ACA Deep Adaptation Open Space in Cape Town – January 2020

Thanks to funding from the Deep Adaptation Forum, the African Climate Alliance hosted a Deep Adaption Open Space Dialogue, on Friday 31st January 2020.

ACA Youth leaders Lisakhanya Mathiso and Ayakha Melithafa welcoming us to Open Space

At the Tshisimani Activist Centre in Mowbray, Cape Town, South Africa, more than 80 people attended this Open Space workshop, including representatives from 30 environmental and social justice organisations:

ACA youth and adult supporters,, AIDC, Amnesty SA, Boell, Centre for Environmental Rights, City of Cape Town, Deep Adaptation Forum, Earthchild Project, Earthlife Africa, Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Fossil Free SA, Green Anglicans, Greenpeace Africa, Greenpeace Cape Town, Ikamvalethu Food Garden, Just Share, LCA Spark Talks, MACUA, One Million Climate Jobs, PHA Food and Farming Campaign, Project 90 by 2030, Princess Vlei Forum, Rainbow Warriors International, Reclaim The City, SAFCEI, Sisonke Environmental Justice Network, The Beach Co-op, Two Oceans Aquarium, WAMUA, WoMIN, UCT and UWC.

Participants gathered in the Kopanong room at the Tshsimani Activist Centre

The day was co-facilitated by Sam Pearce (co-founder of the African Climate Alliance, recently returned from a 6 year carbon-neutral journey Africa Clockwise) and her former colleagues Earl Mentor and Khanyiselo Silo.

Khanyiselo Silo a.k.a. Kaizer, Sam Pearce and Earl Mentor

The title of the Open Space was: What is the ‘South African Climate Emergency’? How do we feel about it? How best can we cope with it, together?

Reminders of Open Space principles

Click to see the schedule of the day.

Sam’s introduction stressed the fact that we were not attempting to “solve the climate crisis, or salve our grief about it in one day” but to start “a conversation based in reality and honesty… admitting the scale of our challenges and the scope of our fears”. She pointed out that Africa has been dealing with societal breakdown since slavery and colonialism and thus our continent has a lot to teach the rest of the world about Deep Adaptation tenets of resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation.

Reflecting on her experiences in the Soetwater refugee camp following the nationwide wave of xenophobic violence of 2008, Sam noted how priorities shift in a time of crisis. She said today would be about “building foundations of trust and a network that will withstand tough times to come” while learning “how Open Space can make the dialogue as respectful, as democratic and as productive as possible.”

Sam shared facilitation duties with her colleagues Earl and Khanyiselo, both to demonstrate unity in diversity and because she suffers from the chronic energy-impairment disease M.E. and has to spend 65% of her day lying down.

Sam’s bed for resting in between facilitating the agenda-creation sessions

They opened the floor with a couple of exercises, the first to encourage a relaxing atmosphere of sharing, starting with some fun facts about ourselves.

The second exercise was to remind us that there’s no such thing as a level playing field in South Africa, and we need to check our privilege before dominating conversations.

Participants were invited to take a step forward each time they acknowledged an advantage they were born with or subsequently acquired…
and thus to recognise what percentage of privilege they have…
compared to the people at the back of the room
Khanyiselo explains the principles of Open Space: the agenda is a blank slate
Sam and Earl facilitating negotiation of space on the first agenda

The first Market Place on The ‘South African Climate Emergency’: What is it? gave rise to the following conversations (click on each to see the minutes):

There were four breakout spaces…
in the main Kopanong room
and two more in the Bokone room next door

At this point, we squeezed in an impromptu two minute address by Councillor Farouk Cassim, who encouraged participants to attend Climate Change and Energy portfolio committee meetings in order to motivate the City of Cape Town to declare a climate emergency.

Councillor Farouk Cassim addressing the gathering

The second Market Place on The South African Climate Emergency: How do we feel about it? gave rise to the following:

Midway through the session Ayakha Melithafa walked back in the room to a standing ovation and ululating after popping out to do a press conference via Skype with Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate of Uganda about how African activists are being erased from the climate conversation.

Some comfort food was needed after all that. Following a veggie breyani lunch, Earl kickstarted the afternoon with another round of Share Pairs:

The third Market Place enquiry was The South African Climate Emergency: How are we going to cope? focusing on both practical strategies and emotional strategies.

The following conversations were harvested:

During a coffee and cake break, participants were encouraged to review the ‘Book of Proceedings’ – which in our African context has been transformed to the ‘Washing Line of Proceedings’ to save on photocopies – and then spend 10 minutes reflecting in small groups.

The next stage was Action Planning, where participants were encouraged to consider what would be needed for ideas generated during the day to grow feet, heart, head, and wings. The objective was for each announcer to plan the next 3 steps and give detailed answers to the questions: who, what, where, when and how?

The following Action Plans were developed:

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Ryan Fortune from Rainbow Warriors International presenting his action plan for food forests across the W Cape
Denisha Anand from Princess Vlei Forum sharing the action plan for a Green Party network
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ACA Youth explaining their action plan to visit schools to deliver climate education

All credit to participants for their staying power and enthusiasm through a long day of intense interaction (the original design for a two day workshop had to be squeezed into one). Although some people had to leave early to catch transport or collect children, the closing circle around the potjie was well attended. A highlight was when Xolisa Mbekwa from Ikamvalethu Food Garden rapped his response. Rachel Mash from Green Anglicans gifted these inspiring words to end the day:

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore… The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate... We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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Feedback from the potjie pot:

Great networking space. Support for common causes and action orientated – motivating and inspirational. We need regular Open Space meet-ups to drive this community as one.
Denisha Anand, Princess Vlei Forum

I would like the same workshop to be done for Reclaim The City members.
Mpho Diniso, Seapoint Chapter, Reclaim the City

Thanks for the amazing, immersive workshop. The open format worked well, although it was tough deciding which discussion to join (and which to miss out on!). Thank you!
Sven Fautley, SA Vegan Society

Thank you so much. The Open Space concept is awesome. The day was very useful and much appreciated. Thanks for the diverse group. Sam’s intro was powerful, will you also consider sharing that please?
Lorna Fuller, Project 90 by 2030

Very well thought out inclusive process. Engaging/interactive. Great space for igniting flames of change and meeting ‘cool’ people, fighting for the same cause. Great facilitation and appreciated the diversity.
Xoli Fuyani, Earthchild Project

So nice to see so many people from all different backgrounds, areas of interest etc find common ground. And see how much we have in common. And that we are stronger together. Building our community <3.
Cassi Goodman, Extinction Rebellion Cape Town

Great and well thought out facilitation. Excellent network of active organisations. Good action energy to take next steps. I also loved the venue.
Maria Honig, The Beach Co-op

It was a great environment, filled with people of like minds and different opinions. Everyone felt free and comfortable enough to speak freely. Great ideas and ways forward discussed, simultaneously building CSO relationships.
Gabriel Klaasen, Project 90 by 2030

Personally it was great and motivating to be in the same room with great climate change activists. I’ve learned a lot and I’m very excited and optimistic about 2020 and the Planet Earth’s future.
Tazlin Maasdorp, Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign

Creative thinking. Excellent.
Sizwe Manqele, Ikamvalethu Food Garden

It was a really good event. I am proud to say I fully understand how people from different organisations, age groups and colour feel about the climate crisis. I am proud that I have a lot to take back to my community and school.
Lisakhanya Mathiso, ACA Youth

Great to have it led by the whole group. Would be good to have re-energisers (maybe music or something) to refresh minds. Thanks for providing food and drinks.
Rosie McClean, XR Brighton

The workshop was very engaging and informative. Getting to meet new fellow activists and building alliance with ACA was a highlight.
Sabelo Mnquni, National Youth Leader MACUA, Gauteng

A great course. Taught me about the involvement of others in the climate injustice fight. Taught me about the importance of our growth. We need more youth and adults to help with our fight. The more we unite, the louder we are and that way we are heard.
Qiniso Ngcobo, ACA Youth

ACA should have more of these sessions. It brings a lot of education and knowledge to those who are not sure of what is really happening around us. I am really impressed by what lessons came out of today’s Open Space.
Ann October, Eastridge, Mitchells Plain

Really appreciated the section on action planning and the broader social justice focus. Also the opportunity to discuss these issues with people from different communities, cultures and income groups. More please!
Mariette Olwagen, Deep Adaptation Forum

Thank you! Great to get diverse perspectives. Some good practical suggestions at end. Concerned that many of us are still fixated on individual/lifestyle factors (littering, diet etc) instead of confronting power to drive systemic change.
Andrew Park, Fossil Free SA

Some very useful discussions – enjoyed the cross-pollination of ideas. I think the methodology really allowed for a creative generation of discussion and good participation. Wonderful connections and new inspirations.
Bridget Pitt, Princess Vlei Forum

Great network of people. Interesting conversations with people from different backgrounds and cultures. The venue was great although the main space was noisy with lots of people. Thank you! I appreciate your efforts bringing us all together.
Daniel Robinson, Project 90 by 2030

It’s my first time to attend such an event but it’s a good initiative and I have learned lots of things and new strategies to mobilise my community so that we push the struggle against environmental injustice.
Lucky Tshabalala, Sisonke Environmental Justice Network, Newcastle, KZN

Great group of people – an intro as to who is in the room would be great. Info as to how participants could reuse the format. Wonderful to have a space to talk about various issues.
Glen Tyler-Davies,

Open Space Technology is an open source format – find out how to run your own at or email

Many thanks to Tshisimani for providing the venue for no fee and to ACA Youth for consistently doing the washing up throughout the day!

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Bless ’em xxx

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