Tackling the Hennops River crisis, one refuse bag at a time

Tarryn Johnston – almost up to her neck in it!

IF you’ve ever been hiking along the Hennops River trail situated between Johannesburg and Pretoria, you’ve likely had your picturesque outdoor adventure somewhat ruined by riverbanks littered with plastic bags, bottles and food packaging – never mind the smell! This was how I first experienced the Hennops River back in 2017. Since then, the trail has exploded in popularity as thousands of bored Gauteng residents – overcome with the “lockdown blues” last year – realised that hiking was a social interaction they could get away with under the Covid-19 restrictions.

These flocking lockdown hikers are probably unaware of the immense amount of hard work and dedication which has gone into restoring the Hennops River, creating a pleasant experience for those who spend time around it – a vastly different experience today than my first time there.

There is one courageous and inspirational woman behind it all. What started as one river clean-up day at the request of her daughter has turned Tarryn Johnston’s environmental mission into a globally recognised initiative. “I know that what I have taken on is a mammoth task – the Hennops River is one of the most polluted rivers in our country. The water in the river is a reflection of a very broken system and I know this is not going to be fixed overnight.”

Hennops Revival began in 2019 as a river clean-up event that was shared far and wide through social media. It has gained traction to a point where Johnston has formalised the operation into a Public Benefit Organisation which offers tax exemptions to those to contribute. “We have had thousands of volunteers, but there are many more people who want to sponsor others to clean the river regularly. We are now able to pay unemployed locals who live on the riverbanks, and get them involved with cleaning and conservation efforts,” says Johnston.

However, in an exclusive interview with CBN she said that picking up litter is like placing a band-aid on a gaping wound. “There are many people who don’t understand how their actions have consequences for the environment. As we speak, I am on my way to see our first litter trap being installed upstream, as part of a multi-phase catchment system. Beyond that, we want to close the ‘water gap’ with educational initiatives in the communities around the river.” Johnston aims to angle the Hennops Revival initiative to uplift the community, help alleviate poverty, promote access to clean drinking water, and build an ecosystem with an emphasis on Ubuntu and urban subsistence farming. “The river offers many opportunities – it just requires collaboration, and Hennops Revival provides the perfect platform.”

How did this small initiative grow with such success? “I am action-driven, and I take every moment to promote awareness of our cause. I have built strong relationships, I have used my voice. But ultimately, I have made a deep commitment to myself. Even if it means doing it alone, I will get up, show up, and be consistent.”

Thankfully, she doesn’t have to do it alone thanks to the support of individuals and companies who have invested their resources behind this incredible cause.

  • Learn more about this initiative and how you can get involved by visiting www.hennopsrevival.co.za.
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