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Cebo Mvubu photographed in front of the Umlibo artwork.

Cebo Mvubu

Climate impacts and changing livelihoods

Cebo Mvubu’s childhood memories are decorated with tiny cows made of clay that he and his friends would make on hot summer days by the dam.

Like many rural children born in the old South Africa, he also has vivid memories of the hardships that rocked the region in the early eighties. Yet, over the years, the country of his birth has changed in front of his eyes, and so have the rhythms of nature.

As a newborn, Cebo was brought home from the local hospital to the village of Bodiam just 6 km outside Hamburg. When he was only two months old, his father passed away.

His mother had no choice but to uproot the family and seek work in then-Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha). They spent six years there, but the brutalities of apartheid and the ensuing violence made life impossible.

“Before I turned seven, my mom decided to take us back to the village and I have been here ever since.”
Cebo says of the clay cow sculptures, “Once they dried, we’d have a competition of whose cow was best and then break them up and jump back in the water.”

Behind his house was a shallow dam and he says that once you’d mastered jumping into that one, you could move on to the bigger and deeper dam a bit further away. As you got older, you could also cross the river with a makeshift “floatie” (an empty two-litre plastic cooldrink bottle) strapped to your waist.

Life is different now. His 13-year-old daughter is more familiar with smartphones than clay cows, and endless days of swimming are no longer a feature of childhood.

As times have changed, so have the weather patterns, creating challenges for planting crops, maintaining livestock and relying on fishing as a livelihood.

“Winters are now muddy and wet. In my childhood, winter was cold but there was no rain. I sometimes tell my wife I worry the dam will overflow and the water will come to our house.”

Cebo, who is now the director at the Keiskamma Art Project, steps out of his turquoise kitchen and into a fenced-off area behind the house where goats and sheep dry off in the sun. The one goat cannot walk properly.

“He has foot rot because the rain made so much mud. It used to only rain in summer and then the sun would dry everything, so we had that balance. Summer was summer back then but now it gets windy and can even be cold.”
Deciding what to sow has become a guessing game.

“Which season is best for mielies these days? You never know. We laughed at one guy here when he planted them out of season but, he managed to harvest this time of year and now he is the one sitting with mielies. These days you just need to try your luck.”

‘Swimming prawn’ (known in science as Metapenaeus monoceros Fabricius) used to be a species Cebo’s fishing co-op harvested in the early months of the year from the river, but he says now that it’s hardly worth going to look for them anymore.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Cebo started his own food garden growing spinach, onions, beetroots and cabbages. This year’s unseasonal rain has washed some of the beds away and damaged his cabbage seedlings.
These unseasonable storms, which also blew roofs off houses and branches off trees, are a symptom of climate change that Cebo hopes the artwork will illuminate.

“I hope people will understand the bad and the good. The bad side is telling humans what we are doing to this world. The good side is saying how we can change and adapt.”

Cebo cuts some spinach leaves from the small crop shining like dark emerald in front of his house, and heads inside to speak to his wife.

She pokes her head out the window, looks up at the sky, and asks who would like a sandwich.


  • The summer of 2022 was the hottest on record for Europe, and by August 2023, many European countries had already experienced devastating heatwaves.
  • From 2015 to 2018, Cape Town experienced its worst drought in record-keeping history.
  • The Southern Hemisphere could see up to 30% less rain at the end of the century.

Cebo Mvubu harvests spinach from his own garden which he planted during lockdown in the Covid-19 pandemic.

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