Eastern Cape activists’ Freedom Day fight for Climate Justice!

By, Anna Majavu, Grocott’s Mail (May 1, 2023)

“We are landless and we are waterless, so we need to fight back”

SAFTU secretary

The Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM)-Climate Justice Coalition-350.org Freedom Day 2023 workshop for Climate Justice. Participants at the workshop called for system change, not climate change. Photo: Anna Majavu.

The Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM), the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and its affiliates, the Coastal Justice Network, the Climate Justice Coalition, and the global climate crisis movement, 350.org came together in Makhanda’s High Street on 27 April to plan a joint campaign for Climate Justice.

The organisations had already been affected by climate change-caused floods and droughts. “We have health problems because of a lack of water. We have problems growing crops now, which means we won’t have enough food. At the same time, as young people, we are facing a huge amount of unemployment, and people still suffering after losing their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government keeps telling us about projects, but we know for a fact, that these will not happen” said Siphephelo Mkuli from the Gqeberha-based Eastern Cape Environmental Network (ECEN).

From left: East London environmentalist, police officer, and SA Police Union shop steward Thandi Ngabase; Vuyiseka Moni of ECEN; Alex Lenferna of the Climate Justice Coalition and a post-doctoral researcher at Nelson Mandela University; and Ayanda Kota, Unemployed Peoples’ Movement leader and Makana Citizens’ Front secretary. Photo: Anna Majavu.

Vuyiseka Moni, also of ECEN, said most people were unaware that climate change had already affected society. “People don’t understand the impact of climate change, so it would be wise to start with awareness programs and from there, do protests and then lastly, petition the government”, said Moni.

Nangamso Thole, the World Wildlife Fund’s community liaison officer for Hankey said people had noticed the change in the climate and were suffering without fully understanding the cause.

“Their livelihoods are being affected. Eventually, they will know this is because of climate change, and then they will realise that we are not the problem here, so what do we do? Because they feel so far away from what is happening. Their contribution to global warming is so little and yet they are the ones who suffer the most”, said Thole, urging the organisations at the meeting to find ways of holding those responsible for climate change accountable.

From left: Deon Spandiel of chairperson of the Eastern Cape Khoisan Small-Scale Fishers; Busisiwe Tobi, secretary of the Ekhuphumleni Fishing Co-operative of Kenton-On-Sea; and Melissa Pullen of the Moeggesukkel Fishing Co-operative near Alexandria. Photo: Anna Majavu.

Deon Spandiel of the Eastern Cape Khoisan Small Scale Fishing Co-operative said the only solution was for the unions to call a general strike against oil and gas exploration in the sea, “and bring the country to a standstill,” until Minerals and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe stopped handing out mining permits to polluting companies. Melissa Pullen of the Moeggesukkel Fishing Co-operative added that the fishing communities were already suffering as a result of the ocean warming.

“This season, we did not have a good catch of squid because of this. Climate change is already affecting us because fewer fish are coming out of the sea. We are also the people who are looking after the ocean – it is not just about us benefitting from the sea”, Pullen added.

UPM leader Ayanda Kota said the UPM had wanted to hold a very informative workshop for activist organisations in the province to discuss Eskom, load-shedding, coal-fired electricity, and the climate crisis. “It was an important workshop because there are many challenges at Eskom, including state capture, corporatisation of Eskom, corruption, and the climate crisis. Government must fully fund Eskom and fix it so that we have a power utility that is working. But you cannot have Eskom that is run on coal anymore because everyone agrees we should move towards the Just Transition to cheaper, green energy. The struggle for climate crisis is a struggle for real democracy. We agreed that we just need to move away from fossil fuels”, Kota said.

Pictured at the UPM-350.org-Climate Justice Coalition Freedom Day 2023 workshop in Makhanda. From left: Irna Senekal from the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training (CIPSET) at Nelson Mandela University; Ntsika Dapo of Pathways and the Zabalaza Socialist Forum for Left Renewal; young activist Sima Kota; UPM chairperson Mahlubandi Hlubi “Rhadi” Kuhlane; and Siphephelo Mkuli of ECEN. Photo: Anna Majavu.

Mzikazi Nkata, the Gqeberha secretary of SAFTU, described climate change as another battle between the working class, who are suffering as a result of global warming, and the capitalist class, who are looking for ways to profit from the climate crisis.

Adding to the problem was that 90% of working-class communities believed that the changing climate was naturally caused and not the result of the capitalist class damaging the environment, Nkata said.

Seen at the UPM-350.org-Climate Justice Coalition Freedom Day workshop. From left: Union activist Vuyiseka Zamisa of NUPSAW; Thembisa Gqontshi from Demawusa; nurse and union activist Nomonde Fanele from NUPSAW; Mzikazi Nkata (front), secretary of SAFTU in Gqeberha; Ayanda Yekani of the Siyaphambili Fishing Co-operative in Hamburg; and Nelisa Nonkonyana from the UPM. Photo: Anna Majavu.

“Climate change is already affecting our jobs and daily living. We are landless and we are waterless, so we need to fight back. All the conversations that we have had here, we will take back to our constituency so that trade unionists and workers have a broader understanding of climate change and how it affects us,” said Nkata.

She said the change would start with grassroots unions and communities owning their own clean factories, and building up their own small community-owned renewable energy co-operatives which would also create green jobs.

Eastern Cape Environmental Network members protested previously in Mossel Bay against oil and gas drilling in the oceans. Photo: Supplied.

Ntsika Dapo from the Zabalaza Socialist Forum for Left Renewal in the Eastern Cape said the meeting was very important in understanding the political economy of the climate change crisis. “At the moment, Eskom is being privatised at a high speed, which puts a lot of communities at risk in terms of future access to electricity. It is important to discuss renewable energies given the existential threat being presented by climate change”.