‘Deforestation is dehumanization’ says an Activator volunteering at Greenpeace Africa

Amir Bagheri, an Activator who joined the network last year and who is currently volunteering for Greenpeace Africa, took part in an awareness campaign in Johannesburg recently that focused on the negative effects of deforestation for communities in a specific region in Cameroon.

Here, he shares his thoughts:

(originally published on Greenpeace Africa’s blog: http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/News/Blog/deforestation-is-dehumanisation/blog/44468/ )

In many cases we tend to separate the well-being of the environment from the well-being of ourselves as a human species, not realising that a healthy environment is connected to human dignity, and therefore is a human right.
On the 21st of March, the UN dedicated a day to the important role of forests by creating the International Day of Forests, with many events and activities all over the world.

Despite widespread awareness of the importance of forests, many are under threat. For example, Herakles Farms, a US-owned company, poses a serious danger to tens of thousands of hectares of forest in Cameroon, and the livelihoods of small farmers who depend upon it.

Herakles wants to flatten the forest to create space for a a palm oil plantation. Cameroonian and international NGOs and experts are critical of the project on the grounds of illegality, socio-economic injustice, and the environmental destruction it will cause.

On Saturday, 23rd March, an awareness event was held by Greenpeace Africa’s volunteers at Brightwater Commons in Johannesburg. It included a photo exhibition, showing photos taken in the rainforest of Cameroon.

This was my very first time as an environmental activist with Greenpeace. After four years of working as a human rights activist, I found that human rights cannot be ensured when many people across the world live in unhealthy environments that violate their human dignity, livelihoods and health.

When I arrived at the venue, about four or five volunteers were at the stall with a queue of people who were waiting to sign the Greenpeace petition calling for Herakles Farms to abandon their project. For the first time in my life, a queue shed some light into my day and energized me to spread awareness amongst all those who were interested.

Many people were utterly shocked when they found out that Herakles Farms is imposing its plantation without the free, prior and informed consent of the communities that will be directly affected. The project would also have a disastrous impact on biodiversity as well as produce millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

In five hours – and with the help of the South African public – we racked up 250 signatures for the petition against Herakles. We also handed out about 600 flyers, and spoke to countless curious people, spreading forest awareness far and wide. If that wasn’t enough, a surprise appearance by Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, left us feeling incredibly inspired.

Deforestation affects every single one of us directly and indirectly, and we shouldn’t allow any corporate projects to take away our human dignity and human rights.
Deforestation is dehumanisation. Let’s stop another tree from falling in the forest!

Are we waiting for a messiah of sorts, asks Lynette Ntuli

Lynette Ntuli, chief executive officer at Innate Investment Solutions (Pty) Ltd, put the cards squarely on the table last week at the first Activate!Exchange when she spoke about the type of youth leadership that could fill the current vacuum in our country. She later said, “The calibre of the panel members, audiences interactions and even some of the reactions and comments I received post the event made the morning well worth it.”

Her speech, which stimulated some much-need conversations about youth leadership in South Africa, went like this:

“I did not anticipate last week that the news would completely change and influence the angle I was going to take this morning, but we live in interesting times and this week, leadership in South Africa, at various levels, is under pressure and severe scrutiny.

This week the ANC NEC took the decision to disband the executive committee of the most powerful youth movement in South Africa, the ANC Youth League. With 366 000 members spread across approximately 3517 branches, it can be argued that we are about to enter a significant phase in the turning fortunes of our country in terms of defining and delivering upon what credible, educated, dynamic youth leadership should ideally characterise today.

So what? Why does this matter to any of us? The ANC Youth League has perhaps reaped what it’s sown from the anarchy and division it came to represent in the last 2 years in particular. However “We wish them well…” is not likely to cut it as a response this time.

The vacuum of power at the highest level within the ANC Youth League does not just affect the party. It affects everyone under the age of 35 (and the young at heart!) today within our borders, whether you are a card carrying member of the ANC, DA, IFP, COPE youth factions or not.

In the last 5 years the most visible face of young people in South Africa has been that of the former president of the ANC Youth League. Just behind him, the rise of another young political leader in the opposition has also been in the spotlight. And then they have been followed by the rest of us – the founders, leaders in corporate and entrepreneurial South Africa, organisers of causes, social commentators and Twitter activists.

There is a missing face in this picture, a massive group of young South Africans we have not accounted for. The forgotten 85% under the age of 35, stewing in poverty, without access to a brighter future, a 40% level of unemployment for work ready young people under the age of 30, an education system that is not delivering freedom to many of them, who stand without leadership.

A vacancy therefore exists not only in the ANC’s youth corps, but in the leadership of an entire generation.

Poverty, unemployment and a lack of hope and inspiration knows no colour or political affiliation…but it does know a culture of entitlement, it does know the power that can be bestowed by violence and it can learn the inside of prison walls.

Various sources of social and political research and a certain bank’s social campaign in the last 6 months have indicated and highlighted that young people are disaffected, apathetic and disillusioned by the politics of the country. In fact, most political parties can expect that this apathy will result in uncast votes in 2014.

Our existing youth structures and leadership that sit in and close to the seats of power have largely failed to separate social, youth and political issues and in so doing, created untold confusion, have lost a vital connection to the ground and sight to the next decade of the reality of life in South Africa for the average young person.

We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity. – Benjamin Disraeli

Young people in South Africa essentially want and aspire to the same things irrespective of their differences. The freedom to live in a safe, vibrant, progressive society and optimise the benefits of democracy, as promised 18 years ago is still a priority to young people. Access to education, basic needs and rights, information and certain livelihoods is the source of both hope and fear in young minds today.

Economic freedom is the struggle of this generation and with the necessary support, knowledge and capability to create wealth, remains within our grasp.And I am not talking about nationalisation – we just want a solid foundation for entrepreneurship and innovation in our lifetime!

What we need to achieve these common goals is Leadership.

Visionary leadership that is not afraid to lead from the front and from the back.
Leadership that is not afraid to work hard and insist upon sweat equity from each of us.
Leadership that will listen, act impartially and take decisions… the tough calls for progress
Leadership that will not be intimidated by new ideas, learned minds and the potential of a society that is driven, literate, numerate and global in its world view.
Leadership that will empower a new breed of leader, that is ready and able to take on the challenges of our country and enable their peers to create solutions in collaborative efforts.
A leader unafraid to share what they have learnt and who is willing to un-learn, re-learn and keep learning again to move us all towards our goals.

It is a tall order and one wonders if we can rely on one visionary, the chosen one to live up to such expectation. What would we do if our candidate stumbles, errs, falls and fails?

Perhaps the alternative to fulfil the overwhelming requirements of this one vacancy, is to engage a council of a few, brilliant young leaders to start with. This council will not be difficult to constitute if we chose wisely, broadly, with merit and with the image of the end in mind. Because do not be mistaken – thousands of young leaders are hard at work, empowering themselves and their communities right now. Our leader is already in these ranks. A star that already twinkles, that just needs a platform to shine.

What we as a country lack is authoritative structures and policy creation processes that legitimately recognise and harness the extraordinary capacity of youth in civic action today. The world is too complex, too large and too frightful a matter for youth to change on their own, but given purpose, opportunities, resources, encouragement – young people can change the tiny fragments of world they find themselves in and are able to influence.

What is the greatest output and priority task against which we will measure the performance of our successful candidate?

The ability to eliminate doubt, debate and distraction around the creation of a purpose driven, post-apartheid, proudly South African identity in young people everywhere.

From this single deliverable, the achievement of the goals of the NDP are perfectly possible but more importantly, the future can lean on a generation that has been set up to succeed.

Izikhothane: clever statement or waste of youth? Have your say!


(credit: The Star newspaper)

Fame comes at a staggering price for Izikhothane youths – designer clothes, costly accessories  and expensive alcohol.

But it’s not just the consumption of these expensive items that earns status or popularity.

In parks and other public spaces before expectant and excited crowds, these teens destroy expensive goods to seal their standing in a trend that has found a growing popularity among youths in SA townships.

Izikhothane, the Zulu word for “those who lick”, have gained an infamous reputation for their acts of waste – they tear up or burn wads of cash, designer clothes and shoes, and recklessly slosh expensive alcohol on the ground.

Clinical psychologist Simphiwe Sinkoyi, from Joburg, says the Izikhothane bill themselves as street performers, “but their art consists of little more than branded clothing and face-offs with rival crews who compete over who has more money”.

He says ukukhothana is a money-conscious SA version of the diss battles in the US, but where the American jokes would begin with, “Yo mama is so…”, these kids start theirs with “I’m so rich I can…”

“They then proceed to demonstrate how much money they have by engaging in wasteful behaviour.”

According to Sinkoyi, this fad started in smaller black communities of Gauteng’s East Rand and quickly filtered into Soweto.

But it’s a phenomenon that’s “not entirely new in the townships and in black pop culture”, says Lebo Motshegoa, director of Foshizi, a company that specialises in market research into the black consumer market.

“In my time, almost 14 years ago, if you had enough money, you’d buy Carvela or Rossi Moda shoes. They made a statement that you were now living the life,” says Motshegoa.

“Fast track two decades later and it’s the same thing but with a twist. Every generation wants to be different. Now, it’s about extreme waste. Back then it was good enough to be seen wearing the right label.

“These days, you diss your opponent, who’s also wearing something expensive, and dare each other to set alight a R1 000 T-shirt. Setting that shirt alight is the same thing as burning R1 000.”

Sinkoyi says he is aware of a recent incident where “a boy from Pimville bought a bucket of KFC chicken, threw it on the floor and then stomped on the chicken pieces using his R2 000 pair of loafers to grind the white meat into the ground before setting the food alight – and then the shoes.”

Motshegoa reduces the attitude of Izikhothane to this: “I have more where this came from.”

He added that it’s about going to the park and dressing up in expensive clothes. It’s about taking Ultramel custard and expensive whisky or Cognac to throw around. Many Izikhothane will also have pairs of shoes in different colours to show that they have more than one pair.

Afterwards, when the dissing battle is over, they perform a “gloating dance”.

Many of these youths don’t come from affluent backgrounds, says Motshegoa.

“Their parents often don’t have the best of jobs and aren’t rich. They’re factory workers or work at the supermarkets.”

Says Sinkoyi: “The question remains, though, why do it at all? By their own admission, they aren’t as moneyed as they pretend to be. Why then spend the little cash they do receive on clothing which in some cases will end up as tattered rags? The boys provide no answers.”

Sinkoyi says that, in a typically teenage manner, Izikhothane have paid no thought to the psychology behind the trend.

“It’s tempting to think of Izikhothane as some kind of nihilistic reaction to a rampantly consumerist culture, a negation of the power that ‘stuff’ has over us.

“But really it comes off as an overexaggerated homage to consumerism – the desperate quest for individualism that ties its success to brand names and price tags.”

It gives these young people their moment in the spotlight.

“It is a search for self-value, and not notoriety. When all the romanticism has been sucked out of the ghetto, when history’s lessons have stripped you of what should be inherent self-respect, dignity is inferred. Izikhothane will borrow Armani’s name and Diesel’s reputation until they can make their own.”

Motshegoa agrees.

“These kids don’t think about their future. They look at their popularity. And parents are pressured into it and give in to their children.

“It’s also a question of pride on the parents’ side where they don’t want to look as if they cannot provide for their child.”

Motshegoa says that quite recently girls have joined in.

Kefilwe*, 16, Mpho*, 18 and Thandi*, 17, were unapologetic for being a part of this fad and proudly admitted being Izikhothane.

They looked the part, striding confidently across Thokoza Park during a night of revelry. They wore pricey labels worth thousands of rands – such as Carvela, Adidas, Guess and Nike – and boasted shiny gold teeth and Krugerrand earrings.

“I do it for the fame,” said Kefilwe.

“Money is not a problem. Both my parents are working and have good jobs. Yes, we burn clothes, we brag and we do the talk of the Italian with our real Carvelas. It’s to show that money is not a problem, that it’s just to spend.”

And what’s with the gold teeth, I asked?

They laughed. “It’s to show uhleka ngamalini (how much are you smiling with?). Without the gold teeth, you’re cheap.

“We’re using Listerine to clean the gold and we can afford to go to the dentist.”

Kefilwe admitted her mother was aware of the trend and opposed it.

“But she doesn’t know I burn the clothes. She gives me an allowance of R5 000, she doesn’t know what’s in my closet or where the money all goes,” said Kefilwe.

Izikhothane is a big thing – if you’re not a part of it, then you’re nothing.”

Mpho chimed in: “It’s just a trend and we show off just like other trends.

“The old people say that what we’re doing is devil worshipping. It’s not that. Being Izikhothane, people respect you, and there’s all that attraction and attention.”

Kefilwe agreed: “We have to spend in order to impress. I’m famous, many people know me.”

Thandi said she felt no guilt for what they did, calling it a “celebration of life”.

“Besides, we’re meant to spend our parents’ money,” Kefilwe added.

“They are working for us,” said Mpho.

However, the three teens insisted that being Izikhothane was just a youthful phase for them.

“We’re all in matric and we do have a future,” said Thandi.

“We’re not going to be Izikhothane for our whole life. After high school, we’ll grow up, we’ll leave all this childishness behind.”

Said Kefilwe: “We’ll be done with it. This is futureless, but we do it now for the fame and just to enjoy life. It makes sense.” .

Mpho adds: “Yeah, for us it’s like I’ve been there, done that.”

But there are those youths who have chosen “not to fall into the trap” of this trend.

Bafana*, 17, believed that teens like Kefilwe’s group were “doing a foolish thing”.

“They’re just wasting their parents’ money. What I’d like them to do is put their expensive clothes in a box and donate it to charity, and not burn them. Why don’t they rather do a game of donation, instead of dancing, bragging and burning?” said Bafana.

Mzwandile*, 17, was of the same opinion. “It’s disturbing. I know my friends do it not only for fame and to fit in, but to show that they are alive. And you get kids who are nine years old to people in their 20s doing this.”

Financial reasons and his firm belief in his future, said Mzwandile, had stopped him from following the trend.

“When I ask my friends why they do it, they can’t really give me their reasons. They’re just trying to be a part of something they don’t know. They wear their expensive clothes, and others who can’t afford will buy fong kong (obviously fake) stuff just to fit in.

“I look at the new generation and I think we are going down the drain. Two years ago, it was all about music and dance. Lately, it’s about the swag, which doesn’t allow us to be united.”

Mzwandile believes these activities separate the youth. “What about the generation after us? They’re going to grow up thinking this is what they have to do.”

“I really don’t think there’s any positive thing about this. Kids are getting on drugs and 13-year-olds are drinking alcohol.

“And if they cannot afford it, they’ll turn to crime to feed their swag and their lifestyle… There is no future in being Izikhothane. It will damage your future.”

Motshegoa said that it was a fad that wouldn’t last because it was not sustainable.

“It requires far too much of people.”

* Real names not used

 Have your say: What do you think of izikhothane? Write to activateourvoices@gmail.com