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A recent wave of youth activism is keeping climate change squarely in the public eye. And while teens like Greta Thunberg have become the face of this current wave of activism, the South African youth are not shying away from the fight. This International Day of Climate Action (24 October), we introduce three young South Africans who are raising awareness and advocating for government action against climate change.

Ayakha Melithafa

Ayakha is one of the 16 young people (which includes Greta Thunberg) who teamed up to petition the United Nations to hold the world's leading economies accountable for their inaction against climate change despite knowing the effects.

The 17 year old is from Eerste River in Cape Town. According to her biography on the Children vs Climate Crisis website, Ayakha became a vocal activist for climate change awareness after experiencing and seeing the effects of the recent Western Cape water shortages and drought. Her mother, who is a farmer, not only faced the challenges of water shortages in her daily home life, but also had her livelihood threatened as the shortages affected her ability to feed and water her livestock.

‘People who are older aren’t paying as much attention because they will not be as affected. They don’t take us, children, seriously, but we want to show them we are serious,’ Ayakha says on the Children vs Climate Crisis website. 

Yola Mgogwana 

Despite being only 11 years old, Yola Mgogwana is fighting against climate change. Yola is a member of Earthchild Project Eco Warriors and led the Fridays For Future 15 March youth climate strike in Khayelitsha.

‘I knew I needed to represent the voices of black youth from under-resourced communities in Cape Town. I was happy when I got chosen as one of the speakers at the main event. My speech was a collective voice of youth who don’t have resources to be heard,’ Yola said in an interview with the Earth Child Project. ‘I was also inspired to change the script and show the world that we black youth from townships care about the climate because we are the ones that get affected the most.’

Zoe Prinsloo

The 17-year-old Zoe Prinsloo not only wants to raise awareness about climate change, but also the disproportionate effect it has on the poor. Dubbed ‘climate apartheid’, issues such as flooding, natural disasters, and drought affect the rich far less since they have the money to alleviate their effects. 

Zoe noticed this especially during the Cape Town drought when wealthy Capetonians were able to buy water or invest in rainwater tanks and boreholes.

For her advocacy, she was selected as one of the 500 youths to attend the U.N. Youth Climate Summit in New York in September, according to the Thomas Reuters Foundation.

Zoe also has her own green business called Save a Fishie. Her business recycles plastic and other materials to sell straws, notebooks, pens and other items. The business comes from her experience of beach clean-ups, which she has been involved in since she was 10 years old.

Read about four more South Africans who are building a sustainable future for us all.

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