Anti-Fracking Angels

Pandora Long writes about the day she spent with 50/50 filming a fracking documentary.

Kholosa was winging my questions as we drove a rather windy route (due to missing a couple of strategic turnoffs) up to Malvina’s beautiful midlands farm, nestled at the foot of Inhlosane. From time to time Penz and I reminisced over familiar landmarks from our Riverwalk journey down the uMngeni in 2012.

inhlosane dec 2014 055

Kholosa reads from the World Energy Report the latest figures projected for SA methane gas extraction. It’s set to make up four percent of SA’s future energy. Just four percent? Rhino Oil and Gas are applying to wreck the entire KZN Midlands to produce just 4 percent of SA’s energy requirements? Ludicrous.

Ryan had set up his camera when we arrived and Malvina greeted a double load of arrivals. As synchronicity would have it, Mike Farley, (aka retired uMngeni riverwalker) and Gareth Boothway arrived at the farm right behind us. Warm greetings over, it was time to get down to the shoot.

Jacqui and Julie had set out the basic questions required to complete the story line for the Frack Free KZN 50/50 story of the Fracking Angels. In a space of just sixteen weeks we’d moved from an ad hoc group of mainly women, gently gathering up the midlands to help raise awareness, to banner wield, toyi toy, and rapid-fire sharp questions at professional hunter, Phillip Steyn (COO) and geology student, Travis Smithard of Rhino Oil and Gas, and SLR consultant, Matthew Hemming. Add apathetic and you have the list of negative psychological responses that removes feelings of guilt after simultaneous feelings of pain, anger, sadness and helplessness get too overwhelming for one. I really do feel empathy but it’s no excuse for misleading, obfuscating snollygaster tactics. So Viva! Viva! to our Midlands Fracktivistas who, in no uncertain terms, let Rhino Oil & Gas and their consultants SLR know that exploration for methane shale gas in KZN gets a resounding NO!

Fracking howick west 025

So how did this all come about? A small newspaper advert that raged like wildfire through KZN alerting landowners, farmers, residents, environmentalists to the threat of exploration and fracking in KZN. The 50 50 story followed this break, tracing some very human stories that show concern for the future health of our beautiful province.

Some shots of a strategy meeting, swopping research info about Rhino Oil and Gas and the hell they were proposing to wreak on KZN. How many litres does it take to frack a well? I rattle off a research study listing seven types of shale rock and the corresponding amounts of water that each fracking well required. I got to the last one Horn River Shale, British Columbia….15.8 million gallons. That’s a huge amount of water. Converted that makes 59.809 million litres of Berg water. How much is that exactly? A whole stream for a whole year? Seven times seven times seven years of no rain of Malvina’s farm?

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Now the shooting begins in earnest and Ryan is in top form directing the shoot. We are not good. He makes us do it again, and again… quite hard this walking the length of the lawn without talking at the same time! That under the belt, we take a drive to the Furth river a little way from the main house. Kholosa does her citizen science thing with an ice cream tub and puts her heart into an interview. “As women, we must unite to fight fracking she says” adding “Protecting the land is close to our hearts, we must fight peacefully to protect it.”

50 kholosa

Malvina sets off for a grazing group of distant Ngunis. Amongst them are two beautiful Shires. She feeds them carrots. The snuggle into towards her. A Mommy Nguni and her calf move up. The wind shifts. It’s a moving experience. I’m glad they can all graze safely. What of our dairy herds, our beef herds if fracking means we cannot guarantee uncontaminated grazing, unpolluted rivers?

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Now it’s my turn and we move to a beautiful shale rock waterfall. I digress from my questions quite a bit and start again quite a few times probably off topic. I wish I’d said this and not that. Ryan takes it in his stride. I show him how the shale rock is fissured and talk about how fracking will push these fissures open further, six km and more under the ground. It’s like artificially weathering rock, and I point at a substantial crack reaching up into the rock and wonder how much gas would start an upward journey through fissure after fissure to find its way into the aquifer and into surface water and beyond. Have you seen water on fire? It happens you know, in areas where they frack.

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We move into the house for some shots of the webpage Frack Free KZN. Malvina is talking, then its Kholosa’s turn.

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Now Evert is taking us on a really wild journey in the 4 x 4 up to the waterfall. Ryan follows a little more cautiously behind. The men hive off at a fast past and the angels take a more leisurely pace down the steep slope to the edge of the falls. In a little while, a square white drone about the size of a stack of four large pizza boxes, hovers over the falls and then shoots gracefully up and down between its steeply incised banks. I joke with Malvina – “no more riverwalking, I say. We can just send our drone down a 200 reach at a time to check it out” I say. A large enough one could just helicopter us down! The men are on their way back.

50 evert ryan

I take a couple of photos. The light peeps out from behind billowing cloud to bathe Inhlosane in a soft light as she adjusts and readjusts her milky shawl around her head. I think of Nkosazana Nkubluwane.

Shoot over. Ryans off to Himeville to do a Falcon story. We laugh. We had serious fun. We talk about bringing young people up into areas like this to learn about rivers, about fracking and what that will mean for the future of our children, our water resources and our landbase. We are stilled for a moment, then we are filled with ideas. Penz is going to find help to write a Frack Free song “Get the hell out of KwaZulu-Natal” It’s got a nice ring to it. Kholosa is going to write a story that unite women against fracking…

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I’m going to ask Penny if we can invite the Frack Free angels to stand with us on the Escarpment at the top of the Tugela Falls and then find ways to fly then all over KZN to raise awareness, as the Riverwalk team descend down the foothills along the Tugela towards Colenso. With the spectre of a newly approved coal power station the symbol of a Rubicon for KZN a new future for SA. A future where everyone stands silent and firm for renewable energy, renewable rivers and renewable livelihoods for the children of our land.

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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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11 Responses to Anti-Fracking Angels

  1. Dean de Chazal says:

    I see you’ve changed the name of the mountain.. its not Umgeni, its Mgeni, not Umtata but Mthatha

  2. Great read Pandora – I feel I was there too … keep writing lets get everyone reading and listening to the dangers of frackings and thinking about the reality of renewable energy .

  3. Let us know when the 50/50 piece is done, I like to try and download all the updates so I can show my employees on the farm – they also have a right to know what is going on.

  4. Gill says:

    Hi Nikki and your intrepid team of water watchers,

    First may I congratulate and thank you for all you are doing to alert us to the seriousness of the water situation here in Natal and the broader S.A.

    I have been following your posts and am astounded and concerned with much of what you tell us, also amazed at the beauty of some of the places you find yourselves in.

    I would like to suggest that you put together a petition on the AVAAZ to rally as many signatures in support of the anger and concern for the midlands and the Anti-fracking movement there.

    We all need to give it as much support as we can and I am willing to help with getting a petition together if you can send me as much pertinent information and stats to back up the argument against fracking that we can together muster.

    Please let me know if anyone has already suggested of is in the process of doing so, otherwise I will try to assist you.

    Kind Regards,

    Gill Van Wyk,

    Amamzimtoti Conservancy;


  5. trish speed says:

    Watched 50/50 tonight. How does one get involved?

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