On Earth Day 2021, the Climate Justice Action Group (CJAG) held a picket demonstration outside Gauteng’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) to call attention to the ongoing socio-environmental injustices that continue in South Africa. CJAG is a youth-based group facilitated by driven by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg to promote awareness of climate justice issues among SA youth.

According to Earthlife’s Ulrich Steenkamp, “Earth Day marks the start and unification of the global environmental justice movement, and this year’s theme is Restore our Earth. This is why we went to GDARD. It is the department that is not only involved in developing the rural areas but also has an input in the environmental affairs of the province. As youth, we want GDARD to know that we are environmentally-conscious and that they should develop the rural areas in a manner that is not harmful to our health and wellbeing, nor that of our environment.”

“Even as we celebrate South Africa’s Freedom Day, the anniversary of our first free and fair democratic elections, the SA government must bear in mind that the youth of this country also want to be free from the pollutants of the past. We must move away from destructive fossil fuels, which do not empower the youth and do very little to improve the lives of the people of this country. We need a just transition to renewable energy sources that are socially-owned. This will be the true ‘game changer’ for the economy of our energy sector,” says Steenkamp.

He says, “The most important reason for the picket was to have our first action as the Climate Justice Action Group. We chose Earth Day to highlight the plight of the youth in the rural and under-developed areas. Young people in South Africa are concerned that decision-makers are destroying the Earth, with little regard for the price future generations will need to pay to restore it and ultimately robbing them of opportunities for meaningful and sustainable employment.”

Ayanda Bobotyane from Alexandra says, “We are young people who are still growing. We still need the Earth. When GDARD does its planning, they need to think about the futures of all the young people in this province. That is why we are picketing here today.”

Steenkamp says that the country’s deteriorating air quality – as a result of coal-fired power stations and coal mining – is another burning concern for the youth of South Africa. He says, “The increase in air pollution and the health and environmental problems they cause, do not only affect the people in Mpumalanga Province. It also immediately affects parts of Gauteng, especially in the East Rand. Communities in Ekhuruleni, Witbank, Springs, and Benoni are all affected. And, while it may be less obvious, this persisting #DeadlyAir also affects the rest of the country.”

“GDARD is supposed to be involved in the plans to develop the country. They cannot, in good conscience, continue with projects that only exacerbate deadly air pollution in these parts of the country. So many South Africans have already suffer as a result of the #DeadlyAir the government expects its people to breathe. The country’s youth not only need better, more sustainable opportunities. We also need to be healthy enough to make the most of these opportunities,” concludes Steenkamp.

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