The Tributaries Project was initiated in 2019 by the Arts Faculty SARChI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa (ISCIA) in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela University Visual Arts Department and Engagement Office. The purpose of The Tributaries Project is to promote cross-disciplinary co-operative academic, engagement and creative activity in order to help participants understand, and find creative ways to address, social and environmental problems /challenges. The emphasis is on the connections between ecological and social problems, which should be addressed together. The Sea-to-Source Pilgrim’s exhibition is a response from pilgrims who attended one of three water pilgrimages arranged by the ISICA office during the year.

The colloquium is part of an exhibition running from 19 November to 25 November

Event Gallery

Colloquium Programme

    Presenter Title
  08:30- 09:00 Arrival tea/coffee Welcome
1 09.00 – 09.30 Mary Duker There is no water coming out of my TAP
2 09.35 – 10.05 Silvon Windsor Water as crisis and culture in Frank Herbert’s Dune
3 10.10 – 10.40 Emma Hay Water is my symbol
  10.40 – 11.00 TEA BREAK (20 mins)  
4 11.00 – 11.30 Christi Van der Westhuizen What the water brought: Ghost stories of a (post)colonial city at the confluence of river and sea
5 11.35 – 12.05 David Pittaway Pilgrimage, patterns, and water: Reflections and conceptual elaborations on three ISCIA SARChi Chair engagement events 
6 12.10 – 12.40 Gary Koekemoer Seeing complexity by walking the construct
  12.40 – 13.20 LUNCH (40 mins)  
7 13.20 – 13.50 Glenn Holtzman Saturated sounds: Making water music
8 13.55 – 14.25 Sharon Rudman and Luke Rudman Reconfiguring the everyday: Performance art against plastic pollution
9 14.30 – 15.00 Bernadette Snow A personal pilgrimage over time
  15.00 – 15.20 TEA BREAK (20 mins)  
10 15.20 – 15.50 Belinda du Plooy Sheroes of the Sea: Popular representations of youthful female leadership
11 15.55 – 16.25 Andrea Hurst Researching The Tributaries Project



(In alphabetical Order)


Mary Duker

Professor in the Department of Visual Arts Nelson Mandela University

There is no water coming out of my TAP

This reflection is intended as a wry and tragicomic autoethnographic narrative about the relationship between privileged suburbanites and water. I take as a point of departure the social media posts to a local group (of which I am part). These posts indicate, through the copious use of emojis representing “crossness”, the frustration, bewilderment and, ultimately, the disturbing ineffectuality experienced in a middle class suburban world of plenitude and privilege when its denizens turn on the tap and no water pours out of it. Who do they turn to and with what ends in mind? How do they express their frustrations, and who do they blame? How do they construct understandings of the realities of the often tap-less and decidedly unprivileged world outside the borders of leafy neo-liberal suburbia? The paper is informed by theoretical writings on urban geography. These writings provide an understanding of the suburb as a social artefact, and they offer an illuminating lens through which one can look at the water narratives that issue from neoliberal suburbia, characterized as it is by [white]privilege.


Belinda du Plooy

Manager: Engagement Office, Nelson Mandela University

Sheroes of the Sea – Popular representations of youthful female leadership

In this paper, I will consider two contemporary films in which youthful female leadership has been depicted as sea narratives. These are New Zealand director Niki Caro’s 2003 film Whale Rider, based on the 1987 short novel of the same name by Maori author Witi Ihimaera, and Disney’s 2016 animated film, Moana. There are clear similarities in the narratives and, in fact, the directors of Moana cited Caro’s Whale Rider as inspiration for their film. Both texts present the stories of young girls from Pacific Island communities and their individual and communal crises of existence and rites of passage. The classic hero's journey merges with the iconic trope of the sea journey (both traditionally male genres) and both are presented as the inner quest of young girls and their subsequent transformation of the communities they eventually will lead. Henry Giroux says that "any discourse about the future has to begin with the issue of youth, because young people embody the projected dreams, desires and commitment of a society's obligations to the future” (2012: x11). He further states that “the political work of pedagogy includes the articulation of practices not only within sites, but also across them” (1988:21), which is exemplified in the way that Moana and Whale Rider function at the nexus where feminism, history, indigenous cultures, mythology, narrative practice and film technology converge. As a result, both Moana and Whale Rider participate in the contemporary critical pedagogical revisioning and remythologising task, by providing female equivalents or parallels to previously male dominated mythologies and narratives of heroic journeying and quest, thereby contributing to a tradition of female sheroics.


Emma Hay

Lecturer in Sociology, Rhodes University, Permaculture expert

Water is my symbol 

The throbbing gush of a waterfall; the rhythmic turn of the tides; the still calm and serenity of a river reflecting the dusk infused sky…. Many, sailors, scribes, poets and artists have attested to the feeling of wellness and peace that comes over them when they’re in, or near, bodies of water. ‘Blue Mind’ science confirms this effect. It may be suggested that we all know intuitively that water is deeply nourishing and healing to the human psyche – reflective of a universal human primordial reverence for nature if you will. Our collective relationship to water is not only one of nourishment, however. We also relate to water problematically as a collective. As witnessed on the pilgrimage in the overloaded waste water systems, the pollution of rivers, estuaries and oceans etc., the direct experience of our collective impact serves to remind us that our relationship to water is also symbolic of our wider relationship to nature. Such a standpoint may be broadened further to indicate something of the nature of the relationships we hold to one another in society, and to ourselves. The multiple crises we face collectively (economic, social and spiritual) are considered here intertwined with the ecological crisis at large in this ‘Age of the Anthropocene’. The intersection between the modes of perception we harbour, and the relationship we hold to our planet on the macro level, is considered intimately connected to the way in which we relate to ourselves (the micro) and to one another at the meso level. Thus, it is suggested that ultimately all our crises contain at root different manifestations of a crisis of perception. Resonating contributions from environmental philosophy, critical social theory, sociology and eco-psychology shall be Interweaved in order to explore the radical importance of the perceptual underbelly that steers our relationships, to water, wider nature and beyond. It is postulated thereafter that responding to these crises will require first and foremost a shift in habitual perception. A holistic and trans-disciplinary experimental approach is evoked here in order to assist in our understanding of imbalanced and so problematic elements of what I call ‘fragmentary frameworks’, in order to attempt to espouse offerings of the perceptual conditions that may evoke and enable pro-social change.                        


Glenn Holtzman

Lecturer, Music Department, Nelson Mandela University

Saturated sounds: Making water music

Diverse human relationships to the sound of water are expressed in the linguistic and artistic interpretations of what I call ‘saturated sounds’. The Tributaries Project sea-to-source pilgrimage, which traced a path from Sardinia Bay, along the Swartkops river to the river’s pristine source in Groendal offered me the opportunity to experience and also record many diverse ‘saturated sounds’. My own interest in the sound of water also sensitized other pilgrims to water’s sound intensities emanating, for example from the machinery at the waste water treatment works, the rain on the roof at Redhouse, and the small tributary streams at Groendal. In response to the many ‘saturated sounds’ I experienced on the water pilgrimage, I designed a musical composition that has been collectively assembled by myself and selected students. The composition and performance of this work is a tribute to the fluidity of the connection between water and humans, and also the connection between humans and humans, working together in fluid, creative cohesion. The result is a prayerful meditation on the notion of harmonisation as fluidity. In the presentation, I interrogate this idea of the fluidity of [human] nature as a sonic metaphor in the composition. I will describe the creative processes used, the timbral palate selected, and the affects related to making music with, and about, water.


Andrea Hurst

Professor of Philosophy, SARChI Chair (ISCIA), Nelson Mandela University

Researching The Tributaries Project

The Tributaries Project began as an experimental engagement activity initiated in 2019 by Nelson Mandela University Arts Faculty Chair (Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa) in conjunction with the Visual Arts Department and Engagement Office. The idea was to promote cross-disciplinary co-operative academic, engagement and creative activity to gain some understanding of, and find creative ways to address, social and environmental challenges surrounding the topic of water. The emphasis was on the connections between ecological and social problems, which should be addressed together. In the implementation of an initial, quite vague idea, the project gained momentum and grew in a way that retroactively justified its name. In this presentation, I would like to open discussion about ways to take the project forward into more formalized research projects. I am particularly interested in philosophical research. Some examples worth discussing are the following. The project gathered to itself interests/passions that were ready to stream in, but perhaps just needed the impetus of “one more drop” to set them flowing and add substance to what is set to become a broad flowing river. Is this an interesting theoretical way to imagine how social cohesion might work? Can aspects of this project fruitfully be framed in the terms offered by Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “assemblage.” What analytical advantages does it offer to think of it in this way? Can useful insight be gained by considering the project in terms of Pierre Hadot’s account of Philosophy as a way of life, including, for example concepts of “cosmic consciousness” and aesthetic perception”?


Gary Koekemoer

Doctoral researcher for the SARChI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion, Nelson Mandela University

Seeing complexity by walking the construct

One of the consistent problems for humans is seeing the complexity of things. Our senses have evolved to process information in a particular way that limits us to what we can experience simultaneously. Because of these biological limitations we are inclined to reduce complex systems to simplistic, atomistic and individualised views of “reality” - seeing wholes is for us particularly challenging. Using the medium of a PowerPoint slide show of the photographs from the third water pilgrimage, I will unpack the pilgrimage experience as a walk-through exercise in “seeing” complexity. Thereby suggesting a practical means of building complexity constructs. I will frame this experiential process within the dialogue work of Otto Scharmer’s Presencing/Theory U process and demonstrate how the pilgrimage journey closely follows the process suggested by Scharmer et al.


David Pittaway

Post-doctoral researcher for the SARChI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion, Nelson Mandela University

Pilgrimage, Patterns, and Water: Reflections and Conceptual Elaborations on Three ISCIA SARChi Chair Engagement Events

In 2019 three water pilgrimages were organised by members of a small team of people working under the SARChi Chair for Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa. Three different groups of participants (a.k.a. ‘water pilgrims’) met on the two equinoxes and the one winter solstice of the year, to embark on a several-stop journey from sea to source, including visits to a waste-water treatment facility, a lighthouse, an estuary with an ecologically fraught history, and to the pristine source of the estuary in the Groendal Nature Reserve near Port Elizabeth. As an organising and facilitating member of the three pilgrimages (which means I attended them all), I would like to reflect on the events from the perspective of a philosopher whose formative years theory-wise were heavily influenced by the question of the role of philosophy in the context of the ecological crisis. Some insights from Pierre Hadot, Slavoj Zizek, and Alain Badiou will feature in the paper, and I will explain how some aspects of the pilgrimages can be seen to have practical implications for the role of philosophy in and beyond the context of the ecological crisis.  


Sharon Rudman and Luke Rudman

Senior Lecturer in Applied Languages/ Visual Arts student and performance artist, Nelson Mandela University

Reconfiguring the everyday: Performance art against plastic pollution

The issue of plastic pollution has, in recent times, become a much publicised and discussed issue. Despite this, most of our society’s practice regarding single-use plastics, has continued in much the same manner, suggesting that the ‘talk’ about this issue is largely a matter of ‘knowing what to say’ instead of an authentic response implying change. This incongruity between what is said and what is done is examined through the lens of Heidegger’s theories on the ‘everydayness of discourse’ which, according to him, is characterised by ‘idle talk’, ‘curiosity’ and ‘ambiguity’. Idle talk and curiosity produce the semblance of knowledge but without authentic understanding or experience, which then leads to a sense of ambiguity regarding the relationship between that which is said and that which is done – resulting in a discourse characterised by an abundance of talk and an absence of real or meaningful action. Heidegger suggests that genuine understanding, as opposed to the ‘understanding’ inherent in everyday discourse, can be sought by attempting to interact with the world around us in a different manner. A potential response to this could be found in Ranciere’s suggestion that an art work comprising an alternative and even disruptive representation of the material world, could prompt one to experience aspects of this world ‘anew’ and , consequently, allow for a different kind of understanding and response.  This paper considers the potential of performance art as a catalyst for experiencing the problem of plastic pollution ‘anew’ and thus potentially prompting fresh attempts to address the issue in our everyday contexts. Luke Rudman, a performance artist and student at Nelson Mandela University, has been working on such a project and his work will be considered as a case study in considering the above proposition.


Bernadette Snow

Lecturer Development Studies, Director Institute for Coastal and Marine Research (CMR), Nelson Mandela University

A personal pilgrimage over time

Aligning with the idea of a water pilgrimage, the presentation details a collection of water journeys, travelled in the past, to be continued in the present, and still to be travelled in the future. These journeys are gathered together in what I think of as my own personal pilgrimage over time. In the presentation I detail my constant engagement with water as I travelled the multiple journeys along the path of a career that led to my current position as Director of the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research (CMR). Beginning with the journeys already travelled, I detail the personal influences and career change moments that led me to my transdisciplinary PhD journey on complex socio-ecological systems. I discovered along the way that general attitudes regarding the relationship between environment and society were pessimistic. Most view the current ecosystem as being in crisis, and many believe that there will be a future increase in power struggles and inequality and foresee a general breakdown in traditional systems. Motivated to challenge and reverse this pessimism, the presentation goes on to detail the Ocean Sciences journey that lies ahead. I present the focal research and engagement projects CMR is undertaking, including iconic research projects such as the One Ocean Hub project and the Cities and Coast Project building climate resilience. The main aim of my future research is to partner with Port Elizabeth decision makers to see how to integrate diverse, often uncoordinated objectives of coastal and marine planning/management, to enable better adaptation to climate change in vulnerable coastal cities.


Christi van der Westhuizen

Associate Professor, Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy, Nelson Mandela University

What the water brought: Ghost stories of a (post)colonial city at the confluence of river and sea

[L]ife on the Swartkops River is such that the sea needn’t feature in your holiday. The constant call of birds, river sailing and boating, swimming, skiing and river cruises mean that days easily slide into a happy water-filled existence… But if living the colonial lifestyle in Redhouse… becomes a little tedious, then Amsterdamhoek… is a wonderful place to catch a magnificent sunset, drink in hand. (SA Venues website)

This paper contains preliminary reflections on socio-political discourses circulating in a (post)colonial coastal city haunted by its origin as an outpost of the British Empire. An academic pilgrimage to explore the causal factors of the environmental degradation of the Swartkops river and estuary of Nelson Mandela Bay confirmed the truism of the interconnectedness of the social and the ecological. The surrounds of the river and estuary consist in large part of an industrial wasteland marked by apartheid geographies: even the treatment of human waste remains to some extent racially segregated. A fluctuating tide of trash and toxic effluent pollutes the river from the moment it emerges from the Groendal nature reserve outside Uitenhage. The city’s continuing racial division is demonstrated by differential human interactions with the river and estuary. The ecological crisis of the Swartkops is the consequence of a social and a political crisis. To make sense of these multiple, mutually reinforcing crises, the paper homes in on discourses swirling around two sites visited on the pilgrimage: the Cape Recife Lighthouse and the stretch of the Swartkops estuary in the vicinity of Redhouse. Sedimented histories reveal themselves through colonial lore and nostalgia that these sites invoke. Across the postcolonial wasteland drift deceitful phantoms and spectres foreclosing futures.


Silvon Windsor

Student of Philosophy and Languages, Nelson Mandela University

Water as Crisis and Culture in Frank Herbert’s Dune

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a critique of traditional western culture and – very broadly – the ways it attempts to solve problems or overcome threats. While the central narrative itself offers a brilliant illustration of the futile desire for ultimate solutions to fundamental problems, it is toward the periphery I would like to direct attention. Besides being my own critical contribution to the project of inter-disciplinary action, Herbert’s fiction offers a powerful metaphor for our engagement with the theme of water and water scarcity. As counter narrative to the dominant agents of control that dictate the events of the text, the author takes his reader’s into the world of a – quite literally – marginalised people and the way of life that has allowed them to resist extinction despite their oppressor’s best efforts. On a planet where water is hunted for like gold, where the wealthy water palms and the poor recycle body moisture for months, how do those on the periphery respond to crisis? How do they carve a life for themselves out of the desert sand they are given? And how does the phenomenon of culture actualise in a space seemingly entirely defined by survival?

My discussion would like to consider how Herbert replies to these enquiries and will draw a connection between the social metaphor of such literature and lived contextual issues such as the water crisis we face today. Specifically I would like to accentuate the diversity of cultural perspective in approaching these social issues and the need to conceptualise problems through the perspectives of the people who experiences them directly.