Young voices/South Africa: “Political leaders need to wake up”

Filed by  Alet Janse van Reensberg. – Political leaders need to realise that the science is there, it’s screaming at them to wake up. We have on countless occasions given them declarations stating that we need a moratorium on all new oil, gas and coal licenses; that we need our electricity to be 100% renewable energy as soon as possible and that we need to declare a climate emergency in South Africa. They have all the information, we’ve given it to them. All they need to do is act.

Ruby Sampson (19) is the co-founder and chairperson of the youth wing of the African Climate Alliance (ACA). She and her peers organised the youth strikes in Cape Town in March, June and September 2019, the largest of which, in September, attracted around 3000 people. – It was great when we got acknowledgement from President Cyril Ramaphosa. That was definitely a big first step. He mentioned us in his State of the Nation Address in June and said that he heard the voices of the youth who were protesting to Parliament.

Green upbringing

She was brought up by parents who are very concerned about climate and environment, and was taken on a tour across the continent to learn more. – I saw all the big examples of climate change in Africa. You have the droughts, the biggest one is the drought in Namibia. You have the mudslides in Sierra Leone, you have the desertification in Senegal. I was there when those things happened. I was there when the cattle were dying because there was nothing to feed them in Namibia and I saw how the herdsmen had got around it by feeding them cardboard soaked in brine in order to fool their stomachs into feeling full. I was there in Sierra Leone when a thousand people died in the mudslides in Freetown because of three days of solid rain. I was there is Senegal when they began planting the trees to try and prevent the Sahara from expanding into previously fertile land to stop the ever-growing desertification of that ever growing strip of land.

Through these experiences, Ruby got terrified and worried. – I’m thinking about where I need to move to where I’ll be least affected by drought, or floods, or both, or malaria.

As she says, she has seen the effects of climate change, and thus became engaged. However, the distance between rich and poor – white schools and black schools are large. – The posh schools – the white schools – have climate education. They’re taught about climate change in biology, about the greenhouse effect. But we are the privileged few. There are hundreds of thousands of kids across this country who are being affected by climate change right now and have no idea why. Our job is to form climate education that allows them to learn, and will help us and them.

Ruby underlines that the people most affected by climate change are the poor. – And the poor in South Africa, mostly are not white. Which is why climate change is not being talked about. Because the rich white people are not being affected by it.

School strikes or other actions

She mentions Greta Thunberg as an inspiration for the school strikes. – Our house is on fire, like Greta said. The September strike was the most successful. We had a week of positive climate action after that, which was beach clean-ups, river clean-ups, alien clearings and free workshops about the climate crisis. We had a presentation from the aquarium about mobile living and the importance of ocean life. Those are the sorts of things we do as ACA, not only striking.

The problem with school strikes in a socially very divided society is important: – We do not believe that striking, specifically striking from school, is the way to solve the climate crisis. Because school is such a privilege as it is. You have to take the amazing Fridays for Future movement internationally and fit it to South Africa’s needs. Because it’s unrealistic and frankly quite unfair to assume that other students are going to skip school when their parents are working so hard to get them a good education to get them into a position where they can have a better life than under apartheid.

Ruby is prepared for more climate action: – We heard about the new policy for IRPs (the Independent Resource Plan), we heard that there’s going to be new mining, new coal, new gas off the coast and how terrible the effects of those mining activities would be for South Africa.