Advocacy & People. Ayakha Melithafa

The 20-year-old climate activist is making her voice heard across South Africa and beyond.

My involvement as a climate activist began in 2017 when my province, the Western Cape [in South Africa], was experiencing a water crisis caused by a drought. My mother was, and still is, a small-scale farmer and our family depended on her produce for our food and livelihood. But the drought was bad, the livestock started to suffer and the crops withered.

This affected us all – our cows, sheep and goats became so skinny and some even died. It was so painful to see my mother, other small-scale farmers and commercial farmers frustrated as they tried to make the most out of an impossible situation.

Things got worse and restrictions were imposed on everyone. Each household had to make do with 50 litres of water per day. It was quite devastating to see children, including some of my classmates, unable to come to school because they had skin rashes or diarrhoea after having to use polluted water for bathing and drinking.

All this made me angry and I began to question why it was happening and investigate what was causing the drought. That is when I came to terms with climate change and a spark was lit.

Soon I learnt about not only my province but also the deplorable state of our planet I became super climate-anxious and depressed. I struggled to get my motivation up. But then I joined a climate school project, “School 90 by 2030”, and I immediately started to get back on my feet because we were learning not only about the climate change problems that were happening but also about the solutions.

I began to speak on radio stations and got to be interviewed by newspapers. I also interacted with my community members and shared why I believe people should care about climate change and get involved in climate action.

Before long I was part of the African Climate Alliance, which organized climate protest in Cape Town against climate injustices and inaction here in South Africa. In 2019, I also had the opportunity to join the Rights of the Child Petition, a lawsuit where the children of the world took world leaders to court for neglecting our human rights.

In September 2019 with Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, Carl Smith, and Catarina Lorenzo we filed a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for failing to adequately address the climate crisis.

I strongly believe our world leaders should take more pronounced climate change action, otherwise, it shows they do not care about children. All of the decisions that are being made right now impact children now, and more so in the future as we are the ones that will have to live with them.

I am currently working on developing a climate awareness programme that will be rolled out in South African schools. This comes after a realization that there are low rates of climate literacy and consciousness in our schools. I am also part of the Western Cape Education Council, having been appointed the Education Minister Debbie Schaefer to be part of this commission to advise on how they can better incorporate climate change into the curriculum. I am counting on young people to help me strengthen the education system in this province.

I am also part of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC). I was called by President Cyril Ramaphosa.  At 20, I am currently the youngest commissioner. It has its challenges but I have seen how beautiful it is for young people to be involved in these spaces because we too get to have our voices heard.

Initially, I struggled to make sense of the complex terms and technical policy language that was used in the meetings, but I am glad we were all open about it and we have communication channels to help each other understand, so we can all contribute meaningfully. I like that we get to visit some of the most affected communities to research what we can do to make them feel more comfortable about the just energy transition process.

Looking at my activities, I can see despite being young, some of my contributions have been implemented. For example, making community engagement meetings more accessible to the youth by having them at times when they are back from school. I am also happy that they are broadcast live on Facebook and on local radio stations. Since our leaders are failing us, we really should try to be active citizens and participate in these spaces as much as we can, so we can hold them to account, because no one is coming to save us. (Uyapo Majahana/The Internationalist) –  (Photo: WEF/ Manuel Lopez).

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts