Our Burning Planet

Global, SA eco-warriors march for a renewable future

By Lelethu Tonisi, Tessa Knight and Al Jazeera 20 September 2019

Participants the Global Strike Action in Cape Town including 85 year old Madelyn Muller holding the poster. Photo Tessa Knight

Thousands of concerned citizens, activists, campaign managers and representatives of several organisations took to the streets of several South African cities and in cities across the globe to deliver an urgent message for South Africans and all nations attending the upcoming climate summit: Accelerate a just transition towards a low carbon and renewable future.

From bustling metropoles like Johannesburg and Cape Town to the Pacific Islands, many of which risk being inundated by rising seas, to New Zealand, Australia and Thailand, people took to the streets to call on governments to take urgent steps to tackle the climate crisis and prevent an environmental catastrophe.

In Cape Town thousands of climate activists, including school children in uniform and officials from the City of Cape Town, marched from Hanover (Keizersgracht) street to Parliament on Friday to protest against the climate crisis. 

The protest organised there by Amnesty Ambassador of Conscience Award-winner African Climate Alliance, mirrors a global movement of young people uniting around the #ClimateStrike, led by environmental ambassador Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who inspired the climate strike, tweeted her support to the global action. “Incredible pictures,” she wrote from New York where she will lead the protest. “This is the huge crowd building up in Sydney. Australia (and) is setting the standard!”

Back in Cape Town in overcast weather, a stark comparison from the heat of the previous days, the crowd moved peacefully towards Parliament, picking up litter and chanting:

Climate Change is not a lie! Do not let our planet die!”

Climate change affects us badly in Khayelitsha,” said 16-year-old Akhona Noqaazo from Siphamandla High School.

When it’s raining badly it gets into our homes and our schools,” Akhona told Daily Maverick.

Participants of the Global Strike Action in Cape Town, Natasha Quphena, 17 (L) and Akhona Noqaazo,16 (R) Photo: Tessa Knight

Heads of the African Climate Alliance handed over a memorandum of demands to representatives of the South African government. The demands include:

  • A declaration of a provincial and national climate emergency;
  • A ban on new coal-fired power stations and fossil fuel mining licences;
  • A commitment to 100% renewable energy generation by 2030;
  • The creation of a mandatory climate-education curriculum for South Africa; and
  • Prioritisation of much-needed restoration of degraded landscapes and funding of ecological infrastructure.

Phindile Maxiti, mayoral committee member for energy and climate change, addressed the group on behalf of the city, pledging to commit to the demands.

We hear you,” said Maxiti.

The global strike takes place ahead of next week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York. Cyril Ramaphosa was scheduled to attend the event, but will instead send international relations Minister Naledi Pandor in his place so that the President can “concentrate on critical issues” at home.

A participant of the Global Strike Action in Cape Town, Filomena De Abreu Photo: Tessa Knight

Kimber Jacobs from the African Climate Alliance, pleaded with the President “not to condemn us to climate apartheid”.

Ruby Sampson, one of the founders of the African Climate Alliance, reminded the group that Friday was the second time the group had handed over demands to the government.

We will continue to strike until our demands are met!”

In Johannesburg climate change organisations such as Earthlife Africa, Greenpeace Africa, Extinction Rebellion, Woman for Climate Justice SA, and Green Peace Africa along with school children, parents and concerned citizens blew whistles and sang to get their message across.

We are here today because we know we have got to build a movement and do that fast. We’ve got to know that while in the north it’s really about short heatwaves and short cold snaps, in the scalding south it’s about long heatwaves, droughts, crop failure, and floods. We need a solidarity between the north and the south. We can’t win this on our own, we need an international movement,” said Rehad Desai, spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion South Africa at the gathering in Johannesburg.

Participants of the Global Strike Action in Johannesburg. Photo: Lelethu Tonisi

Climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa Bukwelwa Nzimande said what was important was that “this is inspired by what the youth has been doing which is a united, strong, and powerful voice saying ‘our future is threatened’ because what we are doing now is stealing from the future”.

The demonstration in Johannesburg was attended by activists, academics, school children and concerned residents.

UJ Professor Salim Valley said climate change and climate disruption is a vital concern to everybody. “It’s going to mean more climate refugees and we have to take a stand, we have very few years left. The poorest countries in the world are going to suffer more. South Africa is a polluter if you look at Eskom and Sasol and yet we are not doing anything differently. The only way we can put pressure on the elite, who are very comfortable with this situation, is by protesting and so we are joining millions around the world to say our very existence means resistance,” he said.

Another protester Sharon Ekambaram said that our drive for profit and getting rich are a direct consequence of what is happening today.

Participants in the Global Strike Action in Johannesburg. Photo: Lelethu Tonisi

I also work with refugees and migrants in South Africa and we are seeing an increase in othering and xenophobia because people are moving. People are moving because of massive increases in temperature, agriculture is suffering and so they have to leave and move to Sub-Saharan Africa otherwise they can’t survive. And because we are not providing proper disaggregated data, we don’t know what the cause of the movement is,” she said.

Protests were expected to take place in 110 towns and cities across Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, with crowds calling on the government to commit to a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

At least 2,000 companies gave people time off in order to attend the rally, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

We are not sinking, we are fighting,” read one of the placards carried by protesters in Kiribati, a chain of atolls in the the Pacific ocean that some fear could be under water within 25 years.

In Bangkok, which at just 1.5 metres above sea level also risks being inundated, protesters marched to the Ministry of Environment to deliver a letter calling on the government to declare a climate emergency.

There is no Planet B,” said one of the signs, beneath a sketch of a human being holding up the earth.

Protests were planned in some 150 countries on Friday, and will culminate in New York when Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Nobel prize for her activism on climate, leads the march in the city where the United Nations has its headquarters.

The UN summit brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, including the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. DM

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