Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

No stopping Dusi organisers

Despite the Msunduzi River being devastated by thousands of litres of palm oil and caustic soda being spilled into it following an accident at a local factory, the organisers of the upcoming Dusi Canoe Marathon believe they could host one of the best races in more than a decade.

While the river’s 120km course between Pietermaritzburg and Durban has been battered by pollution and droughts in the build-up, organisers are confident the participants at this week’s Dusi Canoe Marathon will enjoy the race’s best conditions in more than a decade.

In August last year, thousands of litres of palm oil and caustic soda were spilled into the Msunduzi River following an accident at a local factory.

After discussing the matter with the Duzi Umgeni Conservancy Trust, race organisers launched a clean up operation, and reports in December suggested local authorities were satisfied the spill had been cleaned up sufficiently.

On the eve of the race, starting on Thursday, Dusi organisers also said regular storms during the summer had assisted with the recovery of the river system.

“Dr. Mark Graham from (environmental consultants) GroundTruth has been leading the rehabilitation project after the spill and he will be in the valleys with his team during the race doing another series of tests,” said Shane le Breton, head of the Dusi organising committee.

In recent years, organisers had tackled hyacinth infestations on the river, and severe droughts across KwaZulu-Natal in 2019 had also left doubts over the quality of the conditions expected for the annual race.

Organisers, however, assured entrants this week that favourable conditions were expected.

In the only significant change to the race, to be contested in the K2 division this year (with two paddlers per boat), the Burma Road portage had been scratched from the route by local officials for safety reasons.

This could play a key role in the race, however, eliminating a hard uphill run and forcing all participants to tackle multiple challenging rapids in the latter stages of the three-day contest.

In addition, releases from Henley, Nagle and Inanda dams were likely to ensure the river was flowing well, and rain had been forecast on Friday and Saturday, potentially raising water levels even further.

“While weather forecasts are not wholly reliable, conditions look set to provide the best Dusi paddling conditions in more than a decade,”

Le Breton said.

“A cool day with the paths dry underfoot is ideal for the first stage, and it really eases concerns about the water quality in Pietermaritzburg if there are no storms in the days before the race.”

The 69th edition of the 120km Dusi Canoe Marathon will start at Camps Drift on Thursday morning and is scheduled to finish at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.

Aiming to become only the second paddler to secure 10 career victories, Andy Birkett is expected to lead the charge for the men’s title, pairing up with in-form partner Khumbulani Nzimande.

In the women’s race, Christie Mackenzie and Cana Peek have been tipped as the favourites, though they will need to hold off multiple potential challengers in a strong elite field.

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