Soche Mountain hike that tells a sad story and proposes remedy

BY DAITON HAMILTON - Blantyre Malawi (28/07/23): The hostile weather phenomenon that hit Malawi’s Southern Region last year, leaving residents sitting at the foot of Soche Hill desolate, did not only leave a history of climate induced disaster difficult to forget, but also curved a currently dried water stream path through which visitors are now trekking up and down the hill to learn and understand what really happened on that dreadful day.

Recently, a group of environmentalists belonging to different organisations such as Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM), Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and members of various Blantyre-Zingwangwa-based Wildlife Clubs joined the journey to appreciate the environmental disaster that happened and commiserate with those that were impacted.  

The trip was organized by WESM in corroboration with MMCT and the tour guide was none other than a resident of the area, Daiton Matope, who escaped by a whisker and lived to tell the first-hand story about anger of nature that descended from the hill, rushing down with vengeous and destroying everything living and non-living that lied in its path.

The trip started exactly at around 8 o'clock from Matope’s house which escaped by a meter the deadly path of sweeping water and mud that gushed out from the Soche Mountain Forest Reserve (SMFR), taking and burying whatever was in its way.

The guider explained bits by bits of the incident and how he and his five family narrowly escaped the damage but not the ordeal.

"It was only on God's mercies that I and my family are alive till today," he said.

Matope painfully pointed to a fifteen metre distance where he said dead bodies were found buried under the sliding muds from the hill and what is remained of damaged houses and household items was seen standing and scattered all over the area.

The team started off up the hill and along the way, they were left awed by big rocks, some eight meters high that came from the up mountain and got stuck somewhere along the stream.

The trip which started jovially, was sobered not only by the distance covered but also by every devastating testimony that came with the ascent.

The hiking group comprised different ages, sex and body built-up and the trip followed the same path when it came at taking a tore on the team. But what was common among the team was the desire to see the journey through the newly-created 30 metre high cliff through.

An hour of hiking took the team to a halfway point of the journey where they had to rest and recharge the bodies for the rest of the journey up.

Looking down the path they have travelled, the team were provided with a chance to appreciate the damages Cyclone Freddy had inflicted on the land.

The team heard stories about the whole family being wiped out citing the incident of the entire eight-member-family that remain uncounted for, and it is suspected that their bodies were buried under the now dried earth.

Clear sight of demolished houses, hurled stones, remains of fallen trees, debris of household wares, remains of clothes and other facilities could be seen scattered all over the slope.

Chairperson for Zingwangwa Wildlife Clubs Lloyd Mkwate explained the wanton cutting down of trees that happened in the area was responsible for the serious devastation that happened.

“If we had left the area with trees cover, perhaps the damaged would have been reduced or prevented altogether,” he said.

The team discussed the damage at length and agreed to find a way of reforestation and allowing undisturbed natural regeneration of indigenous trees.

Anonymously the team urged government to take drastic measures to address the issue of protected areas encroachment.

The environmentalist also beseeched leaders in the area, village or religious heads, to be vigilant in sensitizing residents and people at large about the consequences of destroying nature.

"The only way of preventing the recurrence of such a disaster is putting in place mechanisms that can stop people from turning this forest reserve area into residential," these were the sentiments voiced by Divason Mathiwa, a teacher at Blantyre Baptist Private School and the team concurred, including WESM and MMTC representatives Deborah Sinclair and Tapiwa Siula respectively.

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