Zandvlei Trust

A mysterious boat on the Black River.

An addition on the 26th February 2013.

The article from the Argus newspaper.

There has been an addition to the boat.


The first article.

The article from the Argus newspaper.

The mysterious green boat.

The Ferryman bringing life to the Black River.

The sight of the ‘Grim Reaper’, an urban art form, floating on the Black River near the Raapenberg Interchange, Mowbray, has raised a lot of interest. The artists show a harrowing effigy of a hooded boatman presumably depicting Charon, the ferryman, from Greek mythology.
It shows a boatman anchored in the middle of the river. In Greek mythology the ferryman takes the deceased from the unwelcoming banks of the River Styx and transports them to Hades, the other world where the dead can rest in peace. The ferryman is paid for his services with a single coin placed in the mouth of a corpse. Those unable to pay were left to wander the earthly side of the river left to haunt other souls. The focus on death, darkness and an unknown world is a disturbing one.

The artist or artists responsible for the scene have not been identified nor have they made their intentions known. However, the electronic social networks describe the artwork as ‘weird’, ‘puzzling’ and ‘provocative’.

If this work is really about the myth of the ancient Greek ferryman, then it might not be entirely out of place on the Black River because there is an interesting twist in the tale. The Black River is showing signs of re-birth.
The ancient myth tells how the ferryman returned some deceased to the shore because they had drank a small drop of pure water from a tributary of the Styx. Over the past 18 months, thanks largely to improvements in the Athlone Waste Water Treatment Works and to the Kadar Asmal Project in which teams of workers have removed tons of litter and alien weeds from the river, the water quality in the river has improved rapidly. Although still polluted, it is not a river of death. What we are seeing is the slow rebirth of a badly degraded urban river. Flocks of flamingos and other wetland bird species are choosing to roost in the river. The sight is spectacular with birds feeding from the river bed because the water is clear and largely free of the canopy of weeds that once invested the river. 
Think of the ferryman bringing life back to river with each journey. The artwork is not about the death of the river, but a reminder that life can return to urban rivers: birds have already taken up residence.

Dr Kevin Winter
Environmental & Geographical Science Department
University of Cape Town.


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