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PIMA BULLETIN NO 49

Part Two: A pluriverse of personal stories

Climate justice education: Stitching together hope and resilience

Buhle Francis

I am a scholar-activist based in South Africa, in a rural-town called Makhanda, where I work as a researcher at the Environmental Learning Research Centre, at Rhodes University. My work is funded through the One Ocean Hub (OOH) - a project led by Strathclyde University in the United Kingdom.  I work with coastal communities across South Africa. In particular, I have built a close relationship with the Eastern Cape coastal communities, where I work with small-scale fishers, especially those who are members of fishing cooperatives that the government of South Africa brought into existence through the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.  More generally, I also work with subsistence fishers, fisher leaders and the coastal women and shellfish harvesters. 

 

My research focus is very much action-based, co-engaged and responsive to a range of injustices along the South African coastline. Through this action-based research, I specifically focus on gender and how it is linked to ocean governance, ocean livelihoods and livelihood diversification.  Previously, my work has centred on livelihoods, natural resources governance, climate change, climate coping and climate adaptation with communities living adjacent to terrestrial protected natural areas. Currently, I am undertaking pioneering, collaborative research at the nexus of environmental justice, gender equality, ocean livelihoods, and inclusivity in ocean-related decision-making processes. My research demonstrates the Hub’s support for developing relationships between academics and coastal communities in which value flows in both directions. What enables this work is a range of activities that fall into the realm of climate justice education. I have a passion for empowering the most vulnerable in our society to fight for a sustainable and just futures. 

 

My story is one of dedication and resilience; one that harmonizes perfectly with the principles of climate justice education. To me, climate justice education is about addressing the profound inequalities that climate change exacerbates. It's about giving a voice to those most affected and empowering them to become the change-makers in their communities. My work with the fishers began in 2020 during South Africa’s level-5 COVID lockdown when movement was completely restricted. Together with other researchers in the OOH, we started a WhatsApp group with funded data for fishers to learn what support they needed and to assist fishers to keep in touch with one another. The WhatsApp group gradually led to the emergence of a knowledge-solidarity network among small-scale fishers, researchers, and civil society called the Coastal Justice Network https://coastaljusticenetwork.co.za. Through the network, I spearheaded the establishment of a “sewing project” which the women requested, as part of their journey towards sustainable livelihoods. The sewing project, which uses recycled and reused fabric waste, embodies my vision for climate justice education.

 

With their reliance on coastal resources, I believe that the coastal communities are the ones most acutely impacted by climate change. Rising sea levels, unpredictable weather patterns, and dwindling fish stocks have shaken their foundations. In response, I have worked tirelessly to provide not just a means of economic survival but a pathway to environmental consciousness. The sewing project is not just about stitching fabric - it's about stitching together hope and resilience. Through this project, women come together to learn and share skills; to support one another as they create sustainable, eco-friendly products, in line with their commitment to climate justice principles. They are not just tailors; they are advocates of change. The sewing project is more than a livelihood; it's a way for coastal communities to adapt to the changing climate while also understanding and building community and solidarity in times of crises. My story is a testament to the power of climate justice education and its capacity to transform communities. I am a dedicated scholar-activist who is trying to pave the way for coastal women to become leaders. Through my vision, the coastal women are not just sewing fabrics - they're stitching together a more equitable and sustainable future.

About the Author

Buhle Francis, is a scholar activist-based in South Africa, Rhodes University, at the Environmental Learning Research Centre in the One Ocean Hub Project. Buhle has a different vision for what academic research can do, both for academia and for those who are `studied`. With women in small-scale fishing communities in the Eastern Cape, she is undertaking pioneering collaborative research at the nexus of environmental justice, gender equality, ocean livelihoods, and inclusivity in ocean-related decision-making processes. buhlefrancis00@gmail.com

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