My second calling to the river | WWF South Africa

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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.

© Ayakha Madolo
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.

© Fiona Kinsey WWF-SA
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.

© WWF-SA
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.