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'Autumn Leaves'

by Asithandile Ntsondwa

I’ve always believed that as a human being, you must have a cause – something you are passionate about and that gives you a set of principles to live by.

I was born on 14 April 2000, on a pleasant autumn morning in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, and was raised by my grandmother, Nontuthuzelo Ndzamela. It was just my grandmother and I for most of my life, her garden, and the dry grassland field at the end of the village. I could see the mountains from a distance and when I watched the sun set every evening, I always wished that I would find my cause in the world.

I was very curious about the natural world and I loved being outside. I appreciated the way my grandmother tended to her garden, the care and love she had for growing plants, and I always tried to convince people that the fresh peas from our garden were so much better than the frozen peas bought at the store. Every December, my cousins and I would sneak into her garden to pick the sweet strawberries that she grew and my passion for nature began to increase. I began to realise that my grandmother knew so much – she knew what season was best for planting her maize crops in order to harvest them at the right time, and my curiosity began to grow. How did she always know what birds were responsible for eating her figs and how was she so in tune with the natural world? She started to comment about how the growing seasons were changing, how they were different from when she was a child, and her crops were not producing the same amount. The more she told me, the more I wanted to know what she knew, and I started to become aware of the world around me.

I started my environmental journey in Grade 5, at Norwood Junior Secondary School in Mthatha, when I joined the school’s environmental club. Every time I learned something new, I couldn’t wait to tell my grandmother about it. We learnt about climate change, how to practice 19 the ‘3-Rs’ (reduce, reuse, recycle), how to grow a worm farm to make natural fertiliser, and so much more. I started to learn about why the seasons were changing and why different plants grew at different times. It was a great feeling and we even started our own garden at school. I wanted to go home and practice the methods I had learned, but my grandmother would accuse me of confusing weeds with her crops and she didn’t want me to help that much. But I was driven – I wanted to be part of anything and everything that involved the environment and nature, from tree-planting to city clean-ups.

When I started high school, I lost momentum. There was no environmental club and everything was focused on studying, writing exams and making sure we got into university. It was a difficult time and I felt disconnected. After some time, I returned to my primary school to visit my environmental club teacher and it was then that I realised what mattered to me the most – my pure love for nature. I didn’t want to be an ‘eco-saviour’, nor did I want to become an expert in global warming. All I wanted was to be in nature and I realised that my favourite season was autumn. I loved watching the leaves turn orange and fall to the ground, allowing for new life to grow in its place. I had a strong desire to learn more about the earth and how to take care of it, and this was the reason I decided to study Environmental Science at university.

While at university, I started an initiative called Greener Times with a friend, aimed at educating the public about environmental issues and ways to combat them. I also joined the university’s newspaper because I wanted to show students the wonderful world of science and mother nature, hoping they would read articles related to environmental sustainability and be inspired to start appreciating and protecting the Earth.

My main goal was – and still is – to change people’s perception of environmental issues. I want the planet to flourish, and people with it. I continue to write for the newspaper with the hope of reaching as many people as I can. The Greener Times initiative continues to grow, and more people are becoming environmentally conscious. I also joined the Youth Policy Committee, convened by Youth@SAIIA. I volunteer as a committee member for the African Youth Waste Network, a sub-body of the Sustainable Seas Trust, that aims to achieve zero plastic pollution in the seas of Africa by providing a collaborative platform for youth to engage and share knowledge.

I consider myself to be a normal person, but I also believe that everyone has the power to make a positive difference in the world. This is my contribution and I believe I have a role to play in helping people understand why we need to be more cautious about how we treat our home, because there really is no planet B. Everyone needs to find their own cause and I hope


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