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How Is Apartheid’s Legacy Making Climate Change Impacts Worse in South Africa?

How Is Apartheid’s Legacy Making Climate Change Impacts Worse in South Africa?

Decades after the oppressive regime ended, its impacts are still being seen in South Africa.

Climate change has already decided the theme that will define the year 2022 for Southern Africa: extreme weather and natural disasters.

Having sparked widespread drought in West and Central Africa, and sent locusts to ravage essential crops in East Africa; the beast that is the climate crisis subsequently set its sights on washing away the continent’s Southern region at the beginning of the year. South Africa is its latest victim.

Right off the back of catastrophic extreme weather in neighbouring countries Mozambique, Madagascar, and Malawi in the first three months of the year — which you can read more about here — South Africa was hit with disastrous flooding that is continuing to impact thousands of lives.

The country’s KwaZulu-Natal province experienced heavy downpours from April 8, 2022; the rains led to destructive flooding and landslides that consumed thousands of homes, businesses, and infrastructure, and killed an estimated 448 people. The damage that climate change has caused is enough of a tragedy to consider, but what if we told you that the apartheid regime — despite coming to an end back in 1994 — had its hand in making matters worse?

That’s right. The same oppressive regime to which the country owes its intense inequality and poverty rates; the same regime that is still casting a shadow over the country’s governance; the same regime that the country has been determined to run far away from — is also exacerbating the impacts of the climate crisis on South Africa and its people.

But, we hear you ask, how can apartheid, having ended several decades ago with the declaration of democracy, be connected to the impact of climate change as it’s happening today? It all has to do with apartheid-era spatial planning.


The flooding in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province highlights how apartheid spatial planning is impacting the country's ability to adapt to climate change.
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