Their play Lalela uLwandle (Listen to the Sea)’ explores intergenerational environmental injustices and sheds light on inclusive forms of ocean governance.
In addition to the play, Empatheatre’s Short film: “Indlela Yokuphila: The Soul’s Journey” will be undertaking its international premiere at the UN and Empatheatre co-Director Mpume Mthombeni will speak at the United Nations World Oceans Day “Planet Ocean: Tides are changing” on 8 June 2022, alongside over 30 other international guest speakers, as part of the “Blue Perspective Spotlights.”
The immersive theatre production Lalela Ulwandle was created as part of the One Ocean Hub international research network. It is based on research co-developed in South Africa and explores intergenerational environmental injustices, tangible and intangible ocean heritage, marine science, threats to ocean health, and unpacks the various exclusions citizens have faced in ocean decision-making in their country.
Lead actress and co-director of Empatheatre, Mpume Mthombeni has been invited to give a short speech at the UN Headquarters in New York on the 8th June 2023, World Oceans Day. This is an exciting opportunity to share the power of public storytelling in ocean policy.
As Mpume plans her speech, she offers this small preview:
“Our stories are the sacred medicine,”umuthi” that ocean decision making needs. Storytelling, and story-listening dissolves the barriers and disconnections between disciplines and departments, it sculpts new evidence, new ways of valuing knowing and knowledge, and it creates new ways of making meaning with the ocean.”
The Lalela uLwandle performance sheds new light and hope on some of the well-known conundrums of ocean governance, according to co-director of Empatheatre, Dr. Dylan McGarry:
“We hope to call all the policy makers and all the decision makers at this event will be inspired to collaborate with artists, as the UN has with us, artists and cultural practitioners can work in solidarity with customary rights holders and intangible heritage custodians in new and nourishing ways that can co-create meaningfully new forms of inclusive ocean governance.”
The play has most noticeably surfaced intangible heritages of the ocean, and challenged evidence hierarchies in local law and international policy. Recently the audio play of Lalela uLwandle was used as evidence (along with two other short films from Empatheatre) in three court proceedings against Oil and Gas giant Shell and the South African government with regard to offshore oil and gas exploration.
The play was used as evidence to support the rich and powerful affidavits of small scale fishers and other ocean defenders in court on the expected negative impacts on fisheries, other marine biodiversity and their livelihoods. This was the first time in South African history that art was used as evidence in ocean governance and found ways to represent Indigenous intangible heritage in meaningful and inclusive ways.
One of the most significant aspects of the play illustrates how natural and social scientists can collaborate with holders of different knowledge systems, respectfully and constructively, to develop a more integrated understanding of environmental challenges. The play also illuminates the close connections between human rights and ocean-climate governance, from the local to the international level.
There will be a discussion with the audience after the performance, in which we look forward to engaging with different policy makers and publics, experts and stakeholders. As director and lead dramaturge Neil Coppen reflects: “during these discussions, we are able to think critically and collaboratively about the importance of listening to and mutual learning among researchers, spiritual healers, small-scale fishers and other stakeholders, and how this can transform the way we understand unexplored connections to the ocean and its role in climate governance.”
Through this creative intervention, the Empatheatre method will help us to identify meaningful and inclusive climate and ocean action.