From Sbizane, Kwa Zulu Natal, to the United Nations: Girls highlight Climate Change issues

By Marilyn Aitken, Nqobile Masuku and Sibongile Mtungwa

From 2014 to 2016, the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme (WLTP) undertook campaigns about water with the community of Sbizane. Sbizane is a rural community in KZN in the new Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma Local Municipality. WLTP partnered with Inhlabamkhosi (a project for boys and young men), Project 90 by 2030, Tribal authorities, Community Based Carers and some Church leaders to do stream clean-ups. In 2017 WLTP decided to address the root causes of on-going stream pollution in the area. Emthonjeni, a WLTP project for girls aged 13 – 19, took the first steps. The girls went door-to-door in teams, using a questionnaire to find out from households what they do with their waste. 12 girls interviewed 66 of the 434 households. Analysis of the survey identified anger about water scarcity, loss of hope and shifting of blame.

Realising that the community needed help to address the source of the problems, WLTP organised a two day workshop using Paulo Freire’s approach to present the situation in a problem-posing code followed by deep analysis: Why? But why? But why? Initially, people did not even mention climate change. The facilitator then talked about climate change explaining the concepts of adaptation and mitigation. After that input, people were able to make the links between the related issues of climate change – poor waste management – water scarcity – poverty – food security – loss of biodiversity. Poor waste management was identified as the biggest threat to water. People dump their waste, including dead animals, into dongas and directly into streams. The dominant waste is disposable nappies, and its removal is seen as a municipal responsibility. During further discussion on the second day, residents realised the importance of taking responsibility for their own waste as the people most affected by the impact of climate change. 55 people (young and old) committed themselves to becoming custodians of their streams.

Stream custodians attended a three-day workshop where they learned about the types of waste that contaminate water, and affect the water volume, flow and quality. Waste also affects the effectiveness of vegetation in acting as a carbon sink. People now realise how their initiatives link with climate change, and parents understand how climate change affects their daughters. Using the theme: We bury nappies to save water for the generations to come, the stream custodians are conscientising people through a “Neighbour adopt a neighbour” plan, which targets especially the big nappy polluters.

The Working Girls’ Group at the UN invited one of the Sibizane girls, 14 year old Thandolwethu Hlubi, to give a speech at the International Day of the Girl celebrations at the UN in New York City on 11 October. This is what Thandolwethu said:

“Good Afternoon. I am very excited to be here today.

As a rural girl in South Africa, I suffer from Climate Change. It is a water scarce country and we see the effects of global warming as our waterfalls, rivers and wells dry up. When it does rain, we often have floods because the eroded soil can’t absorb the water.

After school, I and other girls have to fetch water. I walk with my bucket to the nearest well spring about 2 kilometres away. There I join the queue for an hour until it’s my turn to fill the bucket. Then I begin my long walk home with the 25 litre bucket on my head. Boys often harass me and other girls by saying, “You have a nice fat body. Come and be my girlfriend.”Dudlu Ntombi, ayinamabele inyoka yini! In Zulu these words are very threatening. In winter it’s dark and we fear that the boys might attack or even try to rape us. We girls protect ourselves by walking in groups, but sometimes I have to go on my own which is very scary. By the time I get home, it is 6 o’clock and I have to wash my school uniform and the dishes and cook because my mother is not yet home from work. It’s difficult to do homework or to study for exams after all that physical and emotional stress. This is why boys often do better at school.

Where I live, the lack of waste management increases the impact of climate change. People dispose of their plastic and other household waste products by throwing them into the streams. Just imagine dirty disposable nappies clogging up streams!

The water close to our homes is so badly polluted that we can’t drink it or use it for gardening, washing clothes or making mud bricks. We have to walk far from the houses to find clean water. During floods the waste in the streams is washed into the rivers and then into the sea. This pollutes the ocean and makes it less able to absorb carbon. We have to put on rubber gloves, gumboots, plastic coats and pants, and walk into the streams to pull out the waste and put it into large plastic bags. We then negotiate with the Municipal officials to take the bags, as many as one hundred, to the landfill site.

Some girls and I belong to an organization called Emthonjeni (at the wellspring). During our meetings we analysed our problem with waste and made a plan. We did a household survey asking people what they do with their waste. At the same time we educated them about polluted water. 90% of the women we interviewed were very welcoming and 50 of them volunteered to become stream custodians. Soon the water quality in the streams near our homes will improve and we won’t need to walk so far to fetch water. We will also have more time for our school work and our marks will improve.

My school participates in an organisation called Project 90 by 2030 which challenges South Africans to ‘think and act differently.’ The organisation focuses on reducing carbon emissions and aims to develop environmental leadership in youth, enhancing energy and water security in communities. My school has been chosen as a champion because of our involvement in gardening projects that combat climate change by providing carbon sinks. We would like the UN to support us with funds, publicity and official letters asking us to do this work.

We plan to work with our local government to help people understand how dangerous climate change is and to change the way they live. I myself refuse to use fossil fuel products on my hair and I plead with you, “Say No to fossil fuel products!” Please make your governments reduce their fossil-fuel energy and invest in Renewable Energy instead, in line with SDG 13 and the Paris Agreement. We all need to play our part in making sure that the earth is a good place to live in for the present generation and for the following seven generations.

Thank you for listening to me.“