Environment

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Sarisha Maharaj (34)

Sarisha Maharaj works in the Energy and Water Advisory Services team at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector investment arm of the World Bank Group.

She works with governments and companies to change policies and laws, improve how firms conduct business, and bring more affordable, safer and modern energy and water services to impoverished communities. It was her time spent at Awethu Project that opened her up to issues of power and energy access. One the most memorable projects she has worked on so far was the Lighting Africa Project, which has helped communities move away from harmful methods of generating heat and light such as kerosene. This allowed women to start businesses because they did not have to collect firewood from faraway places.

“Through the work we do, I see us as being the modern-day superheroes of the world. Effecting change in emerging markets that are often fraught with issues such as political and economic instability is incredibly challenging, and requires patience, innovation and diplomacy — but when it does happen, it is inspiring! Seeing the effect our work has on people’s lives definitely makes me feel passionate about what I do.”

Having been recently selected to be a Climate Ambassador for the Global Youth Climate Network, she has more of a platform to raise awareness around climate related issues.

Maharaj is affirmed by how cohesive we are as a nation and our capacity to affect change together on things that matter to us. If she was to change anything about South Africa, it would be the pace at which change takes place. “For so many people access to basic services and education are privileges, when they should be basic human rights. For these people, reading at night and refrigerating food are luxuries they don’t know. This simply has to change — urgently.” — Nomonde Ndwalaza

Author - bhavika
Nasreen Khan (31)

Nasreen Khan (31)

Conservation officer on Aride Island, Island Conservation Society

“I am a proudly South African fierce environmental steward, always up for an adventure to the mountaintops or ocean depths,” says conservation officer Nasreen Khan.

Khan lives with nine other people on a conservation island reserve in the Seychelles run by the Island Conservation Society and is tasked to look after its biodiversity. She works with animals like seabirds, turtles and seals to produce scientific data to assist in preserving endangered species and fragile island ecosystems.

Inspired by adventurers in her parents’ vintage National Geographic and Readers Digest magazines and the 1990s animation Captain Planet, Khan dreamed of a career in marine biology. Her school guidance counsellor told her she had no direction in life and wondered how she would survive on a career “looking at fish”.

Khan’s parents, anti-apartheid activists from Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, nudged her toward conservation and environmental activism and she later joined Greenpeace.

As an eco-activist coordinating the Greenpeace urban group between 2012 and early 2016, she focused on all types of enviro-education and training, particularly on becoming energy autonomous with solar power.

As part of the team at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, she researched mercury in fish and helped educate South Africans on the safe meal limits for weekly fish consumption.

Khan has also been on numerous life-changing expeditions. She spent time at the South African scientific research station on Marion Island, an uninhabited island located in the sub-Antarctic. Along with 19 other people she spent over a year isolated from the rest of the world to collect data in extremely harsh conditions.

“The elements and the land chisel you down to your very core, and flaunt your worst fears in front of you,” Khan says. She collected valuable data and worked with killer whales, elephant seals, fur seals and endangered seabirds. Given the opportunity to name two killer whales, Khan named them Ayesha, from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Shah Khan, after the Bengal tiger from The Jungle Book. Those also happen to be the names of her parents.

Aboard the South African ship, Mama Afrika, her last expedition was to the Antarctic marginal ice zone where she worked for BirdLife South Africa and the department of environmental affairs oceans and coasts department to monitor and classify seabirds and mammals at sea, toward the end of the Southern Ocean.

There are many more eco-adventures in Khan’s future — she dreams of finding her place in this world and contributing to protecting biodiversity wherever she can. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Nicole Loser (30)

Nicole Loser (30)

Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights

Considered one of the leading experts in public interest climate law, 30-year-old Nicole Loser was at the forefront of a number of key environmental justice battles.

An easy-going person, Loser has a strong sense of justice and was instrumental in the landmark victory in the case around the impact of a proposed coal-fired power station in Thabametsi, Limpopo.

The Thabametsi case is South Africa’s first climate change litigation, important because it recognises the significance of climate change and its impacts. Her team will return to court to challenge the power station and government again, but they are confident that they have a strong case.

“We know that fighting back, even against powerful corporate forces and government, is worth it,” she says.
Loser says fighting new proposed coal plants is crucial in the fight to slow down climate change and protect the environment and human health from the devastating impacts of burning coal.

“It is crucial that we all urgently start thinking more about how climate change will impact us, and how decisions around energy sources — and even the financing of those sources — contribute to climate change,” Loser says.
On a volunteering trip through South America and Asia, Loser was inspired by the environmental activism in South America, because like in South Africa, activists fight fiercely for social and environmental justice.

Globally, cases to hold institutions accountable for not doing enough to mitigate the harms of climate change and for the damages caused through their contributions to climate change are gaining momentum. The number of these cases is expected to grow, both internationally and in South Africa, as climate change impacts increase in severity and the urgency to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions escalates.

Loser hopes to continue working on environmental and social justice issues to advance environmental justice in South Africa. “I hope that through my work I can help to ensure a just and clean energy future and a healthy and climate change resilient environment for South Africa. I believe in the importance of conserving and protecting Africa’s wildlife and wilderness areas, and I hope in some way to advance and support that cause — something which is very close to my heart.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Christine Reddell (30)

Christine Reddell (30)

Attorney and acting head of the Corporate Accountability and Transparency Programme, Centre for Environmental Rights

It is said we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. As an attorney and acting head of the Corporate Accountability and Transparency Programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Christine Reddell is a dedicated advocate for environmental justice who lives and works by this motto.

The CER is a non-profit organisation of activist lawyers who help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise the constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice.

Reddell is one of South Africa’s leading access to information experts, and has submitted, tracked and analysed hundreds of requests under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, resulting in the release of large amounts of information essential for protecting the right of all South Africans to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing.

She is also part of the team that produces the centre’s full disclosure reports, which expose the truth about violations of environmental laws by many of the country’s JSE-listed companies, and misrepresentations of environmental impacts to their shareholders.

Many companies pollute the environment and routinely break the conditions of their various environmental licences — or simply fail to obtain the licences they need. With minimal monitoring of these licences by government and the fact that companies that fail to comply are rarely prosecuted, companies get away with a poor attitude towards environmental compliance.

Christine works to expose corporate failures to comply with environmental laws and to raise awareness around the risks of non-compliance.

“These include risks to taxpayers, such as where the state has to cover the costs of rehabilitating the environment, risks to investors where companies operate unsustainably and without regard for the liabilities associated with non-compliance and risks to communities where their health and wellbeing is severely affected by polluting industries,” says Reddell.

In the three years that she’s been an attorney at the CER, she has seen the work of her team have a direct, positive impact on South Africa’s legal system.

“I’ve been able to help people who are directly affected by polluting industries. Witnessing this change, and having a positive impact on people’s lives and the environment, will always inspire and motivate me.”

Reddell is currently being sued for defamation by a mining company for statements she made at a University of Cape Town lecture about the company’s compliance with environmental laws. She is vigorously defending her right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. — Linda Doke

Sam Smout (32)

Sam Smout (32)

Waste sector desk analyst, Green Cape

Port Elizabeth-born Sam Smout has been at Green Cape for about two years, a nonprofit organisation established in 2010 and funded by the Western Cape government that aims to create a green economy in the Western Cape by reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

His work is primarily centred around promoting the diversion of thousands of tonnes of waste away from landfills, ensuring that green businesses connect and build good relationships in the waste sector, and remaining a source of knowledge on how businesses can continue to support one another.

Smout believes waste consciousness still needs to be better understood and promoted by South Africans, as from a public perspective, it is still rooted in convenience rather than an environmental and a biological necessity that we all have a social responsibility to prioritise.

He shares these sentiments when it comes to the private sector as well. Profit in that space continues to be the main driver of waste consciousness; if it is cheaper for an organisation to send waste to landfills they will often utilise that option instead of considering and committing to alternative waste management strategies.

Smout is passionate about the environment and ensuring that waste is seen as a resource and shifting the ways that society thinks about managing its consumption.

To Smout, being a young person in South Africa in 2018 comes with a number of challenges and opportunities, such as being able to dedicate one’s life to making a difference in incremental ways, and also being able to exist in an era where technology and new discoveries are shaping our future as we speak.

“People are going to Mars, and I am interested in what the powerhouses of the future in Africa and the world will look like. This is an exciting time to be alive.” — Nomonde Ndwalaza

Ernest Mulibana (30)

Ernest Mulibana (30)

Deputy director, Department of Environmental Affairs

Ernest Mulibana is a deputy director at the department of environmental affairs, dealing with media and communications. He is responsible for developing strategies to educate South Africans about their constitutional rights and to mobilise their participation in ensuring the protection of our environment. Mulibana knows the role of public communication and he plays a critical part in ensuring the right message is delivered.

“The environment portfolio is entrusted to ensure that every South African has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing,” explains Mulibana.

“My main responsibility is to coordinate engagements between the national department of environmental affairs and members of the media. In promoting the work of the department and galvanising people of South Africa to embrace environmental protection while sustainably using the country’s natural resources, the message needs to be clearly communicated through media engagement, stakeholder relations and social media.”

Currently pursuing an MPhil in communication at the University of Pretoria, Mulibana is able to convert complex environmental matters into formats that are accessible to the right audiences. He understands the importance of engaging communities in environmental matters which have an impact on them.

Mulibana regards his greatest challenge as convincing all South Africans to do something to take care of the environment in which they live.

“There are people who, despite so much work to educate them about the importance of a clean environment for their health and protection, continue to litter and engage in activities that degrade the environment. People need to change their behaviour. They already know that properly disposing of their waste is the right thing to do. They already know that littering degrades the environment, yet our streets and public spaces are filthy.”

Mulibana’s work environment requires him to be flexible, innovative and proactive. The motto he lives by — “it can be done!” — is inspired by the life experiences he endured, growing up in a poor rural village in Limpopo.
“My philosophy is based on the premise that when one has the right mind, attitude and the burning desire, success is bound to be a reality, irrespective of circumstances.” — Linda Doke

Kimon de Greef (30)

Kimon de Greef (30)

Freelance journalist

Kimon de Greef is a freelance journalist who writes stories that situate conservation challenges in their wider social and economic context. In his work, he often tackles difficult topics, deeply probing the crux of the issue at stake.
With a particular interest in covering illicit resource trades, de Greef has been published internationally in The New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic and Al Jazeera, while locally he contributes regularly to GroundUp News.

De Greef was drawn to journalism when studying conservation biology at the University of Cape Town. His approach to stories is often from the perspective of those who are burdened by legacies of economic exclusion and are trying to make a living on the fringes of society, including illicit diamond dealers, donkey skin smugglers, marijuana farmers and mountain muggers.

“I believe preserving the environment is impossible without social and environmental justice, and I hope that through storytelling it’s possible to shift and widen people’s perspectives,” he says.

De Greef focuses on reporting human stories that are seldom covered. “I see a great need in SA for factual storytelling that helps plant in the mind of a reader some kernel of new understanding: what life is like for other people, why they do what they do or how they came to be there. In the realm of conservation, with such wide gulfs of experience separating people in this country, this work is particularly relevant. We live both in a biodiversity hotspot and the least equal society on earth, and the desire for environmental stewardship is often at odds with social and environmental justice. How do we bridge these gaps? I believe reporting can help broaden the conversation.”

De Greef believes his work helps demonstrate how the beneficiaries of South Africa’s unequal past — predominantly white people — are complicit in illicit trades that are easy to condemn.

“It is a peculiar and troublesome aspect of South African life that most people living here exist on the margins of society. Their voices, while numerically dominant, are largely absent from the public record, and that is a massive problem. Poaching, illicit mining, marijuana farming, all stories I’ve covered, are logical responses to South Africa’s inequality and resource abundance.” — Linda Doke

Zoleka Filander (30)

Zoleka Filander (30)

Offshore benthic ecologist, Department of Environmental Affairs

As a black girl from the rural, landlocked town of Kokstad in KwaZulu-Natal, marine biology was not a career path Zoleka Filander thought she would follow. But she was always interested in science. This love of science led Filander to marine biology and in her work as a benthic ecologist, she plays an integral role in ensuring the conservation and management of ocean resources.

Filander believes marine conservation is crucial. “The ecological health of the environment is of paramount importance to our existence and survival. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to take care of the environment that provides us with so many services,” she says.

While completing an honours degree in Marine Biology at Walter Sisulu University, Filander became particularly passionate about marine resource management. She interacted with a rural coastal community, whose dependence on marine resources and misunderstanding of marine protected areas was something she understood as she came from a similar background. She realised that marine resource management could resolve complex societal issues through a science-policy interface. Filander wanted to use science to advise policymakers and be the voice for communities to help them better understand the importance of marine protected areas and marine spatial planning.
Filander is also working on her PhD in marine spatial planning, with research centred around classifying deep-water coral taxonomy to show how fundamental science can be translated into marine spatial planning. She hopes that her research will help her be the voice of rural coastal communities at a national level.

As a black woman in a field dominated by white people and men, Filander’s career trajectory has not been smooth. As the only black female diver in her research unit and one of three black female scientists at the department of environmental affairs who have led a scientific expedition, Filander is a pioneer in her field. With half the opportunity, she has had to work 10 times as hard. But she says it’s all worth it.

“I hope I am cutting a path through for those black females who follow me, so that hopefully they don’t have to face the same obstacles I did.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Lillian Maboya (26)

Lillian Maboya (26)

Environmental change enthusiast

Lillian Maboya has always been passionate about environmental conservation and involving young people in combating climate change. At just 14, she founded a robust environmental club in her home province of Limpopo called GENC, pioneering the innovation of green technology that addresses the impact of climate change in rural areas, and doing door-to-door workshops on climate change awareness.

In 2009, Maboya was awarded a scholarship to join the African Leadership Academy, where she emerged with the Sani Prize — the most prestigious award given to the graduating student whose tireless effort, innovative solutions, lofty ideals and commitment to excellence serve to further the mission, vision and values of the academy.

“My environmental work has centred around developing green technology devices that are suitable for rural dwellers to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, particularly in agriculture. Currently, I am actively involved in research that is applying field work and laboratory techniques to understand the long-term implications of climate change in southern Africa,” says Maboya.

Her work on climate change response strategies have reached local, provincial and international levels. In Zambia she worked with Pestalozzi Education Centre to redesign the Rocket Stove Project, which she introduced to three rural schools in the Limpopo Province that still relied on firewood to cook food for students. In Diepsloot, Johannesburg, she ran the Grow Green Itsuseng Community project that helped to feed 150 household through vegetable gardens that were grown in 200 earthboxes. The project worked with unemployed youth and elderly community members and helped to provide food and a means of income.

“When I moved to Cape Town for my university studies, I co-founded a social business called Grow-up Gardens with a fellow scholar from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. Grow-Up Gardens manufactured and sold portable vertical gardens that helped people in cities where there is hardly space to grow food gardens. The project was awarded runner-up for Best Student Enterprise in the 2014 Western Cape Province Premier Entrepreneurship Awards.”

Maboya says she gets her inspiration from the life of the late Kenyan environmental political activist and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, whose tireless work proved the environmental cause affects the livelihood of everyone, so we should all be environmentally active.

“Mama Wangari was jailed, beaten, and sacrificed a large part of her life fighting for environmental justice and became the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She is an example of someone who had to sacrifice her freedom to create a better life for herself and her community.” — Linda Doke

Mpho Ndaba (24)

Mpho Ndaba (24)

Chairperson of the campaigns subcommittee, SOS Coalition

Since he was a young boy, Mpho Ndaba has been an advocate for social justice. Like so many black South Africans, Mpho grew up in a financially impoverished situation, and knows first-hand what it feels like to go to bed hungry.
Relying on government aid as a student at Wits University, Ndaba studied International Relations and Media Studies, followed by an honours degree in development studies at UCT. In 2015 Ndaba joined the Wits Global Citizenship programme, which introduced him to environmentalism and the South African climate justice movement.

He joined 350 Africa as a student volunteer and organiser, playing an instrumental role in the divestment campaigns that were being carried out by the organisation, particularly the Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign, aimed at financial institutions financing new coal-powered power stations.

“As a media and environmental activist, I have been involved in areas of public media policy, education and climate policy in South Africa,” says Ndaba.

“I currently form part of SOS Coalition’s legal advocacy subcommittee, focusing at advancing efficient and independent public media. As the Western Cape convener for the organisation, my mandate is to bring young people into the area of media policy and advocacy, enabling an environment in which public policy can be alternatively be formulated and implemented.”

Ndaba also produces and hosts Free Media, Free Minds, an upcoming television show on Cape Town TV, focused on advancing the principles of media freedom, freedom of speech and access to information.

This year, he was awarded the Andrew Mellon Mays Scholarship to form part of the UCT Centre for Environmental Humanities South, researching the Anthropocene in the Global South.

“As an MPhil fellow, my work is around issues around food policy and food systems in South Africa and the Global South, advancing the southern development discourses and ways of being.”

Ndaba explains how through narrative essay writing, his work is also centred around the construction of space and place in post-1994 South Africa. “Coming from a working-class background in the township, I draw from my own experiences as a bisexual man, interrogating how spaces are received and constructed from a class point of view. The colonial apartheid history of South Africa and my difficult upbringing as a bisexual man have led me to advance an alternative way of being in the world, where marginalised people should be free to determine their path. Whether poor, black or queer, we should all be able to inform policymakers of the kind of policy direction we want.” — Linda Doke