I came to know Shelot after reaching out to folks at The Eco-Anxiety Africa Project (TEAP) wanting to hear from youth climate leaders about eco-anxiety and other climate-related emotions. Shelot is an environmental activist from South Africa and the founder of She4Earth.
1. How do you feel about climate change as an African?
This is difficult to put in words. However, I can say that as an African, it is traumatising. From a distance, that could sound like an exaggeration. Climate change is a global, yet a local crisis that can feel like a lump in my throat – it’s like cancer whose cells are constantly multiplying. A crisis with so many faces that I get confused as to which specific one I must focus on (I know I’m not alone in this). Climate change is disturbing and I’m scared of what this phenomenon is yet to strip us of.
- Can you describe events that might trigger climate-related emotions for you?
When I was growing up, water was always a privilege and was not always available. Even though our house was tapped, municipally served water was not always something we could rely on. When I walk out of my gate and am instantly greeted by plastics everywhere, I get mad. World leaders meeting and making more and more policies for show really disturbs me. Having gone through water problems since my childhood, it’s knowing that adaptation has its own limits that disturb me greatly. Africa has no effective facilities that assure citizens that they’ll receive psychological help when events like flooding occur, thus making adaptation a difficult thing. Climate literacy, a tool that can be effective to spearhead adaptation and mitigation in Africa, is shockingly low – it’s so disturbing that sometimes I want to give up and just watch, but I can’t do that because I want to make a difference.
- How did you arrive at the feeling of eco-anxiety? Does that word fit how you feel?
I’m not certain how to answer this question. However, as someone who grew up in the face of water cuts and shortages, I was tired of being ‘fine’ with not having water whilst giant corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestle continue having abundant access to water which they steal and then sell to the people. Back in 2020, we experienced a series of water cuts throughout the year. Despite how frequently this series of cuts happened, I always got frustrated – still do today. One day it happened and then my friend and I decided to go to McDonald’s to eat. As the day progressed, I kept thinking, “Would I have starved the whole day had I not gone to eat at McDonald’s?” Similar thoughts kept running across my mind as the water kept getting cut off on us. I think eco-anxiety is an understatement for what I feel in terms of climate-related emotions. It’s a range of emotions that I fail to either name or describe.
- When did you recognise these feelings as being affected/caused by climate change?
I cannot tell the day at which I recognised these as climate-induced feelings, it’s difficult. I had known for as long as I was growing up that South Africa is prone to droughts and it is possible that these water cuts and the shortage are a result of that. I just wasn’t sure what or who was the cause of it. However, when I met Clover Hogan back in 2020, I started digging into it a lot more. Even so, I wouldn’t say it’s eco-anxiety – its depth is severe in Africa, it’s different.
- How do you cope with these feelings, do you have any strategies?
I watch anime, read books, hike, sleep (my favourite of all), and do things that contribute to climate mitigation, awareness, and adaptation. I share information with others. All these activities are ways of reminding myself that solving this crisis should have its fair share of fun.
- What do you feel you need from your community and peers?
From my community and my peers, I need support and partnership for solutions on climate mitigation, adaptation, and awareness. As an individual, I have a limited capacity and cannot be resilient for so long – together we can impact a wider community, locally and beyond.
- How do other people’s responses to climate-related emotions affect you?
I think a better question would have been, “How do other people’s responses to climate change affect your emotions?” As an African descendant youth, I am not in a position at this moment to speak about people’s responses to climate-related emotions because it’s something that I mostly hear in international environments. It’s rare to come across someone speaking about this topic where I come from, not even my lecturers and professors. How would people know that what they’re experiencing is climate-related emotions when they’re not even aware of climate change itself? I feel privileged to be even speaking about climate change and eco-anxiety. When I first started with my activism on climate-environmental issues, I was often angry at general citizens for doing nothing about climate change or ecological breakdown. However, as I progressed and continued learning, I realised that even these people are in the dark – because of how these issues are not addressed in schools and how the information is not made available to the public. Though climate change continues to frustrate me, I am angrier about how our local governments and world leaders continue to sleepwalk like they’re not seeing the ecological collapse and its negative impacts on people.
Interview by Maddy Kelly
Shelot Masithi is a young environmental activist from South Africa. She is a psychology student with a passion for collective interventions for humankind’s collective trauma. She is the founder of She4Earth; an organisation educating children and youths about environmental crises with solutions rooted in Ubuntu. Shelot is a volunteer at Force of Nature, a Social Change Ambassador at Thred Media, and YOUNGA 2021 Youth Delegate. She is a member and climate café facilitator at Climate Psychology Alliance.
FIND OUT MORE / EVENTS
Join Shelot Masithi and Lekwa Hope In Conversation: Eco-anxiety informed by African Perspectives on 21 May, 4pm–5pm (WAT/BST). Please note this event is free but you have to register via this link. If you wish to donate then head to The Eco-Anxiety Project Africa (TEAP).
Posted on May 3, 2022
Categories: Climate & Culture, Decolonising Art & Culture, Education for Sustainability, Environmental Justice & Activism, Interviews
Tags: 2022, eco-emotions, Maddy Kelly, Shelot Masithi, TEAP, The Eco-anxiety Africa Project