Winner: Youth for climate action; Runners-up: Bob Scholes & Joe Biden

South African climate justice activist Raeesah Noor-Mahomed at a rally at COP26 on 1 November 2021. Activist Greta Thunberg (left) looks on. (Photo: Pamela Elizarrarás Acitores)

The young ecowarriors challenged Global North leaders to take responsibility for what they have done to their homelands.

Extreme weather events in the form of floods, droughts and impacts such as locust plagues and famine have been some of the ways in which the environment has been crying out for help. And to the rescue has been the global youth environmental movement and its many activists, including those in South Africa, which has continuously raised the alarm about the trouble the planet is in.

The more the environment collapses, the louder the voices of the youth become in calling for us to take climate action and do so now. It’s fitting that these people be named Daily Maverick’s Ecowarrior of the Year.

The youth want to protect their future. They urge leaders to take urgent action because we’re fast running out of time – a consequence of the leaders’ lack of action.

The voices of the youth were heard at the “blah blah blah” conference –  COP26 – when they filled the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. This was a continuation of their efforts from long before the conference.

South Africans Ayakha Melithafa, Tyler Booth, Sibusiso Mazomba and Raeesah Noor-Mahomed joined hundreds of like-minded youth, including Greta Thunberg, to make leaders at COP26 “uncomfortable”, saying: “If we don’t ask these difficult questions about finance and investing in the Global South, then who will?”

“It’s been great to see how many young people have been invited to COP26 [this] year and how many young people are actively fighting. But the thing is, it’s still not enough. We are speaking, but they’re not really listening to what we are saying,” Melithafa said at the time.

Leaders failed to take urgent and impactful action at COP26, according to activists. At the conference, the Global South was largely ignored, but the youth movement was present with mass diversity.

The movement has been largely driven by youth activists from the northern hemisphere, but voices from the South quickly gained momentum. They highlight the fact that the South will be the most affected by the crisis.

The diversity of the youth movement has also been intersectional, something that has been missing from the leading nations’ leaders.

The voices of young northern activists have been amplified, but young activists from the South have equally pumped up the pressure on leaders. They urge Global North leaders to take responsibility for what they have done to their homelands.

We’ve all started to take notice of the rate at which the planet is burning and which parts of it ache as it does. Now, more than ever, our interest has shifted to keeping abreast of what the science is saying about the Earth and how we can do better to save it.

Changing lifestyles is a tough transition, but the youth have called on us time and again to, at least, do it for them and their future. The hard tactics of traditional activism have taken a spin with these young activists. Their emotional pleas and young voices have struck a chord with many, becoming a tool that has been effective in encouraging climate action.

They have made it clear that the people do have an impact on what happens. But they have also redirected our attention to the fact that the main responsibility lies with major corporations and world leaders.

Those with the power to do better have repeatedly failed to take significant climate action, but that has only fuelled the youth environmental movement to raise their voices and demand better from us all – for the sake of the environment.

Our planet is burning. We are living through the effects of the climate crisis.

Through it all, activists, leaders and scientists are doing their utmost best to keep us afloat – even as the ice melts and the sea levels rise. DM168

A giant in the field of climate science, a true leader and dedicated scientist Bob Scholes. (Photo: Wits University)


Bob Scholes, the late climate scientist, was one of the leading environmentalists to come out of the country and the world. Scholes was one of the principal authors for the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that earlier this year declared “code red for humanity” as far as present and future impacts of the climate crisis are concerned. He had also authored the third, fourth and fifth editions of the IPCC report, dedicating his work to understanding the planet and its ways.

US President Joe Biden. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jim Lo Scalzo)


President of the world’s “superpower” superpolluter, Joe Biden, has made significant steps on paper to move the US away from its environmental notoriety. These include the US returning to the Paris Agreement following the previous administration’s withdrawal, and a promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a gigaton by 2030 and to lower energy prices. DM168




Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.

On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.

Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.

The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.

The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.

Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.

  • South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
  • Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
  • International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
  • South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
  • International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
  • South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
  • Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
  • South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
  • Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
  • South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
  • Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
  • Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
  • Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
  • Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
  • Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – Rebecca Davis/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

Absa OBP

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  • Unfortunately for Biden and the democrats, they have a ‘republican’ in their ranks … who will sink any of their efforts (another joe called Manchin) whose hands are greased with fossil fuel money ! So their hopes and plans will come to nought.

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