Spruits, Dorps and Floods | Witness


The unnamed waterfall on the Msunduzi River in the Esigodini area of ​​Edendale, in full flood on January 19.

The naming of places can be very informative and can very well record accurately, for example, the fauna and flora prevailing at the time, and also reflect the state of mind of those who name them.

A good example are early Afrikaner farm names, with Rietfontein, Weltevrede and Nooigedacht being widespread favourites. Locally, the farm granted to Andries Pretorius, for his leadership role in the battle, was named Welverdiend (Well Deserved), renamed Edendale, in 1851.

Given that the Voortrekkers named what we now know as the Msunduzi River, the Klein Boesmansrivier, and the escarpment north of the town was called Boesmansrand, it seems likely that Khoisan people lived in the area, but I am not aware of any telltale cave paintings to confirm this, so archaeological research is needed.

Our recent heavy rains have reminded us that the Msunduzi is a force to be reckoned with, with the normal falls in the Esigodini to Edendale area currently a dramatic and quite spectacular example. I don’t know if the locals have a name for our equivalent of the smoke that thunders or roars, but it takes one and so it’s a sight for tourists.

Given that most of the Zulu names for KZN rivers have stood the test of time and remained intact except for spelling changes, it seems unlikely that the Klein Boesmansrivier was unnamed. original zulu. Obviously, the Voortrekkers recognized it as a river and named its tributaries as shoots. The Dorpspruit was particularly suitable as it was the stream which, through a canal terminating at the top of Church Street, could turn the Visagies mill, and supply the water which ran down each of the long streets, to facilitate the irrigation of the great erven. By definition therefore, Pietermaritzburg was a dorp, an agricultural village rather than a city, in which commercial activity was the raison d’être. Other historic dorps, such as Utrecht and Lydenburg, also have a dorpspruit. The Foxhill Spruit and Town Bush Stream complete the river names on early maps.

However, on a date which I have not been able to confirm, the Klein Boesmansrivier was renamed, presumably by the council. It is commonly accepted that the name Msunduzi can be translated as referring to the ability of this rather quiet and slow winding river, to duza —push or wash anything in its path in case of flooding.

The historical account of the Msunduzi taking away not only the footbridges but also larger bridge structures is as interesting as it is instructive. The fact that the MacFarlaine Bridge, which leads from the city center to Alexandra Park, was built with an arch that seemed much too high attests to the power of the Msunduzi.

Likewise, the arched concrete bridge across the Msunduzi linking College Road and West Street, speaks volumes. In fact, it has been billed as “probably the longest reinforced concrete span in all of South Africa”.

After a low-level wooden footbridge crossing the Msunduzi River was washed away, it was replaced by cast iron and the large arch that connects the central area to Alexandra Park. PHOTO: Rob Haswell

Back then, bridges were as big a problem as potholes are today. In The witness of January 26, 1856, it is said that “there is a sad fatality on the bridges of our city. In the last 20 years three or four have been erected on the Little Bushman River. The last iron suspension bridge has just given way.

On February 2, a letter to the editor said: “I fear that the force of all our rivers during the floods will destroy the buttresses of the arches of the stone bridges. Bridge building here has been riddled with drama and mishap. A bridge builder lost his mind and his life because of it.

In utter frustration, the following classic anonymous letter to the editor appeared on May 23, 1856:

“It is to be hoped that the sky, in the future of Natal’s history,

send us fewer collapsing councilors and fewer collapsing bridges.

I am mister, …”


Clearly, the more things change…

Locally, the Friends of the Bisley Valley Nature Reserve, who have done such admirable work on this reserve, may well need to consider where to rebuild a footbridge to prevent history from taking hold. repeating itself. Further upstream is necessary, otherwise the creation of a wetland to reduce the flood level would seem more appropriate. With climate change explaining everything and yet nothing at the same time, flooding and washout of footbridges are the new normal.

Isn’t the Dusi Canoe Marathon destined to become a two-day epic, as rivers at unprecedented flood levels mock long-standing time records?

It is hoped that all dams in the Umgeni catchment will be able to withstand the current overflows, as a flushing of the Umgeni system would wreak havoc on Durban’s beaches.


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