by Khahliso Myataza
The first time I heard about climate change was in Grade 3 when I saw a poster in my classroom, but it was a long time before I really understood the severity of what it meant. In Grade 10, I randomly signed up to participate in a research project focused on the intersection between gender and climate change. Even though I wasn’t selected to participate in the project, my interest had been sparked and I became passionate about understanding all things related to climate change, particularly the notion of climate justice. I had been exploring Afrofeminism – understanding the intersection of racism and sexism in the experiences of black women – and I knew there was a connection between this and climate justice. I became an activist, interested in understanding how these prejudices exist together, recognising they do not exist in isolation. Incorporating climate activism into my Afro-feminism meant understanding that even climate change disproportionately affects black women.
By the time I was in Grade 11, I joined the lead drafting team for the Johannesburg Youth Climate Action Plan (JYCAP), which taught me how to be more intentional with my advocacy and my voice. Even though I was still in high school, I was working with university scholars and it was intimidating. It took a lot of effort and conscious self-reassurance to get over my feeling of being an imposter – who was I to make these statements, wasn’t I too young to contribute, what did I really know? Many young people suffer from this kind of ‘imposter syndrome’ and it’s hard to find your place. But being on the drafting team really helped me to 8 grow – I began to understand the importance of the work we were doing, about how to make contributions and be open to critique and criticism, and it pushed me to think and develop in so many ways. It was through this experience that I came to realise how important it is for young people, regardless of their age, to be involved in policymaking processes.
Going through the Johannesburg YCAP drafting process was tiring yet exhilarating. We started by gathering input from young people across the different regions of Johannesburg. We also held a dialogue on climate change and climate activism to conceptualise the ‘Johannesburg’ we wanted to live in – what did it look like and how could we get there? Participants spoke about intersectionality, decolonisation, the just transition, decentralisation, and other issues pertinent to climate change. These became the pillars that anchored the document.
The team would spend hours working on and perfecting a single section, and even though it was exhausting, we knew we were doing something important. Everyone was passionate about climate change and climate justice and we were not deterred, even when it was difficult. We knew this cause was bigger than all of us and that we had an important story to tell.
Being in these policymaking spaces gave me a glimpse into the world of representing others and it made me realise how important policies are – they impact our whole city’s trajectory. We had to ask ourselves, are we going to be the city that ignores climate change, or are we going to be the city that works earnestly to hold big corporations accountable and decrease our carbon footprint? Policies only work for the population if that population is represented in the negotiating rooms, and I really began to understand the importance of including young people within that space. As the continent with the largest youth population, it is imperative that young people are engaged in policymaking processes. We are the future that will inherit the continent and we need to take a holistic approach, one that is intersectional, decolonised and evolving, to ensure we bring the greatest benefits to the whole population.