Swimmer Andrew Chin exiting a stretch along the Mtamvuna River Picture: Supplied

Durban - Cape Town open water swimmer, Andrew Chin, has successfully completed his fifth Swim for Rivers challenge, on the Mtamvuna River in KZN. He swam a distance of 70km over a period of six days and finished at the mouth of the river just south of Port Edward on Monday.

The Swim for Rivers extreme swimming challenge, launched by the Capetonian in 2015, involves athletes attempting to swim between 100 and 350km in a major river in each of South Africa’s nine provinces, to raise awareness around the poor state of our country’s rivers and to highlight the urgent need to restore them. The swimming events are also intended to spark debate about what the relevant authorities and public can and should be doing to manage and protect our rivers.

Chin set off on Tuesday from the source of the Mtamvuna River in Harding district, near Kokstad. He had intended to swim 165km of the river - which forms the border between the KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces - from source to sea. However, unseasonably low water levels in the upper reaches of the river forced him to walk and run part of the course, and later eliminate large sections of the planned route. Difficult access to many remote stretches of the river provided an additional challenge and saw Chin hiking up and down several steep gorges to reach start and finish points.

Chin was supported by fellow swimmer David Taitz who assisted with transport and logistical arrangements along the way. Chin, who swam the 2018 event solo, used a “pool buoy” flotation device for safety, buoyancy and to increase visibility.

Speaking after the event Chin said that while he had encountered some plastic pollution along the way, overall the river was relatively clean with low human impact – possibly owing to the fact that a large stretch of the river (on the KZN side) lies adjacent to the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve. However, soil erosion on the river banks from livestock overgrazing was prevalent in a number of areas, as was invasive alien vegetation such as black wattle (Acacia mearnsii).

Community engagement and education are important components of each Swim for Rivers challenge and Chin met many people along the way who depend on the river for their livelihood. Rural community members, who joined him on a 17km walk along the river near Gundrift, shared their local knowledge of the Mtamvuna and described the changes to the river they have seen in their lifetime.

On the final morning of the swim Chin joined 25 Grade 7 learners from Port Edward Primary School on a beach clean-up near the river mouth and addressed them on the importance of our rivers and the role that everyone needs to play in looking after them.

The 2019 Swim for Rivers challenge will take place in one of the inland provinces.