AFRICAN VOICES FOR AFRICA’S FUTURE
By Raeesah Chandlay
For 37 days, Angus Rose tethered himself to the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament as he relentlessly pressed on with his hunger strike, which began on the 14th of March. His only demand was for Chief Climate Scientist Sir Patrick Vallance to brief the cabinet and the public on the climate emergency–the same brief that flip-flopped Prime Minister Boris Johnson from climate sceptic to impassioned advocate.
Angus hails from KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa, and has been living in the UK since 1998. He had always held a keen interest in science, and his studies in electronic engineering provided a solid foundation in physics and chemistry. So understanding the science behind climate change came easy. But, the more he learned about the gravity of the problem, the more powerless he felt. Believing that he couldn’t do anything as an individual, he decided to ignore the crisis. While this worked for a while, it wasn’t long before the science came knocking again, and Angus soon realized this was something he could no longer brush aside.
The Seeds of Climate Activism
By the mid-2000s, Angus started thinking about his lifestyle and actively tried finding ways to reduce his carbon footprint.
In keeping current on information about climate change, he stumbled across the Climate Reality Project, which had been gaining traction. In 2014 while visiting South Africa, Angus attended the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training held in Johannesburg. He found great value in the refined message and connecting with like-minded people, emphasising the importance of having a network.
Over the years, Angus joined many talks, conferences, and protests with various climate action groups, but the lack of effectiveness soon became apparent, and he felt a growing need for more radical action.
Science and Desperation
When asked about his motivations, Angus says there were two. The first was understanding the science, and the second was his nephews and niece, the planet they will inherit and a future destroyed by the errors of the past. In a desperate plea, Angus embarked on a hunger strike. Throughout the 37 days, he stood outside the Houses of Parliament—only leaving for the evenings—holding a placard that read:
“I am an uncle on a hunger strike, terrified by the lack of climate action.”
Angus recalls a speech by David King, the former science advisor of the UK, who stressed that the next few years will determine the future of humanity–a warning echoed by the United Nations. It was then that he began contemplating a hunger strike, reasoning that the level of sacrifice he was prepared to undergo was in proportion to the risks his nephews and niece would face.
Angus resolved to place them at the forefront of his decision-making. He felt that it was his duty to do whatever he could to raise awareness, risking his life trying to preserve a future for those he will leave behind.
Mounding Pressure, Support and the Prospect of Change
Dismay set in early, as Angus recalls that it took five days before he received his initial response from UK Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change Minister Greg Hands. And, an unforeseen obstacle emerged as parliament closed for a two-week recess.
Meanwhile, the pressure began to mount each week of his hunger strike. By the fifth week and with no end in sight, Angus had lost seventeen kilograms (37 pounds), and doctors warned that he was entering a critical stage.
Initially, it was just Angus and Hannah Woodhouse, his key support throughout the ordeal. Soon, a movement started to grow around them as more people showed up to offer their support.
From logistics and wellbeing to media and science, experts from every field joined Angus in his plight and by the end, there were over 40 people behind the scenes.
Each day, he would engage with journalists and members of the public, progressives and conservatives alike.
Angus credits these interactions, the village of support, and the possibility of progress as what kept his spirits raised.
A Standoff with Government
Following a wave of hunger strikes across the UK and other European countries, the government remained hesitant to negotiate with Angus, seeing his actions as a hostage-taking situation. Instead, they opted to wait for him to break. His demand was continuously rejected, and he was urged to reconsider. But, Angus stayed his course.
“If I were to die on the footsteps of one of the world’s leading democracies—a country that holds a COP presidency—on an issue where I wasn’t asking for any changes to government policy or economy; all I was I was asking for was something eminently reasonable, the UK’s global climate reputation would be left in tatters.”
Angus ended his hunger strike on the 19th of April when politicians returned from recess and conceded to a briefing arranged by the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, through the all-party parliamentary group on climate change.
A Rising Tide
Originally from the Durban area, Angus was aware of the devastating floods that recently tore through the region. The UK has also faced a spate of storms, including a red alert for the first time in London. What drives Angus in his mission is the obstruction to progress and the resounding lack of acknowledgment as to the magnitude of the crisis.
“The UK lauds itself as a climate leader, yet the government’s policies and actions are not consistent with maintaining a habitable planet.”
But where there is strife, there is hope. Angus set about his hunger strike as an individual – someone he once thought could not make a difference alone. Yet this offered him a surprising edge.
Not being affiliated with any organisation, politicians saw Angus as an ordinary member of the public.
He attests that this broke down the barriers and enhanced his interactions.
His hope is that going forward, the media and government will see activists not as organised protestors but as vital constituents of a rising civil society.
Recovery and the Road Ahead
Since his hunger strike, Angus has experienced difficulties with his memory. The effects of starvation have extended beyond the physical. Following an urge to put some space between -himself and the events of the preceding weeks, Angus spent some time away from the UK, during which he met with fellow hunger striker Guillermo Fernandez and connected over their shared experiences.
Spending time in nature has helped his recovery, but Angus had also been focused on the briefing in the weeks that followed; his main hope given his immense sacrifice was for it to be a success. On the 11th of July, the briefing by Sir Patrick Vallance and a panel of experts was held online and attended by seventy MPs and peers–one of the highest recorded.
Despite being partway through recovery, Angus vouches that he will not step away from the fight. The briefing has likely sparked many to follow, with future briefings to highlight various societal impacts such as health and the economy.
The path of an activist is a never-ending one, and Angus’s course is set on ways in which he can bring about change – for his nephews and niece, for community and for country.