South Africa

Maverick Citizen: Climate Crisis

Learners’ plea to President Rampahosa: ‘Everything is intertwined. We can’t solve problems in halves anymore’

Learners’ plea to President Rampahosa: ‘Everything is intertwined. We can’t solve problems in halves anymore’
Raeesah Noor Mahomed (middle) and friends outside her school gate. Photo supplied.

Since the beginning of this year, every Friday during school hours, 17 year-old matric student Raeesah Noor Mahomed has been boycotting classes and keeping vigil with a handful of other brave students outside the gates of Parktown High School for Girls. Like many thousands of children all over the world who have joined the Fridays For Future movement, her plea is simple: that adult politicians match their big words about the climate crisis with action. Last week she sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, which he has received personally but not yet responded to. We publish it below.

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa,

My name is Raeesah Noor-Mahomed and I am a 17-year-old matric learner at Parktown High School for Girls in Johannesburg. I have been boycotting school every Friday since 17 January 2020 with the aim that a climate emergency be declared.

Mr President, the country you lead today impacts the leaders of tomorrow: which is the youth of South Africa. As a young person, I feel it is important that you do everything in your power to ensure that you are leaving us a bright South Africa.

I would like to firstly touch on your State of the Nation Address which you addressed before Parliament and the country on 13 February 2020. In your address, you touched on issues such as Gender-Based Violence and Climate Change. I was initially exhilarated because acknowledging these issues in the speech was something I didn’t think would happen.

But then as the speech progressed, I began to get more and more disappointed.

I was disappointed because these things were only mentioned but you failed to tell us what you will do to solve them. To me, acknowledging issues and doing nothing to solve them is worse than not acknowledging them at all. This shows us that you are aware of its dangers and effects but are not considering the seriousness of these issues to lead to immediate action.

I have been in touch with the Department of Environmental Affairs and I am attending a meeting where Minister Barbara Creecy will be present on 28 February.

Climate change is a serious issue and drastic measures need to be taken to combat it.

Therefore, a climate emergency needs to be declared so that it can be treated with the urgency it needs. In your speech, you mentioned a Climate Change Bill but told us nothing about what it contains and the way forward.

The issues around climate change are not isolated problems. None of the problems our country is facing are in isolation: they are all linked.

One example which links to climate change is that people are not educated about it. A solution would be to introduce more in-depth information on climate change in the schooling curriculum.

But would it be effective if so many children do not attend school?

A lot has been said about our matric pass rate these past two months. But you have not acknowledged that all the learners who matriculated are a small percentage of the learners who started school in grade R and should have matriculated but were unable to continue with school. We need to make climate change part of the curriculum but at the same time the reasons for so many learners dropping out of school must be investigated and solutions must be implemented so that every child in our country can have an education.

Another example is how the issue of housing can be combatted while making development more sustainable. If we start using ecobricks to build houses it will help to eradicate plastic pollution and eliminate the costs of housing materials, such as bricks. If we start encouraging hemp farming we can create cheap, eco-friendly cement out of lime and hemp. The reduction in cost will result in more houses being built and will have positive environmental impacts.

Everything is intertwined. We can’t solve problems in halves anymore. We need to get to the root of the problems our country is facing and solve those.

Mr President, you hold the future of the youth in your hands. We want to know that we have a future. We need to know that you are doing everything you can to avoid leaving us a world that has been destroyed by the generations before us.

I am requesting that you involve the youth in your policy-making and start actively debating these issues in Parliament and coming up with effective and long-term solutions. Please start telling us what you are doing to give us our futures. I refuse to believe that you are looking at these critical issues in the eye and doing nothing. Bills and discussions aren’t enough for us anymore. It’s too late and the situation is too drastic. We need action, Mr President.

Another reason for my boycott of school each Friday is that carrying on as if everything is normal would be lying to myself. I cannot silently prepare for a future I will not have.

I am fighting for all the children in our country because it will ultimately be us who are affected the most by climate change. We who did nothing.

In your SONA you promised Ayakha Melithafa that you will not leave any African child behind in this climate emergency. But we will not accept empty promises anymore. The situation is too grave. As the youth, we will speak out until we see active efforts to combat the climate emergency.

I am asking you to see this, to understand and to do something about it. I am asking you to involve us and invite the youth to the SONA, Parliament and other events. We want to see what our futures look like.


Raeesah Noor-Mahomed MC

Editor’s note: The National Climate Change Dialogue is taking place today from 9am-1pm at the Aviator Hotel in Kempton Park. It is focusing on the outcomes of the 2019 Madrid Climate Conference. The Budget speech hardly paid lip-service to what President Ramaphosa in the SONA called “an existential threat to humanity”.


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