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Matome Kapa (30)

Attorney and Head of Activism, Training & Support Project, Centre for Environmental Rights 

Matome Kapa comes from a small village in Limpopo, Ga-Modjadji, which he says most people know for the Rain Queen. Growing up, he learnt a lot about the environment and ecosystems at school, which sparked his interest in the field.

However, he chose to study law at university, because people said he was “good at debating”. After learning about environmental law, Kapa decided to become an environmental lawyer, combining the two things he enjoyed most.

He then realised there were two different career paths with regards to environmental law: he could work for the mining companies, or the mining-affected people. From his childhood love of the environment the choice was clear.

“While working at the Centre for Environmental Rights, I felt that rural connection, because a lot of the work was from communities in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. That work really spoke to me: to work with people who are facing these big companies and they have nothing. They are just defending their basic rights,” he says.

From that point he started working with these communities. He was also instrumental in co-ordinating the Mining Affected Communities Network. Kapa realised he didn’t just want to defend the communities but wanted to get actively involved through activist work.

He says initially it was very difficult to navigate the space between being a lawyer and an activist. However, by working with activists on the ground, he began to realise the times he had to be a lawyer and when he had to be an activist.

“I realised you sometimes won’t be able to make any progress if you’re just a lawyer.”

He says the lessons he learnt from the activists on the ground allowed him in many cases to not just think about the immediate problem, but also how he could creatively solve the communities’ issues in the long term.

“I was watching this case where Richard Spoor and his firm were doing the case for silicosis miners. What would be a great achievement for me would be to do something similar. Maybe not something that focuses on mineworkers but on the people living close to mines, whose health and wellbeing is being compromised. I want to represent those people.” — Fatima Moosa

Twitter: @matome_kapa

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Bryan Majola (32)

Bryan Majola (32)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

Thirty-two-year-old solar energy guru Bryan Majola fell in love with the concept in 2013 when he was working as a junior project manager in rural Northern Cape, installing solar panels in homes without electricity.

Two years later, he registered Energy Doctors, a tier 1 energy services company, which focuses on designing projects for homes which need to become more energy efficient. It also designs projects for municipalities.

He sits on the board of the South African Energy Services Company Association, and that of the South African Energy Efficiency Confederation, of which he is the youngest director.

The moment he truly understood the value of his work, came in 2013: He had just connected a solar home kit, and “the homeowner, a mother of four, pulled the switch for the first time and she cried tears of joy. She had thought that she would never have electricity in her house. Solar energy changed that. It was at that moment that I knew I want to put that type of joy in people for the rest of my life. That’s how I got to where I am today.”

His energy experience ranges from energy efficiency, smart grid, renewable energy and building envelope technology to power quality of a distributed generation, and he was part of the team that won the African Utility Africa Community project of the year in 2015. That project has grown to employ more than 48 young people, and led him to become a founding member of the Africa-German Sustainable Entrepreneurship Network, which works to strengthen relationships between African and German entrepreneurs in the green industry. “My core motivation is the desire to achieve greater levels of self-improvement and sustainability in resource use,” he says, explaining how he’s taking his skills to a greater global audience by mentoring German startups and accepting an invitation to be one of 100 African entrepreneurs to participate in the World Youth Forum in Egypt, last December.

Majola is happily anticipating the future with smart grid development. Currently, he explains, energy flows in one direction, from distributors such as municipalities or Eskom directly to homes and businesses. Solar power allows energy users such as households and companies to feed back into the system and the grid will have to sustain this using intelligence sensors.

The signing of 27 agreements with Independent Power Producers in April 2018 was hailed as game changer for South Africa’s energy industry but Majola is cautious about the opportunities these have provided.

He says one of the biggest problems in the energy sector right now is the majority of local government institutions only employ civil engineers, not electrical engineers which leaves them unable to innovate. — Cayleigh Bright & Tehillah Niselow

Twitter: @MajolaBryan 

Raymond Monyela (34)

Raymond Monyela (34)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

Raymond Monyela is a self-motivated and self-taught farmer working towards creating food security. His farming initiative, Monyela and Sons, began as a vegetable patch in his backyard and through his persistent improvements has since expanded gradually to become a six hectare enterprise, despite him having no formal agricultural training.

Job creation is a key objective for Monyela, who, along with his wife Lerato, is able to provide for his three children and younger sister through the agricultural endeavours of his farming initiative – which, as the name suggests, might one day be taken over by the younger generation.

Speaking of his upbringing, Monyela recalls that vegetables and fresh produce were a vital part of his life and livelihood. His mother, a widow, sold tomatoes and onions to feed her family.

“We had to survive from the money she would make as a hawker at the taxi rank,” he says. “Today being able to be the producer and supplier to big markets and contributing to job opportunities and food security would be my greatest achievement thus far.”

Monyela grows a variety of crops, including paprika, cabbage and maize, which he supplies local markets. He also has a poultry operation of roughly 500 laying hens, and employs two permanent staff members and about 20 seasonal workers.

His farm is in the village of Sengatane in Limpopo, about 20km from Mmotong, Polokwane, where he grew up.

It’s clear that he’s come a long way, but his entrepreneurship journey is just beginning: as yet entirely self-funded, the farm continues to grow, diversifying its produce as it expands.

Fulfilling a need that might be considered more vital than employment, Monyela and Sons creates food security by providing affordable produce close to home. Neighbours who previously had to travel to shop for these healthy staple foods are now able to save on transport costs and time.

While his key commitment to his community is as a farmer, Monyela also contributes by serving as a firefighter.  – Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @monyelaandsons 

Jack-Vincent Radmore (29)

Jack-Vincent Radmore (29)

Energy Programme Manager, GreenCape

Jack-Vincent Radmore is a driven and energetic leader, passionate about the green economy and uncompromising in his aim to provide energy to those who need it most.

With a background in business sciences and finance and a master’s degree in economic and sustainable development, Radmore leads the energy programme at green economy development agency GreenCape.He is responsible for managing the strategic direction of the company’s renewable energy-related activities in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa.

Radmore plays an advisory role to key local, provincial and national government entities. The GreenCape energy programme works at the interface between business, government and academia, identifying and removing barriers to economically viable renewable energy and energy efficiency interventions.

Under Radmore’s leadership, key areas of work have included rooftop photovoltaic systems and other renewables, smart grids and metering, municipal revenue reform, future utility planning and electric mobility. On a macro scale, his efforts focus on the growth of the South African renewable energy market; the development of an international business-to-business matchmaking programme in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia; South African smart grids and smart metering; South African municipal revenue reform; future utility planning; and low income electrification.

Each intervention is aimed at creating equal and unhindered access for all South Africans to an open, technically sound, socially inclusive and commercially resilient energy economy.

For his work Radmore was recognised as the 2017/18 South Africa National Youth Energy Leader of the year.

Radmore believes opportunity, empathy, faith and impact are the the key drivers behind his inspiration to make a meaningful impact in the lives of South Africans.

“Combining energy innovations with informal settlement upgrading gives us the opportunity to help with eradicating some of the unnecessary challenges faced by energy-poor South Africans,” he says. – Linda Doke

Twitter: @JVRadmore

Siyabulela Sokomani (34)

Siyabulela Sokomani (34)

Co-founder, Shoots and Roots Agriculture 

Siyabulela Sokomani is co-owner of Shoots and Roots Agriculture and cofounder of non-profit organisation Township Farmers, but he might be best-known as the man who runs marathons with a tree on his back.

“Tree planting and environmental awareness should be every citizen’s duty in this country,” he says, in explaining his publicity stunt with lasting results, he hopes to support this message by distributing 2000 trees with this year’s Cape Town Marathon.

Growing up in Khayelitsha, Sokomani began working with plants when his geography teacher, Ronel Baker, noticed his interest and encouraged him to start an environmental club. Immersing himself in this initiative, he experienced proud moments from completing the Cape Town High Schools’ Environmental Quiz to planting the first trees at his school – which remain there today. Sokomani pushed to get a place in the environment management course offered by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, but after a week, he realised that his particular interest was plants – and the rest is history, or more accurately, horticulture.

Sokomani ran a nursery in the Eastern Cape which later developed into a landscaping business, designing and implementing landscaping projects for the private sector and government. When he moved back to Cape Town in 2013, he sought employment – not an easy adjustment after having his own business, but working for a company called Reliance Compost proved fruitful as he met his current business partner, Carl Pretorius, and established Sokomani Horticultural growing plants and vegetables.

When the opportunity arose to buy a stake in an existing nursery, he grabbed it, and that business is now Shoots and Roots Agriculture, growing saplings for the largest mature tree nursery in South Africa, Just Trees; to supply to Kirstenbosch garden centre; Food and trees for Africa; and many more clients in the tree rehabilitation space.

Roots and Shoots is an ethical nursery, using no herbicides and working to minimise chemical use to exercise respect for the environment.

Sokomani has worked to plant thousands of trees in schools and public areas, partnering with children’s rights activist Ondela Manjezi to form Township Farmers which works with children to teach them a love of agriculture.

As he looks to the future, Sokomani dreams of scaling his food security projects for implementation throughout Africa, believing that the green industry can be a powerful creator of sustainable jobs along with its more obvious positive environmental impact, and that South Africa should lead in curbing climate change through green initiatives. — Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @psya83 

Abulele Adams (31)

Abulele Adams (31)

Environment Scientist, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research 

Thirty-one-year-old Abulele Adams is an environmental assessment practitioner at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) with a string of qualifications under her belt. She has an MSc in geography from Nelson Mandela University, has completed a year of courses in a masters programme at the Carl von Ossitzyk University of Oldenberg in Germany, focused on sustainability and economics management, and is a member of the International Association for Impact Assessment.

“I am trying to contribute towards solving the unique environmental and developmental problems we face as a country,” says Adams. “I have always been intrigued by the conflicts between the environment and development and now I am working with amazing people to try and come up with workable solutions: It is one of the most inspirational things I have done.”

Adams is inspired by people who try to make a difference in their communities and by human resilience, particularly South African people.

In her job at the CSIR she manages the wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) strategic environmental assessment which aims to identify geographical areas best suited for the roll-out of large-scale wind and solar PV projects,” she explains. “I hope to contribute towards finding a balance between conserving the environment and identifying areas where renewable energy can be facilitated.”

In South Africa, the conflicting interests of development and conservation have always been difficult to balance and she is working towards finding ways of addressing this sustainably. Adams wants to play a bigger role in mainstreaming environment impact assessments in South Africa’s marginalised communities.

“These communities need to be involved in environment discussions,” she concludes. “They need to play a bigger role as they are the most vulnerable to climate change. I would also love to serve in government at some stage in my career and to be involved in policy and planning.” – Tamsin Oxford 

Twitter: @AbuleleAdams 

Denisha Anand (28)

Denisha Anand (28)

Educator and Researcher

Denisha Anand is an active player in the transformation of the environmental education and conservation ecosystem through her work as an educator, researcher, postgraduate student, and now, manager of a biodiversity agreement site at the Princess Vlei Wetlands in the heart of the Cape Flats.

Her groundbreaking socio-environmental practice takes a radical people-centred approach to conservation, especially in the context of the community’s economic disadvantages, fostering a reconnection between the people and their natural environment. With the belief that the rehabilitation of natural spaces can do wonders for a community, she has strived to create safe spaces in which people can coexist with both nature and each other.

This strongly held belief stems from a key experience that Anand had while serving as an environmental educator in Lavender Hill, an area mostly made of concrete, with little plant life occurring naturally.

In her words, she “witnessed first-hand how, regardless of the socioeconomic environment that the learners grew up in, there was a very obvious, innate connection to the natural world that could be brought to the forefront through environmental awareness and practice.”

It struck her that no matter how geographically distant people were from nature, there would always be a deep affinity for the environment to be found within. This epiphany led her to reframe the way in which she thought about conservation, especially in disadvantaged communities, which many have sidelined as lost causes in terms of biodiversity.

“I realised that a connection to nature is something we’re all born with. Although our socioeconomic status may have an impact on how available natural spaces are to us, if we are given the opportunity to reengage communities with these spaces by increasing accessibility and using methods that foster reconnection and custodianship, we can truly create socio-ecological webs that will preserve and conserve biodiversity for years to come,” she says.

Anand has since founded the Princess Vlei Guardians project, working with local schools to encourage the youth to rekindle their relationship with the natural world through conservation and art initiatives. Ultimately, through her work Anand is teaching a new generation a way to not only take responsibility for nature but also to reframe the way they see themselves. — Cayleigh Bright

Instagram: @theplanthropologist

Leanne Govindsamy (34)

Leanne Govindsamy (34)

Head of Corporate Accountability and Transparency, Center for Environmental Rights 

Leanne Govindsamy is the head of the corporate accountability and transparency programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER). She is committed to social justice and the realisation of the values and rights espoused in the Constitution. She speaks about being “part of a collective movement of lawyers and activists, all working towards realising a more just and equal society, in which all people are able to enjoy [the] rights and freedoms afforded by the Constitution and in which the environment is protected and preserved for present and future generations.” Govindsamy graduated from University of the Witwatesrand with an LLB degree, and she was chosen to clerk at the Constitutional Court for Justice Tholakele Madala in 2007. She was later awarded the Ismail Mohamed Fellowship to complete her masters in International Human Rights law at the University of Notre Dame, graduating summa cum laude in 2009. She completed an internship at a legal nongovernmental organisation in India and returned to South Africa to complete her articles. She will graduate with a master’s in anthropology, through coursework and dissertation, in December 2019.

Govindsamy moved from private practice to use her experience to advance the fight against corruption and maladministration. She joined Corruption Watch in 2014 as head of legal and investigations. “I have always been concerned with issues of equality and social justice,” she says, “and wanted to make a meaningful impact in society through my work. I have tried to work towards this goal, both in private practice and within civil society.” As details of the nature and extent of state capture came to light, this work has proved vital.

Given the changing global and local priorities around the urgency of environmental protection and climate change, Govindsamy has sought to use her corporate accountability experience at the CER. She’s leading a growing campaign against the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPP – often used against environmental defenders and lawyers. As awareness grows about the global threat of climate change brought on by the use of fossil fuels, work by Govindsamy and the CER is of critical importance. — Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @LeanneGovinds

Londeka Mahlanza (26)

Londeka Mahlanza (26)

Environmental Project Coordinator, Anglo American

Londeka Mahlanza has fast established herself as a leading thinker and practitioner in the field of environmental governance and management, with a special focus on mainstreaming social justice considerations in the governance of environmental resources.

Through her tertiary education – which included working towards two masters degrees at Oxford University and the University of Cape Town simultaneously – Mahlanza became aware of the socio-ecological aspects of environmental governance. With a clear understanding that the implications of environmental damage and climate change would have the most severe consequences for the most vulnerable in society, it was a natural next step for her to pledge her support to environmental conservation that’s socially just. Mahlanza aims to support the design of climate change mitigation efforts and adaptation strategies that benefit not only the environment at large but also the people of local communities affected by environmental change, in particular.

As part of Anglo American’s fast-track management building leaders and shaping talents programme, Mahlanza who has been part of the company’s efforts to support women’s representation in leadership roles in the company, joined the environmental team at Anglo Platinum to support the development of environmentally and socially sensitive approaches to risk management and operational models, and has led a team that has secured funding for Dream for life Africa, a non-governmental organisation focused on educational mentoring programmes for university students.

As a woman from KwaNdengezi, a township outside of Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, Mahlanza has long seen the importance of ensuring that the significant economic benefit of mining is matched by its social benefit – and that neither compromises environmental resources. This is a complex challenge: one that requires her deep understanding of socio-ecological systems and sensitive, interconnected governance and management approaches.

She has presented to and worked with global and local actors in the fields of conservation and environmentalism, ranging from the department of environmental affairs to the United Kingdom iteration of the World Wide Fund for Nature and was most recently awarded the prestigious Chevening scholarship to complete her studies at Oxford, as well as numerous accolades for her work; but one of her proudest moments involves her parents: for their first trip out of South Africa, she flew them out to see her graduate from Oxford. — Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @londeka_ml

Sankwetea Prudent Mokgokong (30)

Sankwetea Prudent Mokgokong (30)

Research assistant, South African National Biodiversity Institute

When she saw an exhibition at the University of Pretoria on cholera during school, Sankwetea Prudent Mokgokong’s interest was sparked in bacteria and the field of microbiology.

After completing her first degree in microbiology, she continued studying the field, going on to do an honours degree in the field, specialising in bacteria in water. While completing her master’s degree, Mokgokong went to Marion Island to examine how bacteria is affected by climate change.

She is very passionate about her work on how bacterial changes can inform other decision-making processes. Marion Island is a pristine, unspoiled island with a climate similar to South Africa. Mokgokong says this helped improve the research she was conducting. She and her supervisor collected different soil samples to try and come up with solutions to the changes occurring in the island’s bacteria.

Mokgokong has worked in many different sectors in her field, including working as a research intern with the department of science and technology and in the forensic department of the South African Police Service. She now works in conservation genetics.

“The main challenge is getting ethical clearance to work on a species. Most of our animal populations are facing extinction, but it’s not easy to teach people how to conserve the species we have. Having to communicate with people and give them knowledge about our biodiversity is the most challenging part.”

Coming from rural Polokwane, Mokgokong says her passion for microbiology was only sparked when she was exposed to the field. So while she wants to grow in her own career, her main passion is “to expose the children in rural areas to science in general”.

“I have realised that for each and every sector and department it’s important to get young people involved. I believe in the integration of different departments. For example communication and health and science. Because a lot of students aren’t exposed to that, we end up losing a lot of our diversity. If we get the youth involved from a very young age they will be able to better informed decisions than the people before us, who weren’t able to.”  — Fatima Moosa

LinkedIn: Sankwetea Prudent Mokgokong 

Avesh Moodley (33)

Avesh Moodley (33)

Vice President, Environmental Sustainability, Absa Group Limited 

At 33 years of age, Aveshen Moodley is the youngest vice president at Absa globally. He currently heads up sustainability with a focus on energy, waste, water, paper, group travel and carbon emissions across all 12 African countries where the bank has presence. He leads the group’s environmental sustainability agenda with a focus on operational efficiency, environmental impact reduction, increased resilience and improved governance.

“I am passionate about making a positive impact on the planet and imparting the knowledge I have learned,” he says.

“Seeing the change in a person on a project is extremely rewarding and fuels my ambitions. I have been with the organisation for around seven years now and my role has evolved continuously, around the same agenda.”

Moodley, who was born and raised in Umhlatuzana township near Chatsworth in Durban, is accountable for governing and reducing the environmental impact of the Absa’s property portfolio and associated business travel. With this accountability and his engineering background in mind, he provides solutions that reduce environmental impact while improving commercial efficiency and building resilience.

“I host many tours to internal and external colleagues on the projects as it raises awareness around what is possible if we apply our minds,” he says.

“There are people who are concerned about the environment but are not sure what to do – when they see these projects, they are inspired to unlock innovation.”

In this topical and relevant sector, Moodley, armed with his engineering qualification from Durban University of Technology, plans to be a continuous advocate for sustainability. He feels he is incredibly lucky to work for a company that shares his passion and this agenda.

“I recently set an environmental strategy and targets for 2030 which are internationally aggressive and will place Absa as a leader in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he concludes. “My plan for the future is to ensure that we have a pipeline of young talent or planet champions to ensure that someone is always here to play this vital role.” – Tamsin Oxford

LinkedIn: Aveshen Moodley 

Nomuntu Ndhlovu (28)

Nomuntu Ndhlovu (28)

Managing Director: SiyaBuddy Recycling and Waste Management  

A passionate entrepreneur, 28-year-old Nomuntu Ndhlovu has long known that business can’t just be about creating profit. As the managing director at SiyaBuddy Recycling and Waste Management, she’s changed the lives of many in allowing them to earn a sustainable income – all while having a positive impact on the environment.

“The purpose of my work is to create opportunities that make the lives of people around me better. I thrive when my work impacts more than just me,” she says.

SiyaBuddy Recycling and Waste Management is a buyback centre in Steenbok village, Nkomazi municipality in Mpumalanga and currently employs 28 young people and provides 1 033 indirect jobs to waste pickers selling to the company.

“This company has impacted more than a thousand people in my community who now have a place to sell waste that they collect around the community. It’s created 28 jobs for young people. It’s also allowing me to think outside the box and create innovations that can impact the world if scaled properly,” she says.

Ndhlovu was named the Young Entrepreneur of the year by the French South African Chamber of Business and Commerce for her continued work at SiyaBuddy Recycling and Waste Management, but continues to hold personal narratives in mind as the achievements that best inspire her.

“My perspective of my work changed when a woman coming to sell her waste said to me ‘I’m so happy this company was created. I am now building my children a two-bedroomed house with this money’,” Ndhlovu says. This was a moment that reaffirmed her commitment to her entrepreneurial endeavours.

“It changed my view on how far recycling, as a business, goes – and how one good deed cascades down to everyone around you, compounding from person to person.”

In addition, Ndhlovu chairs the Nkomazi local tourism organisation, which she joined after spotting a gap in the development of rural tourism while assisting her mother in running a guesthouse. The organisation aims to promote the tourism industry in the Nkomazi municipality, communicating the tourism products of Nkomazi both locally and internationally through trade shows and online advertising, providing training to product owners in partnership with the municipality and the national department of tourism, and promoting sustainable tourism with its database of skills and products that the tourism establishment can source from community members. — Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @NomuntuN 

Hlengiwe Radebe (29)

Hlengiwe Radebe (29)

Sustainable Urban Energy Advisor 

Twenty-nine-year-old sustainable urban energy advisor Hlengiwe Radebe is completely focused on how this country, and this world, can do better in leading the clean life.

Born and educated in Johannesburg, she currently works at Energy Africa, a Cape Town-based nongovernmental organisation working with urban municipalities to promote the development of a low carbon, clean energy economy in southern Africa. The organisation works with local government around sustainable energy and alternative energy approaches for low income communities, including project implementation of municipal and small business energy services partnerships.

Alongside a passion for change and sustainability and strong process management skills, Radebe’s talents lie in building relationships, whether amongst officials or community members.

Beginning her journey towards a career centred around the natural environment, she completed courses such as ecology, environment and conservation, earth and atmospheric science, climate and society and environmental governance, comprising her BSc at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Hers was a quest to better understand how South African society might address increasing environmental challenges. Realising the need for extensive collaboration in environmental responses in this country, Radebe continued to pursue an MSc in interdisciplinary global change studies.

She joined Sustainable Energy Africa as an intern under the South African branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature, in its environmental leaders graduate programme and worked on projects exploring sustainable, energy-efficient options in urban centres, supporting the transition to sustainable energy through strategy development, implementation and knowledge exchange, as well the reduction of energy poverty in low-income cities through clean, affordable solutions.

In one of the projects Radebe has driven, women were assisted in establishing businesses in the production and sale of hotboxes for cooking: alleviating energy poverty in their communities with a simple, effective, and convenient tool that saves a substantial amount of cooking energy,  frees up women’s time and enables them to engage in other activities.

Her current projects include working with key South African metros to develop bylaws that will ensure that new buildings have a net zero carbon rating, and working with secondary cities and metros on policy and processes for promoting and supporting the installation of small-scale, embedded generation options – including the sale of excess energy to the municipality.

Concerned with the transfer of knowledge and a sense of responsibilty around environmental affairs, Radebe works with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to coordinate the annual Habitable Planet workshops for high school and university students to explore career paths enabling them to shape the change that they envision for their planet. – Cayleigh Bright 

Twitter: @Hlengi_prettyg