Nelson Mandela Foundation

On 27 October, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted the first pre-Annual Lecture dialogue on the theme “A Decolonised Climate Change Agenda for the Global South” on Twitter Spaces. The discussants were Thandile Chinyavanhu, environmental and social activist; Nkosikhona Mpungose, community development activist and a champion of meaningful youth participation and inclusion; and Olawunmi Ola-Busari, Policy Officer at ONE Africa and works to shape policy and discourse surrounding climate jobs and accountability. The Foundation’s Head of Mandela Day, Gushwell Brooks, facilitated the conversation.

At the heart of the inquiry was the recognition that South Africa has been faced with several climate-linked events that have caused devastating effects on many poor communities. We find ourselves with a unique opportunity to pursue strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. What should we be doing? And what does a decolonised climate change action plan look like for the Global South?

In opening the Space, Gushwell explored the question of “climate justice” in asking whether certain countries and regions have special responsibilities towards the climate crisis or whether the crisis compels us all to do everything that we can, regardless of the circumstances.

In her response, Thandile reflected on how no country will be left unaffected by climate change and, in that sense, there must be a common goal that we are all working towards. Thandile went further and unpacked how the history of colonisation in many parts of the Global South as well as the Industrial Revolution has had particularly differential outcomes for countries in the Global North which largely benefitted from these historical processes and the Global South which largely suffered deep historical injuries from the same.

Often, the need to mitigate the effects of climate change is made to compete with economic interests such as jobs and economic development. The concern is that, if countries in the Global South fail to effectively exploit their natural resources, our economies will cease to grow and we will never be able to compete with the Global North.

Engaging with the question, Olawunmi described the competition between economic development and the climate as a false dichotomy. “Society is dependent on the environment. The human body can only operate under certain temperatures. People's homes, jobs, and roads are at stake. It must be both [economic development and the climate]. Climate change is saying the way we have been developing is not sustainable, we must change the ways of production. There is no economy on a dying planet.” 

There is also a clear and pressing need to connect local and regional strategies for combatting climate change with international ones to advance an effective climate strategy. In the work the Foundation does in bringing emergency relief to disaster victims, we have often been confronted with the difficult reality that many disaster victims don’t know about climate change and how it may be connected to their experiences.

On the question of community engagement, Nkosikhona unpacked the role that civil society has to play in advocating for climate justice at the grassroots. However, he further went on to also describe the role that the government has to play.

“All they know is it’s dangerous – the government only teaches them about the threat, but not the role people can play,” Nkosikhona shared. 

Olawunmi expanded on this and articulated how inasmuch as there may not be widespread knowledge on the terminology and scale of climate change, people have noticed and understand deeply that our weather patterns and ecologies are changing. When engaging communities, Olawunmi continued, it is important to appreciate how they understand their own lives and environments far better. Our role as civil society is to connect the knowledge of communities with mainstream discussions and empower them regarding ways they can meaningfully participate in the solutions to the climate crisis.

Thandile echoed the sentiment and went further: “The crisis has really played on our political fractures, especially in the ruling party. It’s exposed how communities attempt engaging with government on issues of climate change, in the seismic exploration of the coast, and coal mining, and the way government responded and what interests they were exploring.” She went on to also reflect on how “we are moving in the right direction in terms of civic engagement in the use of our resources”.

Turning to the question of the decolonial agenda, Gushwell canvassed the question of a “Global South agenda” on climate justice, especially considering how countries of the Global South are especially vulnerable to climate disasters.

“There is no official one,” responded Olawunmi, “there are different coalitions, caucuses negotiating on behalf of people they represent, both in respect to country and to continental regions. Low- and middle-income countries do differ and are not a monolith. But, where there is similarity, it is that many of them experience the worst and [are often] least capable to deal [with climate disasters] and yet having to spend significant money adapting and responding. The shared pain point is about tackling the present threats of climate change. Adaptation is important. Finance is the big ask. Finance that is accessible because what exists is insufficient and in the form of loans and not going where it needs to go most.”

The pre-Annual Lecture Twitter Space discussion was attended by over 400 live participants and a recording is available here. The 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture will be given by Her Excellency, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados and is themed “Social Bonding and Decolonisation in the Context of the Climate Crisis: Perspectives from the Global South”. This year’s lecture will take place on 12 November 2022 at the Durban International Convention Centre. To reserve your ticket, click here.