The exploratory Eerste River Water Walk ended on a high note in Stellenbosch on Saturday, September 29. The event was warmly embraced as a celebration of the magnificence of Mother Nature and her lifegiving waters. This despite a tense atmosphere of political unrest, demonstrations and intimidation in the Jonkershoek area where the walk started.

Initially the walking pilgrims were denied access to the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve that is the source of the waters. The walkers were greeted by the presence of heavily-armed private security guards along the road from the nearby university town of Stellenbosch.

They were told that in the wake of political protests the popular and picturesque nature reserve had been closed to all visitors since Tuesday. Recent incidents have included the petrol-bombing of a private home, the destruction of a fertiliser store and earthmoving equipment belonging to the MTO forestry group the past week.

The two-day walk began on Friday, September 28 at the entrance to the hiking and mountain biking reserve. Walkers involved members of the Eerste River Crystalline Water Tribe. They collected pristine waters from First Waterfall and carried them to the Jan Marais Nature Reserve where the e’Bosch Heritage Project had organised a programme of events aimed at uniting the people of the town and 10 neighbouring hamlets.

Included on the official programme was a chance to meet the water protectors and participate in a labyrinth walk led by Terry de Vries. She had originally built the labyrinth for locals to use as a meditation tool and place for quiet reflection.

At the centre of the labyrinth the waters collected from the source of the Jonkershoek Mountains were poured as a blessing upon the Earth which nourishes, sustains and inspires us.

Spokesperson Geoff Dalglish paid tribute to the friendly fun atmosphere of the activities which included a magic show, dance, music and art. He explained that this year’s water awareness walk is a curtain-raiser to a more expansive source-to-sea event in 2019 that recognises that water is life and our common ground worldwide.

“Water connects us – humans, animals, plants and all life – and the pilgrimage is intended to be a celebration, an exploration and an opportunity to listen in humility to the waters and the many voices of our watershed and ask: How might we serve? What is ours to do?

“We see the proposed pilgrimage as a local acupuncture point to help support an awakening and heightened awareness in the larger water body of our world. We believe in the power of story, prayer and action to inspire change, contribute to the healing needed, and to restore old relations and create new ones. It is time for a healthier and more sustainable relationship with water and each other.

“It is a journey through inner and outer landscapes and draws inspiration from the love affair of many with the waters that sustain them and all life. It is inclusive and welcomes the involvement of many communities and individuals linked to the Eerste River and its tributaries. It supports the vision of water protectors that include the First Peoples of many lands and local groups like the Stellenbosch River Collaborative and Eerste River Crystalline Water Tribe.

Next year the plan is to walk from the source of the waters in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, following them to and through Stellenbosch to where they meet False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond Macassar.

Along the way the walkers will be invited to practice deep listening, to suspend judgements and to harvest stories of the ancient and modern history of the region and those profoundly connected to the Eerste River. It is a chance to observe the contrasts of pristine headwaters and polluted waters downstream, as well as the impacts of agriculture, farming, industry, residential communities and how wealth and poverty play out in the lives of locals.

It is a chance to share stories, hopes and dreams.

The local water tribe enjoy links with ecological activists and water protectors around the world, among them the global Walking Water initiative. This organisation is following local developments with keen interest that could see some overseas participation in an international water awareness event in South Africa in the future.

What would make it especially compelling for the overseas water protectors, who come from all walks of life and diverse ethnic groups, would be the understanding that the walk brought together many voices, was committed to the wellbeing of the Earth and all life, and honoured the privilege of walking in the footsteps of the ancestors with the full blessing of indigenous peoples or their descendants.


Geoff DalglishEarth Pilgrim
Geoff Dalglish is an award-winning photojournalist who has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with wilderness and wildness. He has been an investigative reporter, magazine editor, racecar driver, 4×4 driving instructor and overland expedition guide with adventures on all continents, including Antarctica. In 2011 he gave up his worldly possessions to walk with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth, covering more than 10,000 miles. Most recently he walked as an ambassador for WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress and was a finalist for an Adventurer of the Year award.

He is the PR for the pioneering Findhorn Foundation Ecovillage in Scotland that has one of the lowest recorded ecological footprints of any community in the developed world.

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