I unknowingly traced in the watery and bloody footsteps of the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, notably the first European to circumvent the tip of Southern Africa, subsequently opening up the sea route to Asia. I joined him on the last leg of his expedition that spanned from Mossel Bay to Algoa Bay but with different eyes from a different time, and an exceedingly different agenda. I walked in the sand to counter this destructive, colonial gaze that accompanied European men and their boats by listening carefully to ocean stories told by those whose bodies and knowledges have since been systematically disregarded, disparaged, and dismantled. Local and Indigenous ocean stories lived and live on, meandering along the coastline; they are found in shells, in rock pools, in the corners of people’s homes, in the waves, at the bottom of the ocean, with more waiting on the horizon. This piece attempts to follow some of this meandering and harness the power of some of the stories that have been scribbled off the maps of Dias and re-story the contours of the coastline. I do this through 4 photographs that I took on my October/November 2021 field trip.  

13B and Me, Mossel Bay A pluriversal approach to ontology suggests to us that there are not only perspectives on a single objective world but that there are in fact many worlds continuously becoming and unfolding at the same time. What’s revolutionary about this is that it removes the statute of scientific knowledge that claims to be the only way to know the truth about the world. Once this assertion is dismembered, science becomes one powerful way of knowing the world amongst many others. The recognition of pluriversity opens up possibilities for – not only knowledge co-production but for cognitive justice. On this field trip, this is what I was scouting for; for moments of structural scientific hegemony that, like a lunar eclipse, darkens the light of other ways of knowing and making meaning in the world. One such moment was on a visit to Pinnacle Point in Mossel Bay. This has been a site of archaeological significance since 2000, when a series of caves revealed occupation by Middle Stone Age people between 170,000 and 40,000 years ago. To access these caves one has to present a piece of identification, have your car licence disk scanned, drive through a series of gated check points that take you down a well-paved road that meanders around empty, multi-million dollar mansions, a golf course, and a casino. Breathe. Our guide, Chris, told us that of principal significance is cave ‘13B’. The name 13B doesn’t arouse the senses or the imagination; it could be an apartment, or a hotel room, or a parking spot. The numbers and the lettering spoke to utility and efficiency, not to faces, emotions, or stories. The act of scientifically classifying an ancestral abode such as this desensitised the magic and the storied stone that awaited us. Just a few layers in time below laid many faces and many stories, induced deep emotion and required subtle, sensitive imagination. Not only were there physical, spatial, and economic barriers to accessing the caves but epistemological too; science was the only story in town.  The Pinnacle Point archaeologists are seeking to make the unknown – known and are making sense – or sense-making by tracing time through powerful stories of science. But what other versions of the story lie there? What other theories might there be? And ultimately, who is allowed to theorise? The story of 13B was produced in an open-air laboratory and tells a chronological story based on the identification and collection of quantifiable data to establish how things might have been done in the past. This rational, overly scientific way of knowing risks losing a sense or richness of past lives and maybe, with a pluriversal approach to the past, a more sensitive understanding of early human ancestors could be nurtured.   Contemporary Strandloper, Mossel Bay
I am interested in the stories that get told about the ocean; the ones that scream the loudest and the ones drowned out by data. The tapestry of stories that produce mainstream discourses on the ocean has been stitched by white, elite, European, men – often of science and religion. The threads woven into this tapestry usually relate to exploration, war, power, and trade. This leaves much of society with a certain image and imagining of the ocean, one that tells a powerful story but only through the eyes of those that get to tell it. In order to disrupt this hegemony and narrative claim to the ocean, I went in search of marginalised stories; stories that have always been there but seldom make it into the ocean knowledge commons. On the way, I met ‘Frederick’ (pseudonym), a devout visserman since he was 15 and a coastal man who has depended on the ocean for his livelihood ever since. Amongst other stories of hardship, he shares a food story with us. He points to a derelict-looking wooden hut to his left that he refers to as a kakhuis, where the fish factory dumps the fish scales. Him and his friends collect the scales and make a lang sous: which loosely translates to a fish head soup that is made to feed a lot of people – a staple in Cape Malay cuisine. They would make a fire on the shore, mix this with pap and any other small fish they catch, cooking a baie lekker meal and eating it using the soft, flat rocks found along the shore as their plates. He also tells us that he is currently homeless and is busy digging out and preparing his own cave on the edge of the rocky beach where he hopes to sleep and shield himself from the rain (see image). Frederick has a firm belief that the ocean is a woman, and he tells us that while the ocean can be quiet, if a pregnant woman comes close to the shore, this feminine energy stirs up and swells the sea and changes it. For him, the ocean is not only a provider of his sustenance but also a relative – his mother. Having been disowned by his family at a young age, the ocean provides, protects, and nurtures his body and spirit, much like a mother would. Infused with this myth and magic though are serious material realities that Frederick has to reconcile on a daily basis; poverty, racism, inequality, and environmental degradation, to name a few. But the ocean is his constant. He will always be by the sea and when he dies, he wants to be buried there.  
Spirit of the Industrial Ocean, Gqeberha
From a pluriversal perspective, there are many worlds and thus many oceans and although this is conceptual and often difficult to explain or grasp, this picture expresses the concept clearly. The image captures the ontological coexistence and competition of the ocean space, where in the foreground we bear witness to a religious ceremony in which prayers are sung and the salty water of the ocean possesses the divine power to cleanse, purify, and heal the body, mind, and spirit. In the background is the Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) harbour, established by the British in 1825 and which facilitated colonial wars and capitalist and imperial expansion. Today the harbour facilitates the trade and transport of, amongst other things; agricultural products, cars, minerals, and petroleum. Through a political and economic lens, the ocean was and remains a vast surface to be traversed: passive liquid matter that supports boats and their cargo on long, extractive journeys to far-away places. There was no depth to the industrial ocean, only as much as the rudder required. To an extent, a similar image of the ocean persists – as just space, not place and thus devoid of social interactions and meaning-making. This imagined absence of people, their multi-species relationships, and their meaning-making ripens the ocean for multiple forms of exploitation and drowns out other knowledge, conceptions, and uses of the sea. Floating just beyond the contours of this image were countless cargo-container ships seemingly motionless but loudly present and undeniably part of the seascape. At the same time, just 50 metres down the beach, a pastor in his Sunday suit and bare feet in the sand cried out to his God, maybe for forgiveness, protection, or celebration. The cultural and religious entanglements with the ocean as a place to go to, to seek out, and commune with, colours the sea with emotion and meaning and celebrates the ways in which the ocean holds and heals us and reminds the social consciousness of the interdependence of natural, human, and ancestral worlds.   The Mystery of the Microbial Sea, Makhanda
In Makhanda, at Rhodes University, I swapped my sandals for a white lab coat and closed-toe shoes, swapped salty wind, sand, and sun for air conditioning, gloves, and goggles. I waited a week for a permit to gain entry to the campus and laboratory – the main site of scientific knowledge production for the team of scientists I was due to visit. The lab itself lay behind a fingerprint-locked door for which my permit didn’t work. Understandably, there was a strict protocol in place to gain access to the lab and its scientists and it was made clear through the security, the registers, the keys, and the fingerprints that I was entering an institution where there were rules to adhere to and hierarchies to respect. The research happening in the laboratory is aimed at antimicrobial drug discovery with a strong focus on the marine environment. The team is composed of microbiologists and chemists who collect samples from marine organisms (namely sponges and stromatolites) and test for novel compounds that may be active against harmful bacteria, viruses, and antibiotic resistance. In Makhanda and far from the shore, the ocean became an abstract concept filled with awe, fascination, and scientific potential. What seemed more tangible and more important for the scientists were the organism extracts, the prospective compounds within those extracts, and the genes buried within those compounds; it was through rendering the ocean microbial that such vastness could begin to be comprehended. While much of their work was to purify, to isolate, and to reduce, this work was performed with an acute awareness of the complexity of the ecosystem from which their samples had been taken. The team of microbiologists and chemists straddled and negotiated so elegantly the boundaries between solitary units of life and the relational ecology in which they were inextricably situated. The sea water, in particular, was acknowledged as being an especially complex web of microbes and understanding the relationships between their organisms of interest and the sea water was key in developing an understanding of a marine organism’s bioactivity. Ultimately, relationality – or understanding who does what for or to whom and why – are the foundational questions that the scientists are trying to answer. And for them, these questions weren’t unanswerable: through a commitment to scientific principles and ever-advancing technology, they would sooner or later uncover the answers. Discovery was at the root of much of the scientist’s work: the will to find and fit together pieces of nature’s puzzle and to uncover what is already there but is not yet known to science. Many of them said that if they were not working on marine natural products, they would be in some form of forensics – like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). The science involved in biodiscovery teeters on the edge of mystery and knowledge, of potential and actuality and to travel from one binary to the other, one need only trust in rationality, logic, and the scientific method. Towards the end of my time at Rhodes, there was a moment when I entered the lab to observe ‘Abel’ (pseudonym), a microbiologist doing ‘Thin Layer Chromatography’, a process that separates the components of a mixture and playing from one of the scientist’s laptops on the desk was Ethiopian music. This was unexpected. I don’t think the fact that the music was Ethiopian matters but rather that it was the presence of one culture inside of another. The juxtaposition of the music and the science reminded me that the normative concept of the laboratory is to rather remove culture from scientific activity, though in this moment, the pentatonic scales of Ethiopian grooves humanised the laboratory, textured its clinical lines and blurred the boundaries between science and society. I find it important to state that I am writing this amidst the racist, neocolonial annexure of South Africa from the rest of the world that materialised due to the rapid disclosure by its scientists of the detection of the newest coronavirus variant – Omicron. It reminded me of the distinction that Sandra Harding gives us; between science (lower-case ‘s’), a unique and powerful set of knowledge tools, and Science (capital ‘S’), when those knowledge tools become embroiled in perpetuating dominant political and economic agendas. While it is arguable that the travel bans were ‘unscientific’ and politically motivated, I would argue that this was a clear example of how science is not devoid of culture and politics but is often, very much at their will. While science is a dominant knowledge system in global society and its voice is often the loudest and listened to most closely, not all science is made equal. In this instance, the advanced and responsive science produced in South Africa couldn’t be untangled from its place of production and the many cultures and many histories that characterise it. It reminded me that while Science in South Africa often dominates and marginalises Indigenous and more local ways of knowing, scientific knowledge production and scientists in the global South have their own set of obstacles that are also tied to histories of colonisation and oppression.