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Setyenzwa Mangwane photographed in front of the Umlibo artwork.

Setyenzwa Mangwane

Climate adaptation and sustainable livelihoods

From the national challenge of an unstable fossil-fuel electricity supply to the devastation of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Setyenzwa Mangwane has seen it all.

She will also never forget the day thousands of dead fish had to be buried in a nearby forest after the power supply to the aquaculture co-op was switched off.

“This place is not working,” she says, surrounded by empty aquaculture tanks where shoals of kob once grew by the hundreds at the Siyazama Aquaculture Cooperative in Hamburg which also ran an oyster farm in estuary which sits across the road.

The tanks have been scrubbed clean of the miniature ecosystems that once thrived here, while the legacy of Covid and a failed electricity supply sit heavy in the silence of the room.

Once a private entity, the operation went up for sale in 2012 and was purchased by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in 2012 which had a vested interest in the oyster farm in particular.

“Even before Covid, there was a problem with electricity. The monthly bill was going up by several thousand rand per month,” says Setyenzwa, referring to the rapid rise in the cost of electricity in South Africa that began in 2007, and eventually, the authorities stopped paying the electricity bill.

One night during Covid, when the back-up generators and gas cylinders could no longer carry the load, everything came to a halt and the fish all perished.

It also seems unlikely to start up again.

“We have been waiting since last year,” Setyenzwa says, adding, “there is far more interest in growing oysters which fetch a higher price and only take a few months to reach the right size, but middlemen are now few and far between, so we don’t know who we’ll sell to.”

Another major problem for growing oysters in the Keiskamma River is the rainfall in the area.

“Attempts are underway to grow oysters in the nearby estuary, but even here we have challenges,” she says, “because when it’s raining more heavily, too much sweet [fresh] water enters the river system, and it damages the oysters.”

Setyenzwa’s face lights up when the conversation switches to the climate advocacy artwork. She has been with Keiskamma Art Project since 2015, working as one of the embroiderers.

“I imagine my children and their children one day looking at the tapestry and being amazed at what we made. My son is 23 and living in Jeffrey’s Bay. My daughter is 17 and is staying with my sister in East London while she does her matric. They know nothing about sewing. I send my daughter photographs of sections I am working on. I love the sewing, and in 20 years maybe my daughter will look at the artwork and say, ‘Yoh, my mama was working on that piece to raise awareness of climate impacts.”


  • Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

  • It is estimated that globally, women make up 80% of the population that has been displaced by climate change.

  • Aquaculture is becoming crucial for food security and has been recognised as a top priority by development agencies as it has a positive impact on livelihoods and employment and is expected to increase by 15% by 2030.

Setyenzwa Mangwane dons a life jacket as she heads out onto the water of the Keiskamma River estuary.

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