The Prodigal Son is caught in a net...

The Prodigal Son is caught in a net...
The Prodigal Son is caught in a net...

Update from the Lalela uLwandle pilot in Durban, South Africa

“Are those screens… are they battery operated?” these are the most frequently asked question by children visiting the uShaka Marine World Aquarium when seeing the large marine tanks (and the marine life inside them) for the first time. This is a sobering reminder of many children’s disconnection with the ocean and what important work needs to be done in the One Ocean Hub. These insights were brought to our attention in a focus group with educators at the aquarium in Durban, hosted last week by our South African Empatheatre research team.  Our team has, over the past two months, been conducting interviews, oral histories and focus groups with various knowledge holders in Kwa-Zulu Natal, as well as other hub co-investigators and partners in South Africa and overseas.

This all forms part of the pilot project “Lalela uLwandle” translated from the isiZulu meaning “listen to the sea”. This pilot project aims to test out our reflexive social learning methodology: Empatheatre, in surfacing narratives, worldviews and complex lived realities of people involved directly and indirectly with the social, economic, scientific, cultural and political engagement of the ocean.

As part of this week of research and engagement with project partners, The Lalela team also performed their recent Empatheatre production “The Last Country” which explores migrant women’s experiences in this Coastal City. This already existing play was shared as a means to familiarize future civil society and co-engaged Hub partners in the region with the Empatheatre process, and how it might work in their context.  Last week, the Lalela team hosted two focus groups, one with marine educators and another with South Durban fisher-folk, they conducted informal interviews with beach goers along the Durban beach front, and also spent time with fishermen pulling in nets, and sharing their catch with a diverse crowd assembled on the beach to witness the spectacle. Jamie and Mpume witnessed the catch of the year, colloquially known as “the prodigal son” (Genus: Cobia) this massive fish was carried out of the waves, along with catch of mackerel and much unwanted plastic waste. The prodigal son was a sign that the annual massive sardine migration is soon to arrive.

Durban has had a difficult few months, and we witnessed the most recent confounding challenges facing this coastal city. Recent municipal strikes left large quantities of refuse piled uncollected on the streets of the city. The floods earlier this month washed all the waste into the sea, and the municipality is struggling now to clean the beaches. Speaking to a municipal worker, I learned that their teams spend all day cleaning the beaches of plastic waste, only to find themselves in a coastal remake of ‘ground hog day’, starting the clean up all over again the next morning… “it just washes back ashore overnight…we don’t know when it will stop…” said a particularly flummoxed municipal cleaner on my morning run along the beachfront.

In addition to this, the swimming beaches were closed for health and safety, as the city’s sewage plant’s pumps failed, and for three days 7200 litres of raw sewage flowed into the bay per hour.

We were witness to longer term struggles in conversations with Fisher Folk in Durban. Mr and Mrs Moonsamy, have been fishing together for over 50 years, and shared their concerns with other fisher folk of the ever more restrictive legislation that hinders their ability to fish and feed themselves and their family, while massive industrial fishing operations seem to have free range of the ocean, and are not policed as they are. The inequality of access and use of the ocean was further explored in these discussions, along with other historical accounts of how the oceans and it’s bounty has changed over time, they mentioned myths and legends that fisher folk share while fishing off the Durban piers.

There is much still to surface in this pilot, our Lalela ULwandle Empatheatre team has only just begun and we have scheduled some longer oral histories with fisher folk, government officials, economists, activists, traditional healers, swimmers and other citizens in the region, along with some upcoming focus groups and interviews with some of our internal hub co-I’s. 

Our research for this pilot continues till the 8th of July, and then we will be developing and rehearsing a small production to share at the Global living Aulas in August.  Hopefully the children that will see the production later this year at the aquarium, will realize that there is no screen between them and the performance, and our actors are not battery operated.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology, with special thanks to Tamlynn Fleetwood, Danel Janse Van Rensberg, Sarah Currier and Tanushree Mehta for all the coordination, administration and logistical support for all the behind the scenes work last week .