By Sofia Tillo
Published August 3, 2010
South African rural communities have turned to theatre in a creative effort to respond to the challenges of climate change. Resource Africa, a not-for-profit organisation working on natural resource management, is leading the way. In cooperation with the Bennde Mutale community, near the Mozambican and Zimbabwean borders, Resource Africa has founded the Bennde Mutale Theatre Group, a small itinerary theatre company to bring innovative environmental education to the area.
“Rural communities need to find a tool to express what they really mean to say about climate change,” says Astrid Westerlind Wigstrom, Resource Africa’s Head of Climate Change Community-Based Adaptation Programme.
The product of the collaboration between Resource Africa and Bennde Mutale is now on stage for all to see. The plays are original and encourage audiences to think about climate change adaptation. The theatre group performs in four languages and tours the surrounding region.
Ownership and participation are key words within the Bennde Mutale Theatre Group, all the actors are local and every script is open-ended and flexible.
“The theatre group works because people are really honest after the plays with their comments. They say things to us that they would never say in an interview. It helps all of us find solutions that the community actually has ownership of,” says Wigstrom. “Suddenly it explains why they have had five years of draught, or why even those elders who are very experienced in agriculture cannot predict the weather seasons anymore. So people are interested.”
Resource Africa hopes to instigate a debate within the communities it visits. “The theatre group works because people are really honest after the plays with their comments. They say things to us that they would never say in an interview. It helps all of us find solutions that the community actually has ownership of.”
Resource Africa focuses on a community-based approach to finding solutions for adaptation and mitigation of climate change because, says Wigstrom, “Nothing will change unless the community wants it to change.”
Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Coordinator for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Africa Group of Negotiators, says, “We cannot tell people to just drastically change their livelihoods. We need to take into account local history, traditions and knowledge and then slowly bring change.It can be a two side approach, mutually beneficial, we can mitigate climate change and actually make people’s life better in the process. It is all about growth at a lower carbon footprint.”
Resource Africa is confident that growth and resourceful adaptation to the challenges of climate change can walk hand in hand. They also defend that solutions can come from within each community.
Wigstrom says, “People have an innovative ways of dealing with the negative impact of climate change, even if they are not aware that this is what they are doing. Really, it is a two way street, a process where Resource Africa and the local people learn from each other.”
Meanwhile, the UNFCCC continues to work to ensure global decision-makers support and expand on the efforts of local actors like Resource Africa. Mpanu-Mpanu concedes that the decisions made in Copenhagen ‘lacked the ambition we hoped to see’ but remains positive about the upcoming UNFCCC Convention. He also emphasises the crucial role of the US in the upcoming meetings: “The US shows political and economic leadership in the world. Now it is time to show some leadership on climate change.”
As the Bennde Mutale Theatre Group continue to tour their local region, showing dramatic climate change leadership, Resource Africa is considering expanding the project to rural Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Meanwhile Westerlind Wigstrom of Resource Africa and Max Thabiso Edkins of the University of Cape Town Energy Research Center will co-edit a short documentary about the group’s work. The launch is expected at the end of 2010.
A MediaGlobal Article