Maverick Citizen


Images of destruction and hope — documenting the climate crisis through young people’s eyes

Images of destruction and hope — documenting the climate crisis through young people’s eyes
Sandile Menelisi Xakaza highlights the challenges schoolchildren face in southern KwaZulu-Natal, where many have to wade through water to get to school due to floods. (Photo: Sandile Menelisi Xakaza)

The effects of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly evident in today’s natural world. Young people and children who will grow up to inherit the planet have been vocal about climate change. Through a photography project, Unicef and Maverick Citizen have launched a photo book depicting the experiences of 12 young people who have been confronted by the climate crisis. 

“When we were approached with this project, we were told to tell a story, and what this is is an African story. So many people talk about climate justice and climate change, and we get overwhelmed by these words. Sometimes, you have to sit down and think about what climate justice actually means.”

This is what Mamkhabela Mthembu, a final-year law student at the University of Pretoria, said at the launch of The Green Rising: Through a Fresh Lens photo book and exhibit in Johannesburg on 5 June, commemorating World Earth Day.

Mthembu, along with 11 other young South Africans, participated in a project which aimed to place the voices and images of children and young people at the forefront of the climate crisis, illuminating the climate change’s impact on their lives and how communities are striving to adapt. The project is a collaboration between Unicef South Africa, OHCHR, Maverick Citizen and EPA Images.

Lusanda Ndlovu, climate crisis

KwaZulu-Natal native Lusanda Ndlovu depicts the lives of residents of Umlazi townships, whose homes are vulnerable to extreme weather events. (Photo: Lusand Ndlovu)

Speaking on the importance of highlighting young voices through The Green Rising: Through a Fresh Lens, Unicef Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Etleva Kadilli told Daily Maverick, “We think that the climate crisis is the next pandemic and young people have been the ones calling on heads of state and international institutions and telling them that the climate crisis is real.”

Kadilli added that the climate crisis is a critical youth issue because its effects are not only about existing levels of degradation the world is experiencing but also about the long-term destruction to the planet that the youth will inherit.

“This powerful body of work gives the agency to young people, who are on the frontlines of today’s climate and environmental crisis, to tell their stories through their eyes,” Kadilli said.

Maleegah, climate crisis

Maleegah explores the links between the climate crisis and increasing mental health issues related to it in her body of work. (Photo: Maleegah)

Extreme weather events in SA

Over the last week, several provinces in South Africa have experienced extreme weather, which left death and destruction in their wake. In Toongat, KwaZulu-Natal, a tornado crashed down on unsuspecting residents on Monday, claiming seven lives.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape, heavy rains poured down on communities, causing flooding, destroying homes and roads and leaving eight people dead. Areas from Cape Town to the Garden Route also experienced heavy flooding, which required over 17 people to evacuate.

As people gathered at FotoZA Gallary in Darronwood, Johannesburg, for The Green Rising: Through a Fresh Lens exhibition, the importance of the project, which gives importance to young voices from the global South, was glaringly apparent as climate-related storms raged across South Africa.

Lulutho Madolo

Lulutho Madolo’s ‘The Way I See It’ uses collages and mosaics to explore the underbelly of waste management in South Africa ( Photo: Lulutho Madolo)

Climate justice

“This is the importance of projects like this: when we see pictures, we see the truth. We see lived experiences, we see emotions. The truth is not just words, the truth is the lived experiences of African children who are impacted by climate change,” Mthembu said

Mthembu added that the conversation about climate justice is about human dignity. Pointing to a picture by fellow contributor Sandile Menelisi Xakaza of a young girl with no shoes on, crossing a flooded river to get to school, Mthembu said, “In policy documents, when they relay this story, it will be clinical and formal filled with legal jargon. That child’s story is not about legal jargon, it’s a story of dignity.”

Wednesday night’s exhibition was a culmination of four months of hard work. The 12 participants worked closely with EPA Images Senior Visual Correspondent Kim Ludbrook to learn photography and storytelling techniques to produce the photobook and exhibit that tells their climate and environmental story.

Ludbrook, who describes himself as an environmentalist, said, “The Green Rising: Through a Fresh Lens project gives 12 young and talented youth the opportunity to learn how to articulate their thoughts and feelings about climate change and the environment to a broader audience.”

Through the workshop, the participants produced work that explored plastic pollution in green spaces, the destructive nature of flooding, how the smokestack industry is polluting the air, inefficient recycling and waste management and how climate anxiety affects young people.

Mamkhabela Mthembu, limate crisis

Mamkhabela Mthembu depicts how plastic pollution degrades plant life in what she calls, ‘Plastic in our homes: Mother Nature Reincarnated’. (Photo: Mamkhabela Mthembu)

Photographers’ perspectives

21-year-old Maleeqah Karriem, whose images were featured in the exhibition, believes this process has helped deepen her experience of the climate crisis.

“A lot of the time we talk about the climate crisis and climate action but people don’t often realise how deeply it impacts every single person. That’s why I delved into how it impacts mental health. I think that a lot of young people feel overwhelmed and a lot of people are saying that they don’t want to have children in the future because the earth is so messed up and in the future, it’s going to be beyond repair.”

Despite the despair that the climate crisis brings with it, Karriem said the project sheds light on the hope that the youth will speak out against corporations and governments that turn a blind eye to the destruction of the environment.

“There is hope the sons and daughters of freedom fighters are going to stand up and fight for a better world together,” Karriem said.

One of the youngest participants in The Green Rising: Through a Fresh Lens project — 14-year-old Mfundo Owami Ndaba — said the project impacted him immensely and has inspired him to make bigger, more impactful efforts to call attention to recycling in South Africa.

Mfundo Owami Ndaba

Mfundo Owami Ndaba contemplates recycling in South Africa in a contemplative self-portrait. (Photo: Mfundo Owami Ndaba)

“Households produce tonnes of garbage each week. Glass, metal, cardboard and plastic are the most common recyclable materials. I always see recyclers with their load on the road and wondered how I can make their job easier. I took a day and worked with a recycler so that I can understand their pain points,” Ndaba said.

Pretoria-based student, Karabo Chauke’s project explored air pollution in communities near smokestacks.

“Imagine this: Coming back home after a long summer day that was filled with school tests and assignments. All you want iss to sit in a cool room with your windows open, but you can’t have that because the air is filled with harmful toxins.

Karabo Chauke

Karabo Chauke’s project ‘The Chainsmokers’ illuminates the life of a student who lives near factories and smokestacks. Chauke says, ‘Having lived near a smokestack means kissing goodbye to the morning breath of fresh air’. (Photo: Karabo Chauke)

In this work, I get to show how we might not see it, but air pollution is a problem to all, whether it be workers of the factory or a student living close by. The effects are painful, especially to those with breathing difficulties and respiratory disease,” Chauke said.

“It’s important to realise the triple planetary crisis is not just a crisis of pollution, biodiversity and climate change but also a human rights crisis. Juxtaposing with human rights means states have an obligation to do something. They have an obligation to protect and promote this right. These images and stories show a deep awareness, mutual concerns, and a determination to drive change towards a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable environment,” Abigail Noko, Regional Representative, Regional Office for Southern Africa, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was present at the exhibition said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Typically mixing up topics here.

    The troubled teens you are talking about owe their trauma to journalism NOT to the “climate crisis”.

    There is no “climate crisis”, there is only a theory on climate change, over which there is much debate and little to no empirical evidence. Plastic is a crisis.

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