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Drought made me a climate activist

In this guest blog, 17-year-old Ayakha Melithafa talks about how she became the South African voice of youth-led climate activism.

© Daily Maverick/Tessa Knight
Ayakha Melithafa is one of the youth voices for climate activism in South Africa.

My mom, a retired teacher, is a farmer near East London and we need water for the livestock and crops growing on the farm. When there is no water, animals and crops don't survive.

During the most recent drought, our income also suffered – one full-grown cow is worth around R16 000 rand so when one dies that is a real blow – and on top of that we had to pay for water. Here in Cape Town, I could also see how the Day Zero drought affected my friends and family and their health.

After seeing these impacts, I did some research and found out about climate change and how we will face more prolonged and severe droughts. I knew from then on that I wanted to educate people about what I had learnt. 

© Ayakha Melithafa
Cows head out to graze on Ayakha Melithafa's mother's farm in the Eastern Cape which was hit by a severe drought.
Learning curve

In 2018, I joined Project 90 by 2030, an environmental organisation that strives to bring about significant change to realise a low-carbon future by 2030. This is where I got most of my information about climate change.

Through Project 90, I also joined the African Climate Alliance, which is a youth initiative that peacefully protests against climate inaction and injustices in our country. I am a spokesperson and a recruitment official for the alliance’s youth wing.

Through this work, I have been able to reach out to many people who are severely affected by climate change but don't know anything about it. This is also how I came to be one of 16 young petitioners who, with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, submitted an official complaint to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child to protest a lack of government action on the climate crisis

Watch this Aweh Climate Action video in which Ayakha talks about her activism.

What I would like to see

I would firstly love to see more political parties shed light about the climate crisis and actually put measures in place to help climate illiterate people.

I would love to see political leaders step up and inspire youth and people in general to take action and do all they can to prevent the climate crisis from elevating. I would also love them to lead and teach climate education, particularly in underprivileged communities and schools, because it is their responsibility to take care of their people and make sure their rights are not violated.

I realise how important climate education is so that we can complain to our government and ask why there are no measures put in place to combat climate change and to make sure that disadvantaged people are not the most severely affected by it.

Climate awareness in South Africa is indeed very low and there are many ways to increase it. We can start with community educational days then offer presentations at school events and assemblies.

It is also very important that we tell people how they can help so that they can share information with others, implement change and take action by themselves and help put pressure on our government to deal with the climate crisis. 

© Supplied by Ayakha Melithafa
Ayakha, aged 13 (on the far right), with her siblings and mother in the Eastern Cape.
Juggling act

Honestly juggling school work and activism is hard but I have a great support system that keeps me sane.

My family, friends and the Project 90 and ACA family are really supportive and help with sifting through interviews so that they don't interfere with my school work. My teachers at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha are also very encouraging and supportive and always offer a helping hand in school work so that I don't fall behind. It works when you have the dedication and a strong support system behind you every step of the way.

When I leave school I plan either to study environmental law or environmental engineering. I want to speak for the environment because it is voiceless and it has been violated enough by us. My second option is because I want to find ways to help the environment as best I can and make sure we leave it in a better state than we found it – for the sake of future generations.

© Supplied by Ayakha Melithafa
Ayakha is often called on to give presentations for climate education on behalf of the organisations she is involved with.
Ayakha Melithafa Photo
Ayakha Melithafa, Climate activist

Ayakha Melithafa is a Grade 11 learner at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha who would like to see more South Africans take the climate change message on board.


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