On 25th March 2022, South African youth and civil society gathered in front of Cape Town Parliament calling for climate and socio-environmental justice under the theme of #PeopleNotProfit. The action formed part of the Global Climate Strike led by youth climate activists all around the world. Coordinators of ACA, and convenors of the Cape Town protest, Mitchelle Mhaka and Sarah Robyn Farrell, worked together in crafting and delivering the following speech on the day on behalf of ACA:
For too long the rights and wellbeing of people have been sidelined for the purpose of creating wealth for a few. This has created a system that treats people and our natural resources as worthless. This has led to crises: from income inequality, to the climate crisis.
When we hear about the climate and environmental crisis in the news, it is often so disconnected from everyday realities. We hear about the fact that it is getting hotter, that sea levels are rising, that there is more extreme weather. But we aren’t told about the ways that this crisis is a crisis of human rights. Ayakha Melithafa who works with us at ACA and sadly couldn’t be here today often says that she felt the effects of climate change before she knew what it was.
So many people here today are already feeling the effects of the Food and water insecurity, the economic damage & job loss, the loss of homes, the mental & physical health impacts, the disruption to education, the loss of life. (Like children in Emalahleni struggling to breath, or people in informal settlements needing to travel more than 2km to access clean water). All of the existing social ills being made worse by a breakdown in our environment. And at the end of the day this affects every single one of us, but those of us who are already poor and working class – those who are predominantly black and brown face the worst of these impacts.
When we talk about what is causing the climate crisis, we hear things like it is from burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas. It is from ‘human activities’ like big industries, intensive agriculture, deforestation and so on. Often the blame is put on individuals alone. And whilst our choices do matter, what do all of these big drivers of climate and ecological breakdown have in common? They were created to amass profit for the elite few while so many others suffer.
So when we say #peoplenotprofit we mean that rights of people must be put first and that exploitation and extractivism come to an end.( Extractivism as in is the process of extracting natural resources from the Earth to sell on the world market). We know that the exploitation and extractivism that we see today is not new. But a continuation of colonialism, apartheid and corporate greed.
In her book Rock Water Life, Lesley Green speaks about the settlers that arrived in the Cape. How the indigenous people of this area at the time would take only what was needed from the river and leave an offering in return. But when the settlers came, water was taken in barrels and barrels in order to provide water for the journeys that existed to find and take resources in order to make riches for the countries they represented.
This a symbol for the way in which this colonial system has been wrong all along! Today oil Giants like Shell continue to extract from this land, continuing the cycle of colonialism and violence. Sadly, this is enabled by some of the people who played a part in fighting to free this country! And those same people try to say that those of us fighting these systems are engaging in ‘colonialism of a special type’
We make these connections between climate change, colonialism and apartheid because we need to understand that climate change is not just climate change. It is one very bad symptom of a broader system that needs changing. This is so important to acknowledge especially in our country which is the most unequal society in the world and the wealth gap is just one indicator of this. And so as we unpack these difficult conversations, It is important to note that we do this not to lay blame on the individuals who have been born into this system to no fault of their own.
In fact even those who this system is supposed to benefit do not benefit in the long run, and did not get to choose this. At the end of the day nobody really benefits from a system that is slowly killing us all. And so we are called to confront all these ills, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that process might be. And that we face it together across race, culture and class.
This is the only true way to achieve justice! So today,
- Let us create spaces to have difficult conversations about the hard truths in our historical and modern day South Africa
- When we speak about injustice, we are speaking about systems not individuals. So let us see one another today.
- Let’s start thinking about what people over profit can look like in real life. Whether it is universal basic income grants, environmentally conscious affordable housing, socially owned renewable energy, or community owned food networks. We need energy, water and food access for all in ways that are sustainable!
- And whilst we are calling on governments to change – let us continue to drive in our own communities. Let’s have a spirit for justice for all and use climate justice as a vehicle to achieve justice in all spheres of life
The climate crisis poses one of the biggest human rights challenges in human history but it also poses the opportunity to change the course of history and come together like never before!
Together united, we can achieve change. Together we are united. Amandla!