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Lessons in Hope 

by Janet Solomon

I get goosebumps recalling this time last year when South Africans showed their true colours – and they turned out to be ocean blues. Apparently those that measure these changes in skin texture, link them with social bonding and moral acts[1]. This sounds about right. When Shell showed up with impunity, and no environmental assessment, expecting to blast its seismic survey through Wild Coast waters, it triggered a particularly South African “to hell with you” response. Networks formed, we marched, occupied beaches, websites popped up, volunteers put hands up, people offered their services and the coalitions formed still remain strong a year later. Thousands roused by the same outrage, many who’d never protested before or boycotted a petrol outlet for that matter, stepped forward to tell government there’s no sane reason to have oil and gas cowboys on our Wild Coast. Reminders were everywhere that Royal Dutch Shell has never been held to account for its complicity in murders, torture, rape and atrocities in Nigeria.

This, and the subsequent victories in the Shell and Searcher court interdicts, matter in a year where rhetoric took the place of the real quest to secure our climate future. One just needs to mention COP27 to realise the divide that forms between inaction with its roots in fear, and action with its roots in hope. The Oceans Not Oil movement has brought a vocabulary for change ingrained with an ancient respect for the ocean and a knowledge that it is this ocean that has and still forms us as humans. It is the bravery of fishers, healers and activists standing up to extractivist bullies that has ensured recognition of the embedded spiritual and cultural connections of South Africans to the sea; the key role of the ocean to livelihoods and the right to food security; that climate change impacts and considerations need to be taken into account when authorising applications; that chiefs and kings do not have a legal right to speak for their communities; that the entire ocean community, including ocean others, needs consideration under our Integrated Coastal Management system. This is the stuff of goosebumps because it expands the scope of new possibilities.

These were lessons in hope, showing us that when we act we open up space for influence. Our coastline is inundated with offshore applications right now. The ANC government is making this our reality and it is one we need to face and address. It is not inevitable. Our coastline and its estuaries do not have to end up oiled, our seas do not have to absorb the costs of more CO2, the poor and the marginal do not have to lose more. Stopping offshore oil and gas development is an issue which matters utterly. There is a palpable momentum against ocean injustice because it becomes climate injustice, affecting us all. This ‘blue’ resistance is transforming silence into language, bridging differences, and gives us grounds to act and define a future which is not yet written.

[1] [Seibt, B., Schubert, T. W., Zickfeld, J. H., & Fiske, A. P. (2017). Interpersonal closeness and morality predict feelings of being moved. Emotion17(3), 389.]

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