In June 2023, the first Young Voices, Big Impact Climate Action Youth Seminar took place in Tshwane with the purpose of encouraging active citizenry among youth in the climate change space and fostering cross-sectoral collaboration to achieve real progress in the fight against climate change.
The day kicked off with an exhibition featuring products and initiatives tackling climate change issues, with exhibitors including the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA), BMW, young candidate researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Intellergy, the City of Tshwane’s Environment and Agriculture management department, as well as Nedbank.
The keynote address was delivered by Cllr Mncedi Ndzwanana, the City of Tshwane’s Speaker of Council. Cllr Ndzwanana encouraged the youth present through his statement: “It fills me with hope that tomorrow can be better than today and yesterday. I am also proud to be the Speaker of the City that is invested in being part of the solution. I therefore would like to applaud everyone that is part of this team”. The City also made use of this opportunity to announce the Inter-Varsity Innovation Challenge that was first initiated in 2021 by the City’s Innovation Department.
Poovi Pillay, the Executive Head: Nedbank Foundation reminded the audience that in our fight against climate change we are not only saving the planet, we are saving ourselves. “For us at Nedbank, and I believe for many of you, the green economy is the realisation of a world where economic growth and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. When we started this journey, we understood from the outset that we could not be part of a journey to save the planet whilst many South Africans still lived in poverty and joblessness, and whilst children did not have the hope of a better future. So, we connected the two challenges, looking for opportunities to develop the right skills that would in turn support the creation of enterprises and thereby jobs across four key sectors of energy, waste, water, and agriculture. We are aiming at nothing less than an economy that is both sustainable and that enables South Africans to live better lives. In fact, we see these goals as interconnected and interdependent,” said Pillay.
Ranyaka CEO, Johan Olivier, focused on the importance of taking action locally, stating that climate change is no longer a global issue. “It’s not out there, far from home. It influences the lives and livelihoods of local communities and it will take a rethink of our economic policies and strategies to address the change. We also need information systems that give sufficient insight and information to plan and design effective innovations,” says Olivier, who also emphasised the critical role of collaboration. “It will take a collective effort from local communities, businesses and municipalities to organise ourselves around well-designed and intentional, new ways of living.”
Through its work as the national implementation agents for the Nedbank Proud of my Town programme, Ranyaka has built up local networks in communities across South Africa, one of these being Mamelodi in Tshwane, that are well-positioned to take the lead and drive local action.
Representing Backyard Farmers, Thabang Shongwe shared inspiring examples of the work that this Mamelodi-based NPO is doing in assisting communities, schools and youth by mitigating food insecurity and the degradation of the environment. He illustrated the critical need of climate change interventions through the quote that “If all human beings would die, life on earth would thrive in probably less than 50 years, but if all other natural resources would die, everything on earth will stop thriving. Everything would die. It is a reality.”
Another participant in the impressive line-up of speakers was Zama Ngomane, an Honours graduate in quantity surveying, from Intellergy. Students applauded and cheered in response to these words: “When the previous speaker said that we [the youth] can [be the change], he is talking about this generation right here.” Ngomane also shared more about the Solar Buddies product – an innovative lighting solution for households who do not have access to electricity. “With our current challenges with electricity, this is actually important for all communities,” said Ngomane. She furthermore spoke on the importance of being able to measure the impact that projects (citing construction as an example) have on the world around them.
Following the presentations, panel discussions, Q&A sessions, and breakaway sessions provided the platform for active audience engagement, the voicing of concerns and sharing of ideas for the way forward. During their breakaway sessions, three groups of students discussed topics ranging from water scarcity and conservation, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity to waste management. The groups were tasked with coming up with practical plans of action and social media campaigns to raise awareness around, and design hands-on initiatives to take action in the fight against climate change.
Participants have been sharing messages providing feedback to the seminar organisers. Says Manqoba Kumalo from Backyard Farmers: “It is very important to mobilize the youth around fundamental principles of earth preservation, for nature is primary of source for all living things. Today’s session was informative robust and inspiring. Putting our collective efforts to curb climate change is the only way that the human species can survive.”
Says Takatso Molebale, a student from Nemisa, “I had a very beautiful experience yesterday. The event really taught me a lot about climate change, as well as the dangers it poses here on Earth. Not only did I learn about climate change, but I also learnt innovative and entrepreneurial skills. I left that event a motivated young woman.”
Ultimately, the Climate Action Youth Seminar recognizes that young people are not merely victims of climate change, but valuable contributors to climate action. “They are agents of change, entrepreneurs, and innovators who should be empowered to take positive action towards creating a more sustainable future,” says Ranyaka Marketing Manager, Lesego Masethe. “By bringing together Government, business, civil society, and academia, we believe that initiatives such as these hold the potential to mobilize social solidarity on climate change issues and establish national, provincial, and local climate change campaigns.”
The way forward
The next step forward is an online campaign (Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp statuses) that will run from the month of July in partnership with all the organisations who participated in the seminar. The youth of Mamelodi will be the key drivers of this campaign. A hands-on project in the pipeline is one based on recycling, where plastic bottles will be collected weekly. Finally, local schools from Mamelodi, students and representatives from NGOs are planning a structure that will hold organisations and businesses accountable who have set out to work in the climate change space.
For more information, please contact Lesego Masethe at email@example.com or on 076 203 6308.