I take immense pride in talking about my mother. This petite, wild-haired woman could raise hell itself if it was good and right.
Melody Futter was born in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. A typical farm child she spent most of her time avoiding any sort of acceptable ‘lady-like’ behaviours, instead, favouring those that one usually only escaped within an inch of one’s life. Coming home from the bush dishevelled and happy. This was the start of her love of the natural world which played a huge part in who she was.
After art school, she got her start working at the newspaper The Daily Dispatch, East London under Donald Woods, who would become a dear friend and mentor. Following the death of her colleague Steve Biko and the exile of Donald Woods – both avid anti-apartheid activists, she made the difficult decision to leave South Africa for Namibia.
An original member of NEEN (a non-profit organisation for environmental education), the press club, and the Save the Rhino Trust, I can’t remember a time during my childhood when we weren’t taking on some injustice, marching for this and protesting that. HIV/Aids home-based care, rhino conservation, environmental resource tools, and human rights, her writing and illustrations were there!
At its height ‘Camel Graphics’ (the design and textile factory she ran with her sister) got the contract to be the sole supplier of merchandise for the Namibian Independence celebrations. A flurry of activity ensued, the honourable Sam Nujoma and Co, sitting on a pile of boxes discussing Namibia’s future, the team hustling to get everything done on time. I, blissfully asleep under the table to the constant hum of hair dryers drying ink. Some of these items can still be seen at the National Museum in Windhoek.
It was just after Independence that the first edition of Welcome to Namibia colouring book was published. We were all feeling the same, an immense sense of hope and pride for this amazing new country. On a journey through Namibia, the artist made each page come alive as they experience it.
Shortly after she released the ‘NAMIBIA’ colouring in posters. Both were an instant hit!
My mother’s environmental knowledge was immense. What she didn’t know, we would discover together in the pages of various books. Answers we couldn’t find were then made up! She encouraged imagination and a sense of adventure that would help mold my career.
It’s no surprise then that I got an Environmental degree. Nikon camera always in hand, I started as a lowly intern scrambling up the mountains of the Namib Naukluft, documenting sensitive endemic species, plotting and planning the path of least disturbance, and discovering leopard dens (which is also how I discovered how quickly I could scramble down a mountain). I moved up, leading teams rehabilitating the scars of human activity. Watching closely for signs of recovery. The joy of insects tending to the soil and carrying seeds into the earth. Waiting patiently for the rain to kick start the succession of flora. I got to be part of a Wild dog research project, which got me involved in communities. From here it was a natural step to Environmental education.
My first goal was to develop an Environmental Education (EE) program for urban primary school children based out of Daan Viljoen reserve. I was terrified. I had the bush knowledge, but I had never illustrated anything in my life, never mind a whole book! I take photos, my mother was the artist! Well, it stuck, I’ve been helping develop EE programs, writing and illustrating the associated materials. Each is specially crafted to unique habitats and beautiful people, photographing the little details along the way.
When Mom passed away in 2014, I knew I couldn’t just let a lifetime of talent and work just disappear. The second edition of ‘Welcome to Namibia’ was the start of this tribute. It’s been a truly special process and the response so far has been amazing.
The plan is to re-release the ‘NAMIBIA’ poster along with prints of her flora and fauna sketches and paintings. As for me, I’d like to carry on the legacy with books for different age groups.
For every Welcome to Namibia colouring book bought; you automatically gift 1 to a Namibian school-going child under the auspices of the Gondwana Care Trust. Through the Back-to-School Christmas Bag project 2022, we will aim to collect as many books to be inserted into the stationery kit for the new year. We were so blessed to have been able to hand out over 2500 bags during the Christmas period of 2021. I’d like there to be a whole new generation of kids (and grownups) who get to enjoy these publications and hopefully spark a sense of adventure and pride for this incredible county, the environment, and its people.
Pictures and text by: Rachel Du Raan Photography