersonderend, a river in the Boland Water Source Area that supplies water to Cape Town and surrounds.

Working with a few members of the community of Genadendal, a small town near Greyton in the Western Cape, I was part of a WWF team that helped to set up a community-run indigenous plants nursery.

Locally-adapted plants are seeded, sprouted and grown in the nursery and re-planted in riparian areas and along the river banks to prevent soil erosion, ensure maximum ecological flows and improve water quality of the river.

Genadendal nursery where Lumka propagates indigenous river plants to restore the local rivers.

Through my mentor’s guidance and my growing fascination with restoration, I decided to pursue my Master’s in Environmental Management.

Luckily, the thought came at a good time, because I was awarded a WWF Research Fellowship for freshwater which I used to finance my Master’s research – it covered academic fees, fieldwork and a few basic personal expenses.

My study focused on assessing the active restoration of selected plant species in the riparian zone – the interface between land and a river or stream – in Riviersonderend.

This research provided me with more insight into riparian active restoration and I believe it is also a great contribution to restoration and rehabilitation of the environment.

Lumka Madolo has a longstanding passion for water and rehabilitating South Africa’s rivers such as the recently restored Meulrivier, near Greyton.

My journey so far has been long but so rewarding. Today I am a Managing Director at JJ’s Producers, a business organisation affiliated to the Genadendal nursery.

I also focus on ensuring successful active restoration projects for local rivers in the areas surrounding Genadendal and Greyton.

Without any doubt, my father and I now know that water definitely does not come from a crab – it comes from nature and healthy rivers!

Lumka Madolo Photo
Lumka Madolo, Managing Director: JJ’s Producers

Lumka enjoys being outdoors, learning and sharing information about nature - especially rivers.