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Youth Day 2023

Tired of waiting on the government, youth take climate action into their own hands

Tired of waiting on the government, youth take climate action into their own hands
A participant in the youth march to the Union Buildings on 16 June 2023. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

A memorandum drafted by youth from several organisations contained a list of demands and solutions addressing climate justice.

“They look at us and spit on us!” Gabriel Klaasen, advocacy and programme manager at the African Climate Alliance, told a crowd of more several hundred youth gathered at the Union Buildings to commemorate Youth Day.

Klaasen was railing against the slow action by political leaders against the climate crisis.

“Gender-based violence, housing, and food are all tied to climate justice. We live in a country where climate justice is not at the forefront of our decision-maker’s agenda. Which means that we are not at the forefront of our decision-makers’ agenda,” Klaasen said. 

The crowd, mobilised by more than 100 organisations under the banner of the National Youth Coalition, ranged in age from five to 35, though the majority in the crowd were 15- to 25-year-olds. Only a handful were present protesting for climate justice. 

The speeches at the seat of government were the conclusion to a 2.5km march that started at Loftus Park. The march through the streets was led by young activists, a couple of older church leaders and two youths in wheelchairs. 

The leaders of the National Youth Coalition march in Pretoria on on Youth Day, 16 June 2023. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Song and dance carried the crowd as they held up placards demanding the end to corruption and social and economic injustice. Struggle songs featured, as participants linked arms calling for justice, while a continuously beating drum often led to an amapiano song – a favourite genre among the youth 

Otsile Nkadimeng, lead organiser Fridays for Future SA, also took to the stage, addressing his peers about the intersectionality of the climate crisis, and how important it was for the youth to register to vote to change the trajectory of their future, both socioeconomically and with regards to the climate crisis. 

“When we talk about the need for change, we are talking about job creation for people without jobs in our communities, who don’t have water, food or electricity. If we respond to climate change, we can create jobs, we can create a future. But all of this depends on all of us doing what we can,” the young activist said, adding that the youth should not be afraid to lead. 

“2024 is our decision-making time; it is a make or break for South Africa … I saw a shirt around here that read 2024 is our 1994. So what will happen if we fail to use our 1994; we will see a repeat of 30 years of sell-outs, corruption, and a failure of our country to respond to its biggest crisis,” he said. 


A memorandum handed over to a representative of the Presidency contained a list of demands linked to solutions addressing climate justice, particularly the just energy transition. 

The demands included: 

  • That the government urgently review and democratically implement policies in South Africa that will effectively ban corporations, mining houses and financial institutions from funding fossil fuel projects.
  • That the government develop and adequately manage a climate change impact fund, funded by historical polluters, that can be used to fund just recoveries, prioritising the needs of the worst affected and ensuring that poor and marginalised groups are not burdened by meeting recovery requirements when disasters hit. This includes standing in solidarity with other Global South countries who are calling for Loss and Damage financing on a global scale.
  • That the government invest in and adequately manage early warning systems. These systems must be used by emergency services to limit loss of life in extreme weather events.
  • That the government develop frameworks that support women, young people and people with disabilities, who bear the brunt of climate impacts owing to the intersectional nature of our crises. This must include access to financing for adaptation projects.

Courtney Morgan (27), the campaign and communications coordinator at the African Climate Reality Project who was managing the organisation’s stall at the event, told Daily Maverick the organisation focused more on climate literacy and how to participate in climate action. 

“We know that young people are facing the brunt of climate impact and will continue to for the rest of their lives. And we know that they had very little contribution to the crisis. So we’re really hoping we can get more young people involved. They also have solutions, and we need innovation and creativity of the youth,” she said. 

What the youth can do

Morgan added that while the youth were keen to participate in climate action, there was a barrier to knowledge about the climate crisis. A way to overcome that barrier was for the youth to start engaging with the climate crisis through storytelling, starting in their own communities, she said. 

Student Tshepang Mokoena (24) told Daily Maverick that she was passionate about the environment and was concerned about the effects of it, particularly at a small-scale level. 

“I can take action through the youth club that I’m in,” Mokoena said. “I would like the government to be more involved in informing communities at large about climate change, and what small steps they can make in their home; something as small as separating trash, which would reduce the trash we find in landfills.” 

She added that she was hoping to use her studies to build a more environmentally conscious community, and eventually open a community recycling centre. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Worthington says:

    Another demand worthy of note is for Integrated Energy Planning with public participation – as required by section 6 of the Energy Act of 2008, which will finally come into effect in April next year.

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