This is the story Pandora Long wrote that has inspired the fantastic artwork on display in the Midlands Mall this week, until 7th November. Don’t miss the DUCT Art Campaign exhibition and do enjoy the tale.
Mtini, the Cape Clawless Otter, stood on a big rock in the middle of a stream high up in the Drakensberg. A great band of otters were gathered round him. A ring of mountains circled the otters like an Amphitheatre and right from the top, near the middle, a ribbon of water glistened in the sunlight, and fell like a soft white mist into the valley below. It was the first time ever that all the otters had got together like this for an Indaba. Each had an amazing story to tell about their journey from the rivers and streams all over KZN, up here into the mountains.
Mtini wished his friends from the Mpushini Valley had come with him. Even though he was surrounded by otter family and friends, he missed the special creatures that he lived so happily with in his valley. Besides, they helped him feel brave and right now he was feeling very scared!
Mtini cleared his throat, “ehem” he looked around and cleared it again, “ehem” he felt really small and helpless in the face of the threat to his beloved rivers. “The president…”, his voice grew bigger and stronger, “The president has given the go-ahead to the Zonke Zonke to frack near the Drakensberg!”
There was a stunned silence. “The ZONKE ZONKE! Those HYENAS!” A big grey otter with snow white whiskers stood up tall on his hind legs. Then he looked Mtini straight in the eyes, “FRACK?” he asked slowly. “Is that’s what they are doing in America to mine shale gas for energy!” “Right!” said Mtini. “And other places all over the world?” asked the big otter. “Not all over the world, many have said NO!” said Mtini. “Yes”, repeated the big grey otter, “many have said No!” “I heard it’s not earth-friendly” said another otter. The big grey otter shook his head gravely and continued “I’ve heard there can be big problems.” The other otter shook his head vigorously. “I’ve heard it’s not water-friendly,” he said
Some of the little otters grew alarmed. Please tell us what you’ve learnt about fracking Mtini,” they asked. Mtini took a deep breath. “Well, it’s all about mining for shale gas,” he said.
“What is deep under the earth in that area of the Drakensburg, was once a sea, full of life. Now it’s trapped energy,” he said. “What happened to it?” “Were there otters back then?” the otters started calling out questions. Mtini shook his head, “Not sure, he said, “but there were lots of living creatures back then, because when they died, they got trapped in the sheets of mud that washed over them and then turned to rock” “Creatures died?!” “Trapped in sheets of rock!!” “Deep underground?” “How deep?”
The otters had grown restless and a wisened old otter gestured to them to quieten down and let Mtini answer. “Very deep” said Mtini, “like six kilometres deep!” The old otter had a rumpled coat and furrows across his forehead, he stood up. “How on Earth did those dead creatures get six kilometres down there!” he asked. Mtini looked steadily across the crowd of otters and said,“no-one knows for sure, I suppose things change with time… what’s now ‘down there’ was once ‘up here’” The otters stood blinking in the bright afternoon sunshine, amazed at this new piece of knowledge. “Now all that’s left of all those creatures that once lived in that sea, is gas trapped in the shale rock!” Mtini continued…”Hydraulic fracturing…fracking… means that they’ll drill down through the earth as deep as from here to the next valley! Then they’ll drill sideways halfway back to this one!” “What then?” asked a little otter nervously. “Then they take litres and litres of water from our rivers, dams and boreholes and tons and tons of beach sand and mix it with some stuff…” Mtini tried to finish his sentence but the otters let out a joint cry.
“STUFF!? STUFF like what, Mtini!?” asked the otters together. Mtini’s voice went quiet. “Stuff like chemicals… acids, foams, salts, lubricants and…and propellants…” Mtini stumbled over the last word. “Those are big words for STUFF, Mtini,” said the otters in confusion. Mtini thought for a moment. “That’s what helps send the water fast as lightning, down the well and through the cracks to fracture the rock!” Mtini finished. “As fast as lightning!” the otters felt alarmed, “where does it end up once the rock is cracked? “Mostly back up where it started from” said Mtini slowly. “and the STUFF?” asked the otters. “Yes, said Mtini sadly, “and the stuff.” “Well what do they do to it then? The otters were quite agitated. “what if that water and STUFF gets into our ground water, and into our rivers?”
“Don’t know,” Mtini hung his head “they say it won’t…” “Do they know for sure, Mtini?” asked the little otter. “They said they don’t know anything for sure.” Said Mtini, “except that what they say is all FACTS.” And what others say are OPINIONS!… but things like chemical trucks spilling by accident, gas coming up into ground water and setting it on fire!, people and animals getting really sick around gas wells. Do you think people would have opinion’s like that if it isn’t facts?” Mtini continued, “Then after about six fracks and six years, when the gas is all pumped out, they talk about closing the wells for ever. They seal them and say they will be alright, forever.” “How long’s forever, Mtini?” the young otter asked. Mtini thought carefully, “Forever is a long time,” he answered. “But will the wells really be alright FOREVER? The otter asked again. “I don’t know,” said Mtini sadly. “Forever came sooner than expected for all those creatures trapped in the mud deep underground,” said Mtini. “Those that could tell us if the wells will be ok are paid not to talk about it.” “NOT TALK ABOUT IT! Exclaimed the young otter. “Why not! For how long!” ‘They can’t talk about it FOREVER” said Mtini. The young otter thought for a while. “Can’t talk about it forever?!, maybe FOREVER will be over soon than expected Mtini?” the young otter questioned. “I hope so, young one.” Said Mtini. “I really hope so young one, then maybe the people will tell us if the wells are alright”
Is that the truth Mtini? asked the young otters. Yes, said Mtini, these are the facts. “Why would anyone want to mess with our water, when we have so little of it?” Mtini recognised his cousin speaking from the neighbouring catchment. “They are messing with our water already!”, Mtini shook his head sadly, “in the city they just let the pipes leak and it goes to waste.” “Fracking’s making America rich,” a handsome, sleek young otter moved forward to speak, “They say to frack is to bring jobs, money and power.” “They say it’s needed… more energy and more water for more and more people”
“What do they want more energy for?! Transport? Cooking? Factories? Haven’t they taken more than enough oil and coal from the earth already?” the otters started to protest. “The rivers are messed up and water and energy wasted. There is no-one in charge that checks what people are doing to the rivers and that holds offenders accountable. Why should anyone care any differently about what happens when the Zonke Zonke frack?” heckled a young otter from the back.
Nomthini looked at her son with pride. “Does everyone know about this?” she asked gently? “Everyone needs to talk together about whether this is the right thing to do, you have done well to bring us here, Mtini!” Her long whiskers brushed Mtini’s cheeks, as she touched the tip of his nose with her forehead. “What if things don’t last forever. What if things change again, she said softly, like the wind and the rain, the mountains and the seas. The upsides and downsides. What if our rivers change, Mtini, so that we can’t swim in them anymore, can’t drink water or catch fish and fairy shrimp for tea. Doesn’t everyone know that water is precious, that rivers are sacred?”
“There are special environmental rules to protect the earth and the water, said Mo. “People have a constitutional right to a healthy environment!” “Creatures should have one too!” said Mtini.
“We must choose our best otters and go and tell the President to make sure he takes care to do the right thing to protect the earth and the water. The Zonke Zonke will just giggle and grin and will just get greedier and greedier and just move on leaving a big mess behind” said the wizened old otter. “They always do!” “The last thing they’ll want to do is share money or power! They say they want to freeze the gas and send it out the country on big ships to the highest bidder and pocket the profit!” “For sure, there will be nothing to safe guard our rivers for ‘rainy days’!”
Mtini nodded his head, we need to send a team to give the President our ‘High Five’. “Come let us organise ourselves, some to find new ways of making clean energy for the country, some to watch over the rivers and water resources and catch those that pollute them, some to teach everyone to save water and electricity, some to clean up the mess that the Zonke Zonke and others have been making of our rivers and some to create clean and green jobs for people and some to take care of our country and all its creatures . The gathered otters let out a great cry! “Yes, let’s work together! HEALTHY RIVERS MEANS HEALTHY PEOPLE!… “and healthy creatures” said Nomthini with a smile.
Little Mo had been listening to the story from the top of the treetop. He fluttered down beside his friend Mtini. “There is something else we need to do too”, he said. “We need to go tell the children about this!” Mtini.” “We need to ask them to paint pictures, make artworks, write poetry and letters for us to take to the President too, showing him how beautiful rivers are and asking him to safeguard their future.” Let’s visit all the schools and communities along the way as we go home to get ready to go to the President. Let’s get other otters to tell this story in their own way all over KZN, so that we can work together to protect our rivers and make sure that the Zonke Zonke don’t mess them up. “Good idea, Mo” all the otters nodded, it felt good to have a plan of action.
Back at picnic rock Mtini was getting ready to set out, all the animal friends were gathered together to say goodbye. Milly Mongoose stepped forward. Everyone had a gift for Mtini to take with on his journey. Milly touched Mtini and said, “Quick thinking – the ability to see all round even if you get into tight places, and if you set a fuse, get out before the explosion!” Nosey Nyala was next, “inquisitiveness – ask questions and then questions about the questions and then more questions, let your heart, head and hands work together to make sure they are the right ones!” Bully Bushpig stepped forward throwing his tusks from side to side in a quite awesome way. “Staying power Mtini – draw the boundaries!:” Don’t let ‘em bully or push you around Mtini, stand your ground and if you need to, show them your tusks!” Bully made stabbing motions through the air and looked so fearsome that Mtini (and some of the other animals) stepped back a pace or two and nearly fell off the rocks.
Porcupine was next, her spines made a bristling sound as she rubbed them together vigorously. She stepped forward. “Your gift, Mtini. is to be sharp, very sharp and make your point felt if you feel threatened and they won’t back off!” “Bull’s eye!” Porcupine reversed right up to a tree and sent her spines straight into the little woodpecker’s house sending a shower of feathers to the ground. Mtini was relieved to see Woodpeckers head emerge from the hole as he hammered furiously away at the quills to unblock his doorway.
Leopard was lying above Mtini on a thick branch in a spreading acacia tree. Mtini was taken a bit by surprise at his deep but gentle voice, floating out of no-where. “Your gift is to take in all points of view Mtini. Then if you can’t see through the woods, climb the tallest tree till you can see all round and know what is behind the things that they say”
Python unfurled sinuously from a long nap to take his place before Mtini. There was an audible intake of breath as Tufty the little grey duiker scrambled out the confines of the snake’s coils and shaking visibly, caught his breath. Mtini started wondering why Python would have trapped his friend Tufty, but between Python’s strange stare and his flicking forked tongue, he lost his train of thought. “Your giffft, said Python slowly, his voice rising and falling like the undulations along his large body, “isss to put the ssssqueeze on them… real ssssoftly at first…and when you’ve got them good and sssstuck, they sssstart sssspilling the beans. Python flicked his tongue for good effect. Mtini looked over at sweet little Tufty standing just out of Python distance. Python followed his gaze, “there’ssss nothing like a good ssssqueeze between friends,” Python said cryptically. Python flicked his tongue a few times more and then slowly slithered under a rock.
Tufty lifted his little dainty head and jumped forward onto a little rock. “Be fleet of foot and sure of senses and don’t be fooled by sweet talk” Tufty looked over to where Python had squeezed his body into a crevice under the rock, his large coils blended perfectly into the angular rock shadows. Tufty’s gentle brown eyes had little tear stains under them and he blinked his long eyelashes a few times.
Kudu had been standing close by. The sun shone behind his magnificent shape and his curved horns threw giant shadows that curled across picnic rocks. Hold your head high, Mtini and always keep to the right track… use your instinct well.”
Zebra stood at attention with the rest of his herd, Mtini couldn’t quite make out where he started or where he stopped. “Your gift, Mtini, is to stay in the shadows of the great trees, they will protect you” Only step into the sunlit grasslands when you are sure you can tell right from wrong.”
Finally Mtini’s friend, little Mo flew down and perched himself on a little branch near Mtini. “I have so many gift’s to give you, “sharpness to get to the bottom of things, clarity to see through the murkiest of rivers, a light and gentle touch on the strongest boughs and the ability to stay steady through the strongest winds. The balance to soar to the highest of heights and to plunge into the deepest of pools and to come out with what you aimed at, looking bright and cheery.” But most of all Mtini, “I give you the gift of my knowledge, wisdom and presence on your journey,” said Mo.
Mtini was overawed at all the gifts he’d been given by his animal friends. Suddenly a great and strange shape filled the space beyond Picnic Rock. The animals looked up in wonder as Eli the last remaining Eland in the valley appeared. The animals gasped, most thought that Eli had been snared and killed by poachers and although many had seen ghostly spoor no-one had set eyes on him for years. Eli’s great head was tilted just a little to one side, but he held it high. One horn rose majestically to pierce the azure blue sky, the other lay crumpled and disfigured towards the ground, framing a deep scar running around Eli’s neck and face. As he bent his head his great horn drew an arch in the sky and touched Mtini’s shoulder. His voice floated across the river, “Be brave and bold, and go where you have to go with confidence and grace, Mtini… but first…make sure your path is clear of snares laid by those that want to trap you.”
Nomthini came forward to kiss Mtini goodbye. “The gift of love, Mtini, it’s the river of life”, said Nomthini, “share it with all you meet along the way.” “Go tell the President that rivers are sacred and that they need to flow safely to the sea.”
So armed with these gifts, Mtini and his little friend Mo asked all the children in the uMngeni Catchment to create beautiful artworks, poetry and letters that share their message about healthy rivers and healthy people. Then Mtini, Mo and the special team of otters set off to give the President Mtini’s “HIGH FIVE”.
- Little finger – SAFETY – do what is safe for all life on earth.
- Ring finger – COMMITMENT – keep trying, don’t give up when the journey gets difficult.
- Middle finger – LOVE & RESPECT – recognise the sacred in everyone and everything, and especially our rivers.
- Pointy Finger – ACCOUNTABILITY – just look to yourself to do what you can do to help rivers, instead of blaming others.
- Thumb – ENCOURAGEMENT – recognise and reward the efforts of others who will in turn encourage yourself to keep going.
- Palms – SHARE – open palms are sharing and giving, beware of the Zonke Zonke who keep all things for themselves.
- Fingers, Hands, Head & Heart – INTERCONNECTEDNESS – remember that all things are connected, what we do affects one another and the environment -.HEALTHY RIVERS mean HEALTHY PEOPLE.
C Pandora Long 7.9.2014