We’ve done some crazy things this year but dragging a large fish behind an overlander bus filled with students and staff all the way to Windhoek and back ranks as one of the strangest! But strange is good because the objective of the trip was to coax stories out of people as we journeyed north towards the 13th Participatory Design conference in Windhoek, stories that reflected local community understandings of climate change and its effects on their daily lives.
The strangeness of the world that we have unquestioningly become accustomed to became very apparent in our two workshops with communities at Lamberts Bay and then at Noordoewer on the Orange River. Using storytelling as a means of encouraging dialogue, students, staff and community members shared viewpoints and examples of daily challenges that related to water scarcity, mono crops, fishing, and drought. A poignant moment for me was when Gerrit Burger said that every time he sees another truck load of potatoes leaving Lamberts Bay he thinks “there goes our water”. Potatoes (being about 80% water) are reducing the ground water levels by meters and drying up the rivers and wetlands, this in turn reduces the estuarine areas where fish can spawn and so affects the fishing industry.
These vicious cycles are speedy and devastating for the environment and for the marginalized communities trying to make a living in places where this balance is most fragile. On the Orange River we spoke with people living on the river who told us they have to pay between R75-R200 for piped water, tough going when an average monthly salary is R500 for a fruit picker working for the large companies farming grapes… and they live on one of the largest rivers in Southern Africa.
Stories gathered by us were then inscribed onto mud like tiles that were placed under the fish – these provided an engaging means for the conference delegates to see our story as a whole. The opposite sides of the fish contrasted death and life with a wire running the length of the fishes dead side that challenged delegates to guide a loop along without setting off a buzzer, in so doing highlighting the fragility of our ecosystems.
The fish we towed was built partly in Cape Town by an interdisciplinary mix of 4th year students, and then completed and added to so that the iterations displayed the gathering of knowledge along the way.
It was a good combo of fun, learning, and venturing into unfamiliar territories – both literally and figuratively. Reflections and academic articles or papers will present outcomes from this highly participatory project that was very generously funded by the South Africa Norway Climate Change Cooperation agreement SANCOOP to explore designerly ways of upscaling approaches to the climate change issue in SA.