Following their recent graduation from The Green Connection’s Legacy Champions Programme, these newly empowered Green Connectors say they feel equipped with the necessary advocacy skills to make positive changes in their communities, starting with their vote in the local elections (1 November) and weighing in on the discussions around COP26 (which starts on 31 October) – as part of their efforts to oppose oil and gas developments in the country and offshore.
A key aspect of the programme is to ensure that activists feel empowered, equipped, and supported as they raise their voices and work to solve their own local environmental justice issues, advocating for the outcomes they want for their communities. The project objective is to create a network of passionate and skilled Green Connectors – young people, and women in particular – who know how to develop evidence to support their demands and effectively mobilise their communities to join their various eco-justice campaigns. Through information sharing and participatory learning (through workshops and mentoring), they also learnt how to find the right channels for addressing the eco-injustices they face.
The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid says, “The Legacy Champions Programme is a dream come true for me,” says McDaid, an environmental justice veteran who has leveraged her prestigious 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize victory to turn her dream into a reality. “South Africa needs her people to feel that they matter. With the skills our Green Connectors have developed and the opportunities they are starting to uncover for themselves, I am confident that our Earth (and especially our oceans), our climate justice movement and our society have more competent defenders on its side.”
She says, “Over the years, it has become evident that neither Parliament nor local councils – who are critical to our democracy – are optimally used to ensure that the executive is held to account and ensure government actions are in the interests of the people. This leads to despair among activists on the ground, as their best efforts fall on deaf ears. The Green Connection believes that empowering people to participate in decisions that affect their environment is the only way that truly sustainable development occurs.”
The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy from Graaff Reinet Karoo Western Cape served as a mentor for the Green Connectors, driving environmental and social justice awareness amongst programme participants, while playing a critical support role. He says, “When I first started working with these communities, more than a year ago, I found that people felt defeated by a system there to protect them. Many did not know where to start fighting for their rights, even as the ocean was being stolen right from under their noses, through the different restrictions and limitations imposed by those in power. Yet, these are people who have a strong heritage connection to the ocean who now unfortunately must face punitive measures, including jail, for trying to fish from oceans that have now been taken over by multinational companies. But I am inspired by this dynamic group of passionate and committed environmental defenders who now know how to participate in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultations and how organise their communities to mobilise action that help protect these rights.”
Guest of honour, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg’s Makoma Lekalakala – who shared the 2018 Goldman Prize with McDaid – also had a few words of wisdom for the group of community activists, “Our purpose is to make life enjoyable, and we must challenge anything that threatens to take the joy from our lives. This means that, as human and environmental rights defenders, you must challenge unjust decisions. Do not be afraid to be different because being different means that you are not indifferent. And expect to ruffle a few feathers for going against the grain. And do not say or think ‘I am too small to make a change’ because believe me, you can make a difference. Even a small seed can grow into a massive tree. Do not give up the fight. I want to encourage these Green Connectors to draw strength from each other and from the networks they have created through this process. I hope that each one commits to making a positive change and building a better future, together.”
The Green Connectors hail from all around the country – from Port Nolloth and surrounding areas in the Northern Cape; in the Western Cape, Saldanha Bay and Langebaan on the West Coast, and also Hornlee in Knysna, and the Karoo; Soweto township and Sokhulumi community in Gauteng province; to Gqeberha and Port St. John’s in Eastern Cape:
Sasekani Khoza successfully mobilised various community structures in Orlando East, Soweto township Gauteng province – including sports clubs, women cooperatives, drama groups, ward councillors – resulting in the formation of a successful partnership to prevent illegal dumping in communities and promote recycling of solid waste. He/she says, “Through the Green Connection, I started a programme fighting illegal dumping, pollution, and environmental degradation. This is where I have started to protect my environment rights and those of my community.”
Banele Sibanyoni also successfully organised youth and women in Sokhulumi community in Gauteng province to lobby the municipality to stop environmental pollution in the area caused by the illegal dumping of solid waste and has also successfully advocated for the inclusion of environmental rights in the election manifestos of over four election candidates.
Ketshepaone Modise successfully participated in research on renewable energy issues, needed to inform the Energy White Paper. Modise also created awareness amongst her fellow participants, through the research outcomes, on the relevant/appropriate environmental rights issues to advocate for.
Tsili Lekheme mobilised community members to participate in public consultation meetings to oppose licence applications for the exploration of oil and gas in Port Nolloth and surrounding areas. Lekheme also called on local government to do more to prevent fatal accidents caused by illegal mining in the area.
WESTERN CAPE – WEST COAST:
Natalie-Jane Van Wyk has mobilised local communities to participate in public consultation meetings to oppose licence applications for the exploration of oil and gas in Saldanha Bay and is vehemently opposed to Karpowerships in the area. This young activist also prepared documents and made submissions in the associated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) hearings, as part of advocating for the rights of local fishing communities. She says, “We have taken all possible measures to oppose Karpowerships, but we face further challenges due to their appeal against the rejection of their applications, which might result in a change of decision. We are extremely unhappy that government insists on violating our environmental rights.”
Taitum-Lee Manuel also mobilised her local communities to participate in public consultation meetings to oppose licence applications for the exploration of oil and gas in Langebaan, including opposing Karpowerships in the area. She says, “We thank the Green Connection and Coastal Links for assisting us with mobilising and raising awareness regarding public participation meetings, license applications, and making sure our communities understand what these decisions would mean for us as a community.”
Green Connector Frankquit Jooste has been actively creating awareness about environmental rights, particularly as it relates to the potential impacts of oil and gas drilling and exploration, as well as Karpowerships, in the West Coast.
WESTERN CAPE – KAROO:
Danny Davidson from Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo Western Cape has successfully raised public awareness and mobilised local communities in the Central Karoo District against fracking. He also established a number of successful partnerships with strategic allies to oppose the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas, in this water-scarce region. Davidson says, “Let us intensify our opposition to oil and gas and assert out rights to have our environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.”
New Green Connector and environmental justice activist Warren Blaaw, from Beaufort West Western Cape, has also been doing his bit to raise public awareness and mobilise local communities against fracking in the Central Karoo District. He says, “I want to ensure that our communities are fully aware and well-informed about the negative impacts of this oil and gas drilling, which will only harm our environment and threaten our already-at-risk water sources. We do not want fracking. We want to keep our environment clean, so that our community and our animals can be healthy and live long, full lives. What we want is more investment in renewable energy sources, to ensure that our kids and future descendants can also live here – in a clean place, that we will leave them.”
WESTERN CAPE – EDEN/KNYSNA:
Barend Frederick’s from Hornlee Knysna Western Cape has been hard at work mobilising local fisherfolk and indigenous communities to fight for the respect, protection, and promotion of environmental rights in the area. He says, “With the help of The Green Connection we are better equipped to opposed oil and gas exploration, as well as the laws and regulations that act as barriers to indigenous people’s right to access natural resources and erase an entire history. We urge government to respect customary law and to protect indigenous people’s right to enter fishing areas for us to fish, in order to sustain ourselves and create livelihoods. Even when we attend public participation meetings, we feel our voices do not matter, that the decision has already been taken, and that the meetings are merely a box-ticking exercise. People want to return to their ancestral land so that we can also benefit from its natural resources.”
EASTERN CAPE – PORT ST. JOHN’S:
Ntsindiso Nongcavu from Port St. John’s Eastern Cape successfully mobilised local fishermen in Port St. John’s to advocate that government provides skipper training and licensing for local fishermen. His advocacy efforts also focused on the allocation of funds to provide for a boat launching pad and cold storage containers that local fishers could benefit from, in addition to the registration of fishing cooperatives and training of members to meaningfully trade as local fishers. Nongcavu says, “It is time that small-scale fisher rights are recognised and put front and centre, over commercial interests. We need our government to do more to empower fishers and promote sustainable livelihoods, rather than denying them access natural resources in the area. As such, the community opposes oil and gas exploration and has united to raise these concerns to the country’s decision-makers.”
Phumza Kalimashe, also from Port St. John’s Eastern Cape and one of a growing number of fisherwomen in the country, recently achieved a skipper’s licence (along with Nongcavu) and is now equipped with basic safety protocols and skills to predict the tide – which helps determine whether it is good or bad sea day. The license also enables them to fish deep into the ocean, thereby increasing their chances of catching a variety of fish to sell. Kalimashe says, “When an opportunity to gain knowledge in the fishing industry presents itself, small-scale fishers must grab it with both hands as these courses are expensive and fishers would not afford them.”
EASTERN CAPE – GQEBERHA:
Member of the Eastern Cape Environment Network (ECEN) Zukisa Mankabane and Vuyiseka Mani, both from Gqeberha Eastern Cape, successfully mobilised local communities to participate in public consultation meetings to oppose licence applications for the Karpowerships. Both these young activists also contributed to the success of environmental campaigns – spearheaded by local partnerships – involving local schools, and youth and women’s groups in Gqeberha.
Mani says, “Here you find fishers across age groups and gender, some of whom are graduates struggling to get internships or jobs. This is how they put food on the table. Yet government does not consult us on decisions that will affect our livelihoods, because of greed. Since these decisions affect us, we call on our government to consult us before any decisions are taken that impact our livelihoods and our environmental rights.” Mankabane says, “We are gravely concerned about the impact government’s proposed oil and gas plans will have on the environment, marine life and for our communities. We are not satisfied with these projects that will destroy our areas and the ocean we, as fishing communities, rely on. During this period of CoVid restrictions, things have been especially difficult. Yet, our government continues to introduce new (but harmful) projects, as though everything is normal, when those affected are restricted from participation. But we reject any box-ticking exercises that do not mean to ensure that our communities understand how their proposals will affect us. Remember, we are small-scale fishers who have been suffering a lot, especially under CoVid, and since many of us cannot afford data or computer equipment, this meant that we could not participate in the decision-making process.”