A New Beginning – Celebration at Picnic Rocks

Pandora Long has written the next installment of The Adventures of Mtini, the Cape Clawless Otter and Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher – as they teach the children in uMgungundlovu about healthy rivers, healthy communities.1. Mr & Mrs Mtini celebrates Mtini's return

Mr Mtini, the Cape Clawless Otter, gave Mrs Mtini a big, fat, whiskery kiss on her cheek. Mrs Mtini smiled, Mtini’s breath smelt of fish, but she was glad that he was home at last! Anyway Mrs Mtini liked fish!  Mtini leaned happily against her large furry body as they watched their two baby otters scamper wildly around Picnic Rocks. Mr Mtini had been away for such a long time on his ‘Mayday for Rivers’ journey with Inkanyamba and all the birds and animals. They walked all the way from the source of the uMngeni River down to the sea!  313km!

The animals were arriving for the early morning celebration.  Tufty the little grey duiker stepped daintily through the forest floor marking his trail with tiny spoor in the soft silty sand.  Milly Mongoose came streaking in at top speed, her stretched out tail spelling a large backwards C at the end.  She was always in such a hurry!  Milly sat up on her hind legs, nose in the air, looking all around, just to make sure that Leopard wasn’t stretched out on one of the nearby branches. It was just as well Milly didn’t look up. Leopard was stretched out right above her on a branch overhanging the river!

2. Leopard lies high above Milly Mongoose

Nosey Nyala was standing in the shadows browsing on the bushes, her pretty white and russet stripes blending perfectly into the surrounding bushveld.  Just beyond her, melting into the dawn shadows on the hillside, were the rest of her herd.  A handsome ram with beautiful curving horns, stood a little bit further up the steep bushy hillside.  Coming down the little winding game trail were the impala, zebra, wildebeest and kudu.

3. Mr Njala has beautiful horns

The sun sparkled on the frosted trees as it climbed slowly out of the mist, and soon the little river glistened like a shiny ribbon, as the whole valley was bathed in sunshine. As the frost turned to dew drops, tiny little rainbows sparkled at the end of the tall curving grass seed heads, hanging on for as long as they could before falling softly to water the leafy ground.  All the animals were gathered at Picnic Rocks. They were waiting for Mtini to read an important announcement!  As the sun climbed higher, the whole valley shimmered with excitement!


Python slithered in last, inching his way over a patch of burnt grass and curled his lithe body into a crevice in a huge over hanging rock.  He couldn’t quite fit and spilled out all over the place.  Pithi, the little blue duiker edged a little bit further away and kept one eye very steadily on Pythons writhing coils.   All around, the bushveld sounds reverberated around the valley, as the frogs, crickets and birds all sang out to their friends and mates.

5. The river is happy and healthy

There was a shrill call of the Fish Eagle as Mr and Mrs Fisherman descended on Picnic Rocks.  Mr Fisherman caught a nice large fish before settling on a dead tree.

6. Mr Fish Eagle catches a fish

Suddenly there was a huge commotion! A loud grunting and scuffling sound announced the arrival of Bully Bushpig.  Bully Bushpig tripped over Milly Mongoose and his eyes grew large as he summersaulted over python and crashed into the blacked tree trunk.  A cloud of ash and birds rose into the air!  Mr and Mrs Fisherman rose gracefully into the sky with the other birds but Haha Hadidah was caught completely by surprise!  He landed clumsily on top of Bully Bushpig!  The rest of the Hadidah clan took to the air making  a terrible noise.

7. The hadidahs make a terrible noise

Mr Mtini climbed up as far as he could on the highest rock overlooking the river.  All the birds settled again in the tall dead tree. Mtini looked far into the distance for his friend Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher.  Mo lived in the neighbouring Msunduzi Valley where he went from school to school with Mtini, teaching children about healthy rivers and healthy communities.

8. Mtini waits for Mo at the top of a big rock

Mtini was very patient, but the animals were getting restless and quite noisy, especially Bully Bushpig who had started digging up roots.  He couldn’t wait any longer, this was such an exciting day for them all.

9. Mtini tells the animals how everyone helped last year

“Friends” he said, “We are gathered here today to celebrate a new beginning!  We want to thank all the children and the grown-ups that are helping to make our uMngeni river catchment a healthy one!  On my long and tiring journey down the uMngeni River last year we visited schools and communities and had fun singing and dancing and sharing my ‘High Five’, as we taught everyone how to work together to make rivers and communities healthy again!  It was my granny’s special story about Inkanyaba, the river snake, that has saved the valley!

“Finding Inkanyamba at the source of the river, and having him agree to come on our journey down the river was Mo’s brilliant idea!  Inkanyamba reminded everyone that the river was sacred.  He said that we should respect the rivers and learn from them.  Rivers teach us that all things are connected!  After the walk we attended lots of meetings to talk about what we had seen and learnt!  Everyone has realised how important rivers really are and how everything we do in the catchment affects them. Now we are waiting for Mo to bring a very special announcement from his Honour, the Mayor, for us to take to the children!”10. Mtini tells the animals about Nkanyamba

Just at that moment a tiny blue speck appeared in the sky and all the animals turned their heads to watch Mo as he hovered over picnic rocks clutching a large rolled up notice in his bright red beak!  Suddenly he pointed his beak downwards and started his fishing dive! Down, down, down he came at lightning speed. Oh dear!  Mo sped down through the air towards picnic rocks so fast that he couldn’t stop and plunged straight into the Mpushini River.  Luckily DUCT had been clearing all the alien invasive weeds along the river and it was full of water again!  Mo emerged from the river looking bedraggled and hopped up picnic rocks with the wet notice still clutched in his beak. Mo handed the notice to Mtini.

11. Finally Mo arrives

Mtini swallowed.  He swallowed again!  (He’d been eating fairy shrimp while waiting for Mo and had eaten a rather large helping!)  “Friends,” he said, “here is the announcement! It is a letter from His Worship, the Mayor saying he is very unhappy about the mess that people are making in the uMgneni Catchment! It is an invitation to all the children in uMgungundlovu to help imagine a clean, healthy, prosperous and happy uMgungundlovu in 2030!  They must imagine a new beginning!”

12. The Mayor of uMgungundlovu is very unhappy about the rivers

Mtini’s voice carried far over the valley.  All the birds and animals listened carefully!


Dear children of uMgungundlovu,


How old will you be in 2030! Can you imagine a happy future for all the people that live here, the babies, children, moms and dads, grannies and grandpas.  Can you imagine the places where people work and live?  Are there nice homes and is there lots of work to do?  Can you imagine that everyone feels proud about the work that they do and the place where they stay.  They know that even the smallest task helps to create a happy society!13. Can you imagine uMgungundlovu 2030

Imagine that in 2030 everyone knows how important the plants and birds and animals are for a healthy environment?  People understand how the sun and rain, mountains, grasslands and rivers all work together to make a happy earth for us to live in? Imagine that there are lots of beautiful open spaces where the rain falls and soaks into the ground.  The wetlands are full of life and there is clean water to flow all year round in the rivers.  In your 2030 vision, how are people protecting the wetlands and keeping the rivers clean?

14. Everyone is taking  care of the wetlands

Can you imagine schools that are neat and tidy with trees for shade and nice playgrounds to play on.  What new things do the children learn each day?  What new things are you doing?  Do you feel excited about this future?

15. Imagine everyone learning about nature at school

Imagine that parents have time to laugh and play with their children in parks that are safe and that have space to play games and do sport.  What sports would you love to play there?

16. All the schools have parks and are clean and tidy

Do you love going to the mountains or the sea?  What special places are there in uMgungundlovu that you love to visit?  Are others coming to visit there too?  What about the Valley of 1000 hills with the uMngeni river flowing through it?  Can you imagine what it will be like to visit such a beautiful place?

17. There is a beautiful nature reserve in the valley of 1000 hills

Think about the future in 2030!  Do you have healthy food to eat and clean water to drink? Who is growing the food and where?  What do the farms look like?  Are there big farms or little ones? Does your family or community help grow vegetables?  Are there food gardens and fruit trees growing at the schools?   Are there places where people can go to learn how to make the soil rich and grow and sell healthy food?  Imagine that people keep and share traditional seeds and that there are vegetables growing all over, even in the heart of the cities!  Can you imagine people harvesting and storing water for their homes so that the cities don’t take all the water out of the rivers.  People are finding ways of saving water and using it wisely.  Everyone is helping keep the rivers clean!

18. Farmers take care of the land

Imagine the cities like Pietermaritzburg and Howick, and towns and villages in uMgungundlovu.  How have they grown?  Are there more people living in the cities? Are cities taking up more and more land, or are there projects to rebuild parts of the city? What do they look like?   How are the towns and cities designed so that they can meet the needs of the people without harming the environment.  Are people using resources wisely, and earning money from entrepreneurial ideas? Are there special projects in uMgungundlovu that save water, that generate clean electricity and that help people live sustainably together?  Does everyone have power for their homes and where is this coming from?  Are people using the sun to help heat water and charge batteries to run lights?19. Factories stop polluting the environment

What is happening to people’s waste?  Have people got good ways to recycle and reuse their waste? What do these projects look like? People don’t throw litter anymore! What about our other waste, like sewage?  Are there new systems that help communities to take care of this without hurting the environment?  Is everyone working together to make sure the systems are working well?  What are some of the new ways we are doing this?

20. Everyone recycles

What about cars and taxis!  How does the traffic flow freely through the city and on the N3?  Can you imagine people riding bicycles?  How do they do this in the city without getting hurt?  Are there buses for peoples to use to get where we want to go?  Are there trains for us to take when we want to visit our Granny and Grandpa.  What about all the trucks on the highway!  Do you think that they could go by train to Guateng too?  What does the platform at the station look like where they get on?!  Can you imagine a train full of trucks on its way!

21. People stop throwing rubbish out of cars and taxis

Are there lots of factories and what are they doing to keep the environment clean?

22. Rural people can draw clean water to drink and bath in

Are people working together to build a community that is safe and caring? Are the people that are looking after the towns and cities doing that well?  Is everyone helping them to keep it clean and beautiful?  Imagine Moms and Dad’s going to work without being scared of being highjacked or robbed.  How are we stopping crime?

Are Grannies and Grandpa’s being taken care of when they get old and sick? What about when your Mom is having a new baby or your little brother gets hurt.  Can you imagine nice friendly helpful places like clinics and hospitals that are nearby?  Where are your favourite shops and what do they sell?23. The cities are clean and we only have the shops we need

What does uMgungundlovu look like to you in 2030?  Can you help imagine a place full of people that are being helpful and kind to one another, a place with healthy rivers and healthy communities?

24. Everyone knows that clean rivers mean healthy happy people

All you have to do is Imagine uMgungundlovu in 2030 and create an artwork, drama, song or dance or express your idea in any other art or cultural form such as a 3D model or sculpture, creative writing or poetry.  Get your teacher to help you explore your idea of how we can create a sustainable uMgungundlovu in 2030!

When you’ve sent all your artworks to me, we are going to have a big celebration, just like the animals at Picnic Rock!


Your Honourable Mayor.25. everyone thinks of future life

Mtini stopped reading and looked at all the animals. Now it’s time for us to take this message out to the children,” he said.  The animals were very excited, this was another adventure!  Porcupine had found an old school exercise book that had been dumped along the river bank and he came forward with it stuck on his quills.  The notice that Mo had brought all the way from the Mayor was still wet and Monkey stamped out copies for everyone.  Soon all the animals were on their way to visit the schools in uMgungundlovu to tell them about the Honourable Mayors announcement, and to ask the children to help.

26. mtini's high five

Mtini helps you to do this by giving you seven principles for a Happy Earth, it’s called his ‘High Five’

1.        Little finger stands for safety – safe for one another and for the environment

2.        Ring finger stands for commitment – don’t give up even when it is difficult

3.        Middle finger stands for love and respect – love one another and respect the environment

4.        Pointy finger stands for accountability – don’t blame others, see what you can do

5.        Thumb stands for encouragement – recognise and help one another make a difference

6.        Open palms stand for loving hearts and positive attitudes, giving and sharing

7.        Joining hands stands for interconnectedness – we must all work together to make a ‘Happy Earth’

1. Mr & Mrs Mtini celebrates Mtini's return


About Nikki Brighton

I live in Howick, between the river and the hills. I enjoy pre-dawn walks in the streets with my dog, sitting on the veranda with crochet and tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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