The final blog in a five-part series, Alexander Mourant writes for PhotoVoice on his experiences with the RAW foundation.
Three weeks since the last update, you’d find us stuck in Africa; a result of those corrugations a few weeks prior shattering our shock absorbers and differential. We were driving confidently through rural mud tracks blissfully unaware, then, just off the shore of Lake Malawi, we inevitably got stuck.
Our escape took a total of 20 men, some helpful children and a congregation of criticising women who through visual acknowledgments were humorously commenting, along the lines of: “There seems to be an awful lot of noise and not much happening.” This cemented my recognition of some cultural parallels. In the end it took 3 hours for our Toyota to emerge triumphant from the ochre ooze. Malawi was proving to be a extremely generous and beautiful place.
Following our triumph we visited Matewere Village. I was on the hunt for a grand baobab tree. I found underneath my chosen tree two guys, Loyd and Paul, sitting weaving cane for their business – Mulambe Cane Furniture.
Regrettably, throughout Africa we’ve found an abundance of cheap plastic furniture: it’s everywhere. Of course, your choices in life are often a consequence of available funds, but here we found a traditional process, affordable, natural and revered amongst the community, which was a relieving change of pace.
I was particularly looking forward to visiting the famed Victoria Falls. The falls themselves were mighty and humbling. I enjoyed tales of time’s past, told by local tribesmen, they’d speak of the mythical Nyami Nyami, a feared god-like serpent whom resides in the murky waters of the Zambezi. Nyami Nyami would act as a protector, bringing revenge and fury to all that disturbed its waters. I enjoyed these African mythology’s, often these tales of animals encouraged an underlining respect for wildlife.
After the falls we visited the Victoria Falls landfill-site, located a couple kilometres outside of town. Unfortunately we were greeted with terrible news. Local animals such as baboon’s have learnt to scavenge on this site for food, in turn ingesting plastics to such an extent death comes swiftly afterwards.
Elephants had also learnt of the landfill, the site is open and has easy access. We were told you can often see Elephants on the outskirts of the dump foraging. Last month two elephants, who were incredibly ill, were shot, due to plastic ingestion and toxicity. Here is a tragedy, also an example of malpractice, with infrastructure and the disposal and recycling of plastic.
In South Africa we visited Dyer Island Conservation Trust, located in Kleinbaai. Their mission is to protect the long-term future of the species that live there by translating knowledge into evidence-based conservation initiatives. The protected area is home to breeding colonies of the endangered African Penguin, Cape Cormorant (60% of the population) and Caspian Tern, as well as other seabirds. Of the many threats these animals face, plastic is an exponential one.
Whilst in Kleinbaai we were shown the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary. Here injured and ill birds can be taken in, fed, watered and treated, then released back into the wild. The impact on penguin numbers is largely the result of: habitat destruction, effects of oil spills and marine pollution, impacts of global warming on fish stocks and fish movement, over fishing and irresponsible tourism activities. The penguins have declined from 63,000 to 18,000 breeding pairs in just 14 years. African penguins may become extinct in the next 15 years. It’s our responsibility to stop this threat.
Local initiatives are in place to help educate and involve the community into protecting their local wildlife. In collaboration with the municipality, local children and volunteers partake in regular beach and harbour cleans. We arrived to witness their work. Picking up everything from cigarette butts, bottles, bags, to fishing line and other derelict fishing gear, which continues to trap and kill marine animals, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing.’
The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
We continued on for the next few weeks along the south coast, contemplating our odyssey and all we had seen. We finally reached Cape Point on the 5th of March 2016.
Throughout this trip I’ve tried to convey important moments examining social interaction, environmental concern and photographic delight. It’s a tough and diverse experience to do justice to. Our journey had this ebb and flow from positive to negative. We encountered both shocking environmental devastation and unique individuals and organisations endlessly striving to fight for the protection of global flora and fauna.
You’re left with this resentment of humanity at times, for a shocking disrespect of our natural resources and world, but then perceptions shift, and you’re left admiring people, for there are decent individuals who, together, are all aspiring to create positive change in their own corner of our marvellous blue planet.
Feature image: RAW Foundation Team, from the left: Alex, Melinda, Steve, Cape Town. 2016 © Alexander Mourant