With so many social ills affecting our communities, non-governmental and non-profit organizations have become the saving grace for those who need help to survive. In many cases, these organizations are the glue which holds communities together, and the people who run them have, in fact, become our communities’ unsung heroes.
My journey into activism started back in 2011, as a volunteer homework assistant. It was here that I became aware of all the challenges our young learners faced, especially those who were orphaned or neglected. In 2013, the non-profit Asithokoze Women and Children Outreach Organization was registered. Leaning on our own experience of dealing with life’s challenges, our goal was to make a positive difference by helping those youngsters who needed support. It was not easy and many times, as I am sure other activists can attest, I used my own resources. But thankfully, we were not alone. The support from within the community, was critical – such as Tembisa West Library, which gave us the space to execute our programs.
Asithokoze participated in several community outreach programs, from donating food and clothes to young and old, to collecting sanitary towels and distributing them to young girls in need. And in addition to our program for mentoring young boys (doing street soccer and more), our longest running project (from 2014 to 2021) put several youngsters into an Information Technology Learnership program with local colleges in the Kempton-Ekurhuleni precinct. Through the Tembisa Go Green Environmental Forum, we planted trees in schools and in other community spaces, in addition to clean-up campaigns, in a bid to eliminate dumping sites (which is a big problem in many of our communities).
It was during this time that I got to know Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, who helped me realise that my community was not alone in our challenges. I also started to realise that poverty (or should I say that we are economically marginalised) was not our only challenge because climate change – which causes extreme weather patterns like floods and droughts we see happening across the country – is threatening to make our lives a whole lot worse.
Since joining the Women Energy and Climate Change Forum (WECCF) – consisting of women from different community-based organizations around Gauteng – I know more about the effect air pollution has on our people and the environment and I learnt about the threats to communities, from mine dumps. Whatever I learned, I took back to my community. In fact, I happily share this information with anyone who cares to listen.
However, the skill that I am most proud of having developed is the ability to engage with different stakeholders, including government, on issues affecting not just my community, but for the wider civil society. This includes presenting my oral submissions – about the devastating impacts of unprecedented electricity price increases – at hearings hosted by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa).
Now, as Earthlife Africa’s Programs Coordinator facilitating the Just Transition campaign, I work closely with communities around Limpopo, Gqeberha and Gauteng to create awareness and understanding about the climate crises and the role of communities in the just transition. This is both exciting and scary work. On the one hand, it is wonderful to see people at the grassroots feel more included in the conversation and making their voices heard. However, on the other hand, the climate crises is intensifying, and the global response is simply not happening fast enough, yet these are the very people who will suffer most.
Earthlife Africa’s community-based outreach includes popular workshops and multi-stakeholder dialogues on the just transition and aims to create opportunities for ordinary people to participate in meaningful ways, on these issues. This has not only been critical to creating awareness about people’s environmental rights. Involving communities is also the only way that we will ensure to leave no-one behind. The more the people know, the more equipped they will be to join the journey to a just transition.