Why Mother Nature’s ancient ways still hold water


Nature follows a constant cycle of renewal and survival, adaptation and growth. But over time, humans have interfered. We’ve filled up the planet, depleted its resources, and tried to do things our way. It hasn’t worked. The current water crisis in South Africa is a stark reminder that we depend on and have to respect the earth and its resources. Taking their cue from the environment, Ndimkile Cwete and the residents of Langrug, an informal settlement in the Western Cape, have turned to natural processes and used biomimicry to manage their water supply.

The number of people living alongside and depending on the Berg River has grown since the settlement was established in the ’90s. Without stormwater drains and waste-management systems, the river was severely polluted and water stood stagnant in the streets, threatening the health of Langrug residents. In 2013, Biomimicry SA stepped in. After noticing that locals had already shown initiative by digging troughs to clear wastewater, they began to brainstorm other ways of managing their water crisis. The Genius of SPACE project mimics nature’s methods of decomposition and filtration. Man-made wetlands and living gutters filled with plants separate organic waste to turn into soil, while carbon-filled pits remove excess pollutants and filter the water. Maintenance isn’t costly as living organisms self-regenerate and add greenery to the community. The system ensures a healthy flow of water, better quality soil for agriculture, less erosion and the rejuvenation of the river.

Like an eco-system, the project relied on many parts coming together, from urban designers and wastewater management companies to the residents themselves to ensure its success. After three years of planning and development, during which locals made creative models which envisioned the project and the effect it would have, construction started at the beginning of 2016. The input of Cwete and his fellow community members was vital in determining the sustainability of the project. “Whenever we unite as South Africans we can come up with a solution,” Cwete says. And they have. Since the biomimetic greywater system was implemented, access to clean water in Langrug has improved. This is more than just a water-saving method; it’s proof that when people work with nature and each other, we can all benefit.