HUMAN RIGHTS FESTIVAL 2023
From jobs and biomes to water apartheid – young South Africans square up to their climate-stressed future
The intertwined challenges of climate justice, hunger and unemployment are particularly critical for young people. On Sunday, they filled the rooms at Constitutional Hill, ready to hear what they could do to meet those challenges.
Constitutional Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg was a hive of activity as activists, non-profit organisations and human rights defenders set up stalls, pamphlets and T-shirts in hand, ready to educate and recruit attendees of the last leg of the Human Rights Festival 2023 on Sunday.
In a country with deteriorated civic education, it was especially encouraging to see people as young as two listening to talks with their older siblings and young-adult parents, and attending exhibitions and advocacy films. After the “We the People” march in the morning, delegates were ready to hear solutions from thought leaders and unsung heroes in communities.
At one discussion about climate crises, facilitated by Lethiwe Nkosi from the nonprofit Youth Capital, they heard what can be done to usher in a new dawn where young people can take advantage of the changes in energy and the environment and seize new opportunities.
Nkosi stressed the “intersectionality” of the challenges facing young people.
In the old framework you just have the nature reserves and that is where the animals are. We are bringing back a different approach.
“You can’t speak about the challenges the youth are facing, such as unemployment, without considering climate justice,” she said, adding that it was “great to meet the true soldiers of our country who help people realise their rights”, and that “the issue of climate justice specifically is also about creating a just society where the environment allows for the youth to enter into the labour market and not lose opportunities due to the current crises”.
Among the panellists, Vishwas Satgar, who co-founded the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the South African Climate Justice Charter, and is associate professor of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, gave insights on the science behind the climate crisis and food systems.
“We embrace the concept of the just transition but, because it is contested, we speak of the deep just transition – the groundwork has been done to pave the way to a new food system.”
For example, “you can start with your own little garden in your backyard, work with more members of your community, and connect the production and consumption side”.
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Citing the Climate Justice Charter, Satgar added that it “is important for us to surface a policy on the rights of nature”.
“In the old framework you just have the nature reserves and that is where the animals are. We are bringing back a different approach to thinking of our riverine systems, our biomes, bioregions, etc, so all of that is up for conversation.”
The charter, according to its website, is the result of six years of campaigning, which began during the worst drought in South Africa’s history. It is informed by grassroots input from water-stressed communities, the media, labour, faith-based communities, young people, climate scientists, academics, women’s organisations, environmental and social justice organisations, as well as think pieces by leading activists.
One of the issues it deals with is a Basic Income Grant.
“You could see the desperation in people during and post-Covid lockdowns. We found that (through) a cash transfer given to everybody living in the country as a guaranteed income, we could achieve multiple things. We could eradicate poverty within five years, we could do this without collecting additional taxes because of the multiplier effect and the increase in tax revenue for the state, and the state will not have to incur any debt. South Africa has a grant system already, we were saying let’s transition and expand the system,” said Satgar.
We are here to conscientise people about the possibility and the opportunity we have to build a credible alternative, a political party that will contest in 2024 – a youthful alternative.
“The work was done and passed on to the President, and the minister of finance – it wasn’t just us, there are a whole lot of forces that have congealed around this idea now; with all the campaigning that has been done by progressive activist groups there is a societal consensus on this.”
Notwithstanding some businesses that were against it, “generally, there is societal consensus”, Satgar added.
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The Climate Justice Charter Movement demands that Parliament adopts the charter as per section 234 of the Constitution, which provides for this. Moreover, it will be used as a basis for deep just transitions to be initiated in communities and workplaces.
Solidarity and a youthful political alternative
Other discussions included one by the Social Justice Forum where Social Justice Assembly leaders discussed how to bridge the gap between civil society organisations to create solidarity and power from the ground up.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions coalition (BDS) used its session to expand on the End Water Apartheid campaign, which calls on local, provincial and national governments, as well as trade unions and community organisations, to heed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Entrepreneur and leader Tebogo Moalusi from the fledgling voter advocacy group Rise Mzansi told Maverick Citizen they were at the festival “to conscientise people about the possibility and the opportunity we have to build a credible alternative, a political party that will contest in 2024 – a youthful alternative”.
“People are not excited about the future, and one of the crucial ways to do that is representation. We are building something that young people can identify with and know they will be heard in.”
When asked about the importance of platforms such as the Human Rights Festival, Moalusi said: “Collaboration has always been a function of being African. When you break down Ubuntu, not just as an idea but as a way of life, it’s about solidarity. Everybody here has a mission: improving the human experience. This is Ubuntu in action.” MC/DM