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‘The future looks empty’: embodied experiences of distress triggered by environmental and climatic changes in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Abstract

Environmental and climatic changes have become issues of global concern partly because of their ability to disrupt activities connected to people’s livelihood. Yet, the emotional distress caused by these changes and the factors responsible for place-based attachment, especially in the Global South, have received scant attention to date. Drawing on the theories of ‘solastalgia’—sadness caused by environmental change and the ensuing emotions it evokes—and place-based attachment, this article analysed the embodied experiences of climatic and environmental changes on rural households in KwaMaye, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Primary data was obtained qualitatively. Findings indicate that environmental and climatic changes, which have manifested in the form of increased soil infertility, soil erosion, mole and termite infestations and increased drought conditions, have undermined farmers’ ability to produce food and engage in livestock production effectively. These circumstances evoked frustrations, increased anxiety, sadness, reduced self-value and self-worth as well as helplessness. Nonetheless, place-based attachment is underpinned by kinship bonds and ancestral heritage. These issues have been discussed within the wider theoretical debates revolving around solastalgia and place-based attachment.

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Fig. 1

Source: Author (2019)

Fig. 2

Source: South African weather services (2020)

Fig. 3

Source: National drought mitigation centre (2019)

Fig. 4

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Acknowledgements

The authors are indebted to the reviewer for the rich and generous comments which helped to improve the article’s quality. Also, the South African Weather Services (SAWS) is acknowledged for providing climate data of Ladysmith.

Funding

This article is part of a research project carried out with financial support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa under grant number 111986 awarded to the first author.

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Contributions

Osadolor O. Ebhuoma: Conceptualisation, Data collection, Writing—review and editing. Michael Gebreslasie: Project supervision. Eromose E. Ebhuoma: Conceptualisation, Data analysis, Writing—original draft. Llewellyn Leonard: Writing—review and editing.

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Correspondence to Eromose E. Ebhuoma.

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All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Oral consent of all the participants was obtained prior to data collection. Also, ethical clearance was obtained from the University of KwaZulu-Natal nonmedical ethics committee.

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Ebhuoma, O.O., Gebreslasie, M., Ebhuoma, E.E. et al. ‘The future looks empty’: embodied experiences of distress triggered by environmental and climatic changes in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. GeoJournal (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-021-10426-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-021-10426-1

Keywords

  • Environmental and climatic changes
  • Solastalgia
  • Place-based attachment
  • South Africa