Sibusiso Mazomba was just 12 years old when he began to learn about climate crisis-related issues in school. He then asked himself if there was a connection between these matters and inequalities in South Africa. Photo: Facebook
Sibusiso Mambo (20), a young boy who grew up in Soweto and commuted to school in the suburbs, quickly realized the difference in socioeconomic contexts and the deeply rooted inequality within them.
He began to learn about climate-related issues in school and began to wonder if there was any connection between these matters and South African inequality.
With research he “began realising that climate change is not just an environmental issue, I also saw it as a social justice issue. We cannot talk about it as an environmental issue. Instead, we must consider its impact on youth unemployment in South Africa where seven out 10 young people are currently unemployed. I joined some organisations to help me find the knowledge and that is what built me into an intersectional activist, seeing that climate change is not a mutually exclusive issue to the other socioeconomic issues that we have,” Mazomba said.
“For example, there was research conducted where they said that with every degree increase in global temperatures, child marriages in Kenya also increase. There is a link because of the vulnerability that area experiences in that if you lose everything, you lose your cattle and your environment is destroyed, desperation for money forces families to sell their children off into marriage … So there is a link [between the climate crises]These are some of the socioeconomic problems that we face in society, and we need to prioritize them [when we talk about] climate change.”
Mazomba is a second year statistics, marine biology, and oceanography student at University of Cape Town. He attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland as part of the South African delegation.
“I was in the negotiations rooms looking at all the discussions taking place, getting a sense of the two different sides, and it was quite interesting to get a sense of that. It was a huge learning curve for me. Being the youngest person in the room, you have to prove yourself not only as a young person but as a person from the global south because voices from there are marginalised most of the time.”
He stated that youth are not well represented at higher levels of global platforms like the UN Climate Change Conference. These are where big decisions can be made.
Mazomba said that while he tried his best to “put the youth perspective across because there is no one who is lobbying for young people in those rooms where everyone is above 30 or 35 years old”, he did not feel that his contribution was largely considered.
Then, there were the massive protests that brought Glasgow down last weekend.
“The protest was like an outlet for me … I go into the negotiations room,and it is so overwhelming, you feel like your voice is not heard and then you go to a protest and there you get some sense of community from other young people.”
He is concerned about the lack of awareness in South Africa regarding climate change.
“We’re struggling with youth unemployment, crime and issues that are in your face, and you are forced to confront them every day, and so if you tell somebody about climate change, it is a far-fetched issue of 70 years away, so they are not going to be worried about that when they have to put food on the table. The young activist said:
It is a problem if you don’t think about what is going to happen to the environment and that the food you are putting on the table now is not going to be there, that it is going to be even more difficult to get.
Mazomba claimed that the first time he learned about climate changes was when he was in school. He thinks the curriculum should have more coverage of the subject.
He suggested that interdepartmental collaboration could help increase public awareness of climate crisis issues. It will also help avoid instances in which two ministers contradict one another over the same issue.
“We need to present a full picture in schools and take it to the people in the form of capacity-building workshops in the townships, which is something I didn’t have. Usually when you talk about climate change it is all about activism and people tend to draw back from it, but you don’t have to be an activist to talk about climate change,” Mazomba said.
“You can do your art, music and many other things and still tackle the issue. You just need to find your entry point into it, but first you need be given the capacity and have the awareness, that is where government comes in.”