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Meet 8 young people acting and advocating for change

by | Jun 16, 2022

South African youth are known for speaking truth to power and taking the lead when it comes to creating positive change in our present and future. Marking 46 years since the historic Soweto Uprising, Youth Day is an important day to elevate the voices and experiences of young people as they act and advocate for change.

Currently, in South Africa children and young people are among those most at risk of the impacts of climate change, about 80 percent of South African youth have been directly affected by climate change. With this in mind, many inspiring young people are making their voices heard, calling for intersectional climate action, and encouraging sustainable lifestyles.

In commemoration of 16 June 1976 and all of the young people that put their lives on the line to fight for what was right, we spoke to different young people living in South Africa advocating for change in these times of climate crisis. We are asked them to share how they are creating change in their sphere of influence and what their ideal world would look like.

Tegan Gibaud

Biodiversity and Ecology student + Content creator with a focus on slow fashion and beauty

A young woman in a black blazer

One of my main focuses is supporting small, local businesses which is not only a sustainable option but also empowers local communities and supports our local economy.

I aim to encourage everyone to start rethinking their lifestyle by spreading knowledge about slow and ethical fashion and beauty on social media platforms, as well as generally accessible sustainability information.

Simply sharing that sustainability is ‘cool’ and normalising actions such as carrying reusables takes away from the nuance and the idea that being sustainable is inaccessible. Sharing the knowledge of these alternative options to fast fashion and unethical beauty products is an easy way to get more people involved in the long term.

My ideal world would be living in a circular economy, where mass production and consumption have decreased massively, along with modern slave labour being completely abolished. And seeing policymakers and stakeholders in large companies active in their action to mitigate climate change as well as governments playing a more active role in legislation surrounding the protection of environmental conservation and human rights. I would also hope for stronger input from Southern Hemisphere scientists. What we see now globally are climate actions driven by the Northern Hemisphere.

I believe activism work can often lead a person to feel burned out and disheartened when change doesn’t happen quickly, but interacting with people who share a passion for the environment and preserving our resources is always inspiring. I love being out in nature and almost ‘going back to the source’. It sounds a bit cliche, but it is really easy to get caught up in the busyness of everyday life and become disconnected from the main reason for the work.

One thing we can all do is as simple as it sounds, just get involved. Sometimes the sustainability community can seem intimidating but realising that we can only do our best and play our parts is an important first step. Once you integrate into the community, more inspiration and passion will flood through and you learn as you go.

Gabriel Klaasen

Intersectional Justice activist + Communications Officer for Project 90 by 2030 + Youth Coordinator for African Climate Alliance

A young person in a yellow shirt

Working in the climate justice space can be quite disheartening, you see and are surrounded by so much destruction and hardship. What keeps me connected and inspired in the work that I do are those beside me calling and fighting for change. That’s the thing about the climate justice movement, you are never alone and there are always people ready to take on the challenge.

The work that I do and contribute to is deeply involved in social and environmental justice. You cannot do this work without acknowledging that people and the planet are at its core. Our work with young people from different communities across Africa plays a massive role in creating an ethical and more sustainable future as it is working with the generation that will not only inherit the future but are suffering and fighting with and against the issues today. Acting and advocating for social, ecological, and environmental justice is just one of the ways we try to help mould a future for all.

I live in Cape Town, South Africa. It is a city that can be quite beautiful, but just as equally unjust and unequal. The same goes for the broader South Africa. I hope that 10 years into the future we beat the odds and can overcome the issues and deep climate, social, and economic injustices that we face. I hope that we live in a world that is defined by justice and serves the well-being of all.

There is a clear desire from all for us to live in a world that is better for everyone, but for many, it feels very out of reach. I believe we need education on the issues so that we can understand them better, and with that knowledge at our foundation, we can begin to act and advocate for justice. Together we can begin to achieve the future we want.

Regomoditswe Teke

Farmer + Journalism Graduate + Co-founder of Mmabontle Foundation

A smiling young person in an orange top

I discovered my love for community work and activism in high school which later combined with my passion for farming. Feeding and providing families with fresh vegetables and knowing that I’m able to put food on most peoples’ tables fulfils me. Knowing that I have impacted young people’s lives through my community work — teaching them about finances, farming, or even volunteering my time — gives me inner satisfaction.

Through my small garden project, I provide healthy and nutritious vegetables where I make use of my available resources to provide and supply my community and surrounding areas. With climate change and global warming being a big issue, I seek to make things better in the world to manage despair by changing the system.

I advocate and encourage young people to take up space. Young people should start their own gardens and take up every opportunity available to them. With the work I do, I seek to ensure that the people around me can have their voices heard on issues that are important to them.

I hope young people dream and believe in their dreams, but most importantly I hope they go after what they believe in. I hope to see more young women and young people in leadership positions. Furthermore, I hope to see more women leading, dominating, and taking up space in the agriculture field so they pave the way and create more opportunities for the coming generation. I live by the words of Malala Yousafzai: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Maryam Agherdien

Fashion student with a focus on sustainability

A young person in front of greenery

If I were able to time travel to the future, I would want to see an abundance of small, sustainable, and ethical businesses and no fast fashion companies. I want to live in a circular and considerate world where all workers are paid and treated fairly.

What we need is to be environmentally conscious. We can’t take from the earth without giving back. The waste we produce, dirt, and harm caused ties into every little aspect of life, and keeping this in mind while carrying out small actions to lessen our carbon footprint contributes to making the world a better place.

Everything I do begins with pure intentions and I try to be consistent with it throughout my projects. I constantly reflect on how I can contribute to the world without harming it. As a fashion student, I do this by using deadstock or off-cut fabrics, upcycling, and maintaining a zero-waste ethos throughout my work.

Knowing that the work I do and the garments I create are started with the right intention and have the least possible negative impact on the environment brings me great joy. This also makes me hopeful that the work I do will prosper and continuously make those who wear it feel and look good while giving “waste” a new lease on life.

Dorcas Mutombo

Fashion Designer + Founder of Emelia D

A young person in a bucket hat and white shirt

Originally, I am from Mbuji-Mayi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and I have been living in South Africa as a refugee for 10 years. As a designer, my work is meant to educate me and everyone else while promoting Congolese cultures and mediums.

Seeing many African countries thriving in the fashion industry and knowing that my own country is not even close to reaching that point is heartbreaking. And that is why I am so determined to keep going to acquire the needed knowledge and skills about sustainability and natural fibres so I can be that person who puts the DRC on the map.

I hope and wish for a future with more kindness, care, and compassion among us humans. And a fashion industry that not only cares about profits but the whole system and everyone involved.

Jesmine Davids

Founder and Designer of Rebirth + fashion stylist

A young person in a patchwork jacket

As a founder and designer of Rebirth, sourcing materials locally and trying our best to include natural fabrics is our main focus. For us, upcycling and reusing what already exists is sustainable and impactful. The work we do at Rebirth teaches others that we already have the means to change the industry and take action against climate change, especially when it comes to what we wear.

In 10 years, I would like to see a more sustainable and caring world with less suffering, where everyone lives in harmony with nature. I hope South Africa will become an economically developed country with better services for all.

We need to understand that there are more important things in life than just fast money. We should think before we produce or consume and, lastly, recycle and preserve everything.

Dimpho Lekgeu

Media producer + Community Manager at Youth Lab

A young person in a white blazer

My work involves using media to advocate for meaningful youth participation and mainstreaming youth voices in policy and decision-making. This is important because young people are the largest demographic in South Africa and on the continent, but the average age of an African leader is something around 65 years. This means that the people making critical decisions about our futures won’t be there to experience them. Creating platforms where young people can be meaningfully engaged in the country’s development is important if we want to create inclusive futures.

I love my work because I get to interact with and tell the stories of incredible young people who are doing work that uplifts their communities. From community organisers to youth who are leading in their local municipalities to young entrepreneurs who are making a great impact with little to no resources. That’s what makes me feel connected and inspired to keep advocating for better youth representation and participation; because I get to witness every day how brilliant and committed young people are. They just need to be given the space and support they need to lead and resources that will allow them to scale their impact.

In the future, I hope to see a larger representation of young people in political leadership. I hope to experience communities that are safe for women, girls, and members of the LGBTQI+ community. I also hope for access to social services, such as free quality education and healthcare, and that more women and youth on the continent will have the resources and the access they need to participate in the digital economy.

Mitchelle Mhaka

BSc Computer Science and Applied Mathematics student + Programs Coordinator for the African Climate Alliance + Public speaker and activist

A smiling young person in a headscarf

The work I do is closely tied with the way I have always known life to be — regenerative, ethical, and sustainable. Where I come from, the word “sustainable” does not exist, but it is a way of life. As such my work aims to make education continuous and free from the influence of orthodox and colonial history. My work has roots in anti-colonial practices with a very strong practice of decolonisation.

The moment you tear down traditional structures of power and connect to what makes us who we are, you connect to the people, the work, and our collective identity. People have so much to offer, from patience, love, and hope to collaboration and education. This is what inspires me and makes me feel hopeful.

My hope for the future is that our work and way of life become one and feed into each other in the most organic way. I hope that practices like mending and self-sustenance become cool again and not just reserved for the whitewashed movement often pushed by the media. I also hope that we can all ditch traditional ways of teaching that reinforce harmful power structures and move toward collaborative and decentralised environments that exist fully to inspire and free people from the shackles of shame, judgment, and fear.

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