Mtini & Mo

Mtini’s Journey

Mtini, the little cape clawless otter and his friends are very, very worried.  For generations and generations they have enjoyed a beautiful healthy river environment in which to live and rear their babies.  Now, for the first time, the once clean gurgling river is dry, the pools that remain are green and there are no more shrimps, crabs or fish for Mtini’s family and friends to eat.  Mtini decides to take a long and dangerous journey up the Valley to the headlands of the river to find out what has happened…

Now gathered at picnic rocks, Mtini’s heart is heavy as he tells his family and friends whathe has seen.  What are they to do?  How can they save their beloved river?

Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher is sitting on a branch overlooking the river.  He has an idea.  “From the air I can see everything and everyone as I fly up the river and over the city.  I can see that the schools children really care and try the hardest to do what is right.  I am sure that they would love to share the river with us and play and swim in a clean environment.  Let’s ask the children to use their imagination to help us make our river a clean and beautiful living waterway again!”

Mtini’s High Five

Little Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher and his friend Mtini, the cape clawless otter are overjoyed!  They cannot believe what they are seeing.  All the people of Howick, Pietermaritzburg, Valley of 1000 Hills and Durban are working together to clean up their City and restore the health of the Msunduzi River.  Everyone has found something that they can do to help!

Little Mo and Mtini need healthy rivers full of healthy fish to survive.  Things have been very difficult for the animals that rely on the river because it has become very dirty.  Human communities also need clean rivers in order to live healthy lives.  Little Mo and Mtini have started teaching the children about river health.  They have a special message.  It is called Mtini’s High Five.

Little Mo has had a brilliant idea.  He would like all the children of Pietermaritzburg, Howick, Valley of 1000 Hills and Durban to help spread their message to raise awareness for the health of the Msunduzi and uMgeni Rivers.  He asks them all to start drawing pictures of the rivers they live close to.

A Sense of Belonging

Little Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher is perched on his favourite branch along the river.  What’s wrong, Mo? asked his friend, Mtini, the cape clawless otter.  “Some people just came and dumped more rubbish!”  said little Mo.  Mtini looked at the big pile of rubbish lying under Mo’s favourite tree and shook his head.  “I can’t believe that some people just don’t seem to care! Don’t they know that they rely on clean water and healthy eco-systems to survive just as we do?” said Mtini.   Mo shook his wings sadly, “Come Mtini, I want to show you something.”  Mo flew off towards Campsdrift where the Duzi Canoe marathon starts each year.

Mtini ran as fast as he could along the river bank behind Mo, he dodged the broken glass, litter and piles of rubbish, he made his way past a huge truck tyre.  He didn’t know this part of the river well.  He came from another little river that flowed through a little valley into the Msunduzi on the edge of the City. That’s were he met Mo. Little Mo and Mtini have started teaching the children of Pietermaritzburg about river health.

Mo landed on a sign overlooking Campsdrift and pointed at the words below.   “Look what this sign says, Mtini!”  Mo read the sign aloud.

WHILST EVERY EFFORT IS TAKEN TO PREVENT POLLUTION OF THE RIVER, THIS MAY VARY BEYOND OUR CONTROL…  Care should always be taken to prevent immersion of head in water…

“Flying Fish!!” (that was the expression he used when he was very surprised!)  “What do they expect me to do!”  said Mtini. “I need to swim underwater to catch my dinner!… and come to think about it, my dinner needs to swim underwater too!”  Mo looked at his friend, his sleek furry body glistening in the early morning sunlight. The river scene behind him looked very beautiful.   A golden orb spider had built its web in a tree overhanging the river.  “Don’t the children like to swim too? asked Mtini sadly.  They watched two canoeists disappear into the distance as they paddled their way upriver.

“What can we do?” Mtini asked.  Every year we get everyone to clean up the river and then in a little while it gets all dirty again.”  “Its not only the litter, there are so many other reasons why the river is unhealthy!” Mo said.

Little Mo was gazing down at the colourful reflections in the water below.  “Imagine if every year the river got cleaner and cleaner, until it was all sparkling and healthy again!”  “Imagine if everyone loved and respected their city and took care of its natural areas and rivers!” he said.  “I wish that the children knew that they belong here too,” said Mtini.  Suddenly Mo was excited.  The colourful reflections on the water seemed to swirl into shapes and patterns.  “Come Mtini,” Mo flapped his wings and flew off.  “Lets tell the children that they belong!”  Mtini started to run after him, “but how? They can’t understand us!” he called.  “Some of them can!” said little  Mo… I have an idea.  “I think they can help us!.”

Little Mo’s idea is for the children to create an Artwork that helps to spread their message about river health.  You can interpret their message in any way that you think will help Mo and his friends raise awareness for the health of the Msunduzi and uMgeni Rivers. Little Mo and Mtini believe that children should have a sense of belonging to their city environment and its rivers.  They believe that healthy communities need healthy rivers. What do you think?   Can you understand their message?  Can you help Mtini and Mo?

Draw a picture of the river near to you today!  Join the Clean Up Campaign in September!  Get all your friends together and explore your favorite part of the river.  Ask you teacher to take your class to visit an important river near to your school.

Walking and Talking with Mo and Mtini

Mtini, the little cape clawless otter is very confused. He cannot understand why people are still polluting the beautiful environment and rivers that we all share. This makes him very sad.

Little Mo, the Malachite Kingfisher is flying nearby when he spots little Mtini down below looking so unhappy. He decides to go and see what is wrong. “Hello my friend”, chirps little Mo, “I can see that you are not your happy self today, what is the matter?”   “Oh little Mo!”, cries Mtini, “my heart is so heavy.  I know that humans are good and loving and so I just do not understand how it can be okay with them to keep our rivers so dirty and unhealthy.”

Little Mo looked over to the stretch of the Msunduzi river that they were sitting alongside and could clearly see what was upsetting little Mtini. He has many other friends who live in and along the Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers who feel the same way about the state of the rivers.

“Little otter, have you ever heard of the word ‘integrity’?” asks little Mo. “No Mo, I have not, what does it mean?”   Little Mo explains,  “It means that what you think is the same as what you say which is the same as what you do”.  Now little Mtini is rather clever and he catches on very quickly, saying, “So if every human chose to be loving, our rivers would be restored back into a bright, sparkling paradise?” Little Mo replied, “Well yes! You see, if we love ourselves and others it is impossible not to love the environment and want to take care of it!”

By now the little otter is feeling somewhat better about the situation and has an idea.

“Children are very loving Little Mo”, says Mtini, “they can help us reach out to the other humans. They can remind them to be loving as well.”

Just then Mtini and Little Mo hear soft voices coming from nearby. They go to investigate and come across a family having a picnic not far from Alexander Park along the Msunduzi River. Mtini and Little Mo smile happily at one another as they hear two beautiful children telling their parents what they learnt at school today about loving our rivers, loving ourselves, and reminding others how to love.

“There is hope after all ”Mtini thinks to himself, his heart a little lighter as he goes off to find his friends to teach them about integrity too, “I am so grateful for loving children!”

Little Mo and Mtini are inviting the children of Pietermaritzburg, Howick and Ethekwini to join them and all their river friends to help make people aware that healthy communities need healthy rivers.  Their idea is for the children to create an Artwork that helps spread their message about river health.  What do you think?  You can interpret this message in any way you want to.  Mo and Mtini would be so happy if you helped.   “Let’s do it together they say…. Let us show and share the love and make our rivers beautiful again”.  Can you help share this message with others, heart to heart?

Sometimes when it Rains

Mtini and Mo accompany the River Snake on an epic journey down the uMngeni River to the sea, to take Mtini’s message to all the people of the Catchment.

Over the past five years Mtini, the Cape Clawless otter and Mo, the Malachite kingfisher, have been teaching children about healthy rivers and healthy communities.  Many people in Pietermaritzburg, Howick and Durban have started helping to clean up the streets and the rivers, but now Mtini and Mo have received some shocking news!

Mtini sat with his head in his webbed paws.  His long thick tail, usually so agile and active lay silent behind his furry body.  His animal and bird friends sat all around him at Picnic Rocks.  They were very worried.  They had never seen him so upset since that day the farmer blocked their river with his dam, and all the fish and fairy shrimps had died.  “Tell me again what the university said,” asked Mtini.  Mo had flown over from Pietermaritzburg with the news.  Mo adjusted his body on his perch over the Mpushini River, fluffed up his  bright blue feathers and stretched his long red beak, hoping to catch sight of a fish in the pool below.

“A study at Yale University said that South Africa has the worst environmental performance of all the countries in Africa!”  Mtini’s body slumped further.  “But what does that actually mean?” asked Nosey Nyala.  A soft breeze ruffled the pool and broke the antelopes’ reflection into pieces of shining white and russet red.

Mtini lifted his head, “It means that we don’t care about healthy rivers or healthy environments,” he said.  “It means we don’t care about healthy communities either.”

“But that’s not true!” said Mo, shaking his beak from side to side.  “In the last five years we have met so many people that care, why look at all the people we met last year that were taking care of the rivers.  Look at all the help the children have given us!”

Mtini shook his head sadly, “It’s not enough”, he said. “ We need everyone to understand that what they do affects the health of the rivers. Everyone must help. We need to involve the whole catchment otherwise it is not enough!”

The animals listened carefully and nodded in agreement. “But how, Mtini?” asked Bully Bushpig. “Do you want me to threaten people that pollute the river with my tusks?”

Mtini was staring across to where Python was lying basking in the hot midday sun.  Patches of sun and shadow flashed over the rocks and Mtini couldn’t quite work out where Python started or where he ended.  His zigzags seemed to be all over the place!  Suddenly Mtini’s stood up, his whiskers twitched on either side of his little nose.  “I have an idea”, he said. “Listen carefully to what we are going to do!”

Mtini and Mo travelled for many days and many nights to reach the source of the uMngeni River.  This was the start of a great plan to involve everyone in looking after the catchment.  Mtini stood looking at the most beautiful wetland vlei that he had ever seen. Shimmering dewdrops hung like diamonds on the bright green sedges, and all across the shining water, little wisps of silver steam rose to meet the early morning mist.  In the distance, the mountain, uMgeni Poort, stood perfectly still, like a sentinel over the sacred scene.  Behind Mtini, the sun rose higher and higher like a golden orb in a misty sea.  And as he listened to the bird song and the soft sounds of the stream, Mtini could hear the voice of his Grandmother, as she told him stories about this special wetland place.

Mtini sat in a grassland glade, every now and then a soft breeze stroked the fluffy seedheads of Natal redtop and the grasses bent and bobbed in the dappled sunlight. Mtini could feel the quiet calm of his Grandmothers presence.  As a baby otter he would curl up into a tight ball close beside her, safe in the earth burrow deep in the riverbank.  Her chest felt close and comforting and he listened to its rhythm, entranced by the stories she had told.  “The Earth is sacred, Mtini” his Grandmother would say, “but people all over have forgotten.”  Then she would tell him the story of the River Snake, the mountain and the rivers and the sea.   “There is One who protects the headlands of the waters, Mtini” his Grandmother would say at the end of the story. “His name is Inkanyamba.” The Wise remember that He is in charge of all the rivers. He is as invisible as the wind and as resourceful as the sun, Mtini. Though He is one, He is many.  He holds the rain in the folds of his great body, so that all may drink clean water all year round.  In times of great trouble you may ask him to stretch his body from source to sea, and lift his great head to the mountains and send life giving rain that renews the waters of the Earth.  Then you may ask him to make himself visible and encircle the Earth to fill hearts with hope.”

“How will we know when we’ve found Him?” asked Mo.  Mtini thought and thought, trying to find the right answer, but nothing came into his head.  His Grandmother’s stories about the River Snake were so real that Mtini was quite sure that he was here, somewhere!  But how would they see him and know where he was? Mtini and Mo sat at the side of the vlei and ate some of the dried fish and fairy shrimps that Mrs Mtini had packed for them.  A grey heron, perched high in the tree across the water, stretched his long neck into a patch of blue sky that appeared through the fast disappearing morning mist.  Slowly some black duck came down to the water’s edge, a few steps at a time, and then, like little arrows, set off across the water.  A darter stood patiently on a rock, wings outstretched, waiting to catch a fish.  Suddenly a great honking V of Egyptian Geese made three passes at the great expanse of water and then settled gracefully, their chests glittering emerald against the grey green water.

“So you wanted to talk to Me!”  Mtini’s furry body nearly turned inside out with fright!  He looked around.  Mo was sitting on an acacia tree above him.  Mo swallowed hard, as if he had a big fish caught in his throat.  There was nothing to be seen!  The voice was quiet and gentle.

“You want to talk to Me?” the voice asked again.  Mtini strained his eyes, the mist was almost gone, but still there was nothing to be seen.  Mtini knew in his heart that it was Inkanyamba.  Mtini had so many things that he wanted to say, he didn’t know where to begin.

“We want you to come with us down the river to the sea and give the people a message”, said Mtini.

“A message? What do you want me to say?” said the voice.

“I want you to tell them my Grandmother’s story,” said Mtini. “Your story…you are Inkanyamba?!” Mtini said without doubt.  You the guardian of the river!  You can bring hope! The rivers are so dirty and the peoples hearts are hard, they don’t care that the river is in great trouble, and that plants and animals are dying and people are getting sick.”

“So that’s what your Grandmother told you?” the voice asked.

“Yes,” said Mtini, “she told me stories about how Inkanyamba took special care of the wetlands so that all year round the plants and animals and people living along the river can have clean water to drink. She taught me how take care of the river.  She said that that the wetlands were sacred.” Mtini said.  “She said that all the Earth was sacred!”

“Sacred!?” said the voice, “what does that mean?”

“My grandmother spoke about everything having a special presence and a special purpose, ” said Mtini, “She said that the wetlands are the source of the river and that the whole Earth works together in harmony to feed the rivers flow.  My grandmother told me so many things…that what we do must be safe for one another and for the Earth and that we need to be committed and never give up trying.  She said that the source of the river sustains all life and that we need to show love and respect.  Instead of blaming others for messing things up, we need to see what we can do to make things better and encourage one another to take care of the rivers.  She showed me how to have a good attitude and to be helpful and loving, because we are all connected to the mountains, the rivers and the sea.”

I am Inkanyamba, said the voice. “And I will help take this message down the river to the sea. “But it will not be enough for me to accompany you to the sea.   People all over have forgotten how to care for rivers and how to love the source.  It is no use cleaning the uMngeni if all the tributaries that feed it, run dirty! We will need the help of all the River Snakes in the catchment!” said Inkanyamba. Then Inkanyamba spoke again.  “It will not be enough for all the River Snakes to journey with me to the sea, for what will happen to the wetlands once we leave on our journey? We need to keep a presence and protect their purpose! We will need the help of all the birds, animals and children in the catchment too!” he said.

“What shall we do?”asked Mtini and Mo together.

“Now listen carefully,” said the River Snake.

All morning the birds of the uMngeni River arrived at uMngeni Poort to listen to Inkanyamba’s instructions.  Big wattled cranes with crowned crests shining in the sunlight; great black and white Fish Eagle; tiny shimmering black sunbirds; brown hooded kingfishers; swifts and blue swallows; purple crested louries, so many birds that Mtini and Mo lost count!   Soon the birdsong filled the valley and then, just as suddenly as the birds had come, they took off again in a cumulous cloud of coloured feathers.  They flew up all the rivers that fed the big uMngeni.  They flew up the Lionsriver, the uMsunduzi, the Mpushini and the Umlazi.   They flew up the Pata, the Blackburrowspruit and the Dorpspruit.  They flew to every spring and every wetland, to the source of every little tributary in the uMngeni River catchment.  And as they flew over the schools along the rivers, they called to the children to help spread Mtini’s message. All over the catchment Mtini and Mo started teaching the children their High Five.  This was the lesson that Mtini had learnt from his Grandmother. The Children started singing and dancing, painting pictures, writing poems and stories.  Soon the plan was in place.

Mtini and Mo were ready for the long journey to the sea.  At the source of the rivers in every wetland area, the River Snakes were getting ready too.  Gently they spread their invisible bodies from one side of the river bank to the other, and all around the edge of the wetlands the plants and animals joined together to help hold the River Snakes’ tails behind, so that the wetlands could continue to be protected..

Then when everything was ready, Inkanyamba, Mtini and Mo set off to take the message to the sea. Stretched out behind them, the giant invisible Inkanyamba spread his body across the uMngeni River,  and all over the catchment, along every  tributary, the River Snakes started to make their way to the sea. And all along the way, in schools and communities, children learnt about Mtini’s High Five and with singing and dancing, artwork and drama the children helped Mtini’s message get to the sea.

Mtini and Mo followed the uMngeni river for days and days and days, passing over rocks and rapids, through gorges and great big dams until at last they came to the grey mouth of Blue Lagoon.  And as they got near, birds and animals and people from all over Ethekwini joined them along the banks of the estuary at Mangroves.  Mtini turned to Mo, his eyes sparkled with happiness and his little whiskers twitched with excitement “They got the message!” he said.

Mtini’s otter prints left little dents in the soft beach sand over the dunes and as he reached the sea he turned and looked back.  Intertwined with sedge and sand, Inkanyamba’s shining body lay stretched out into the distance from source to sea.  Mtini watched Inkanyamba lift his great head to the mountain, and send huge white billowing clouds into the sky.  Then softly, gently it began to rain.  The late afternoon sun stretched its rays to meet the rain and far in the distance, over the sea, a beautiful rainbow encircled the Earth.  Just for one moment all became one, Inkanyama had returned to the source.  The river was renewed.

Mo sat on a Mangrove tree and fluffed his blue feathers around his neck.  Sea Gulls wheeled in the sandy surf for scraps of sea creatures.  Mtini hit a High Five with his feathered friend. Their journey was at an end.

And everywhere the rain fell people remembered the cycle of the river, and  started to clean up the catchment.  Once again, music, songs and stories, poetry and paintings reminded everyone that the river was sacred.   And people came from faraway places to learn about the uMngeni, about the plants and animals and the people that belonged there.  And as the visitors walked along the banks they listened with renewed hope to the story of Inkanyama.  And they came from far and wide to hear Mtini’s message of healthy rivers and healthy communities.  The message that the children helped bring to the sea.  And there was singing and dancing, laughter and joy along the banks of the uMngeni River and its tributaries again…and soon along the banks of rivers in faraway places too.

Do you like this story?  Can you help bring Mtini’s message to the people of the uMngeni catchment?  What would you like to help Mtini say?  You can paint or draw a picture, write a poem or a story.  What about writing a play and acting it out with your friends?  You could write a song or a special piece of music.  Why don’t you use what you find along the river bank to make an instrument that could share Mtini’s message?  You could carve wood or sculpt clay, weave or plait grass with Mtini’s message.  You could make up a special dance, either by yourself or in a group that tells everyone about the story.  You could use your voice to tell the story, mime it or use puppets.  What about a sand sculpture or painting or rock art?  What about an artwork made of ice!  But you would need to capture it quickly!  What about a beautiful photo or video clip.  Don’t forget that Mtini’s message is about people and place!  And remember that this message is about sharing, can you share this special message with others?  Mtini and Mo will be very happy if you do.

Mtini and Mo is written by Pandora Long of Bushbabies Environmental Education Project to support the DUCT Living Waterways Art Campaign.  The pictures used in this story are some of the entries over the past 4 years.
To find outhow you can participate this year, contact Pandora on


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