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Artist Sanela Maxengana photographed in front of the Umlibo artwork.

Sanela Maxengana

Climate change and nature's balance

Sanela Maxengana places her hand on her belly. She feels her unborn baby kick and as the day of the birth draws nearer, she imagines a time not long from now when they will take in the beauty of Mother Nature together and be a little family in the coastal village of Hamburg, South Africa.

Sanela’s connection to the land around the Keiskamma River and Eastern Cape coastline has deep roots, and she often wanders down to the beach in Hamburg to sit quietly and watch the different bird species coming and going, leaving their footprints on the sand before taking flight once again.

She may even spot some fish darting about in the water, but even if she doesn’t, the pristine coast and seascape is enough to nourish her soul.

Sanela’s attachment to nature is matched by her sense of family connection.

“I was born in Peddie in 1984 which is near to Hamburg but is inland. I often visited Hamburg at the coast because it is my mom’s hometown, and I then came to live here because of the art project. I have three sisters. One is in Durban, one in Joburg and one in Pretoria, but I like to be close to my parents who still live in Peddie, and I like living in a smaller town,” she says.

Being so finely tuned into nature has meant she cannot help but notice the changes over time.

“The sea fights itself more than it used to. I think it is rougher than it used to be,” she says, adding that recent storms also seemed violent to her. She also noticed how the increased intensity of rainfall has affected the rivers and created wilder winds than she remembers before.

“Some houses fell and some roofs came off. It was also difficult to cross the Keiskamma River a few kilometres up, at the town of Bodiam,” she says.

Softly spoken and a true observer in this world, Sanela loves art in equal measure to nature. Her designs for the Keiskamma Art Project bring the two together, rendering scenes of birds, flowers and landscapes onto cloth with needle and thick colourful cotton.

“I studied art at Buffalo City College, and when I came to Hamburg, I saw that people are doing art and that got me interested in joining. I was then trained in 2016 in stitching for embroidery, and in ceramics. But I am now designing too. I design tapestries and bags.”

A common motif in her work is the chicken, lovingly brought to life in colour-rich threads.

With her baby on the way, she hopes to still find time for her art but knows that life is about to change with the demands of motherhood and the intensifying impacts of climate change.

What she doesn’t want to change is the beautiful coastline and grasslands around her, and she holds onto the ideal that Hamburg should remain untouched with people considering what’s best for nature.

“I like it just the way it is,” she says, “I don’t see anything that should change here. Nature is beautiful and we need it to stay this way.”


  • As temperatures rise, climate change will impact maternal health, posing risks to pregnancy and worsening neonatal health outcomes.
  • Sea level rise isn’t the only way climate change will devastate the coast: Research has found it is also making waves more powerful, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Climate scientists and meteorologists have found that climate change has fuelled unprecedented heat waves, floods and droughts in recent years.

Sanela Maxengana loves reflecting on life and nature at the beach, and hopes to share this love with unborn child.

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