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Happy Khambule is a climate-change activist with a law degree who aspires to shape SA environmental policy. He represents a bright, brave future for our country, and he spoke to Justin Nurse in this week’s edition of the Pied Piper Project.
What’s your story?
I’m Swazi, I’m 22 years old, and I come from Diepkloof, Soweto. As a kid I wanted to be president. I was born just when Madiba was released, and had a big poster of him in my room while growing up.
My school was something else. Either you cared about something, or you just wanted to get out. I was part of a group of kids that cared about the environment. Seeing lots of litter at school made me start caring. It took me about two years to act, though I did stop littering myself immediately. That became a snowball effect, which started with turning off lights when I wasn’t around to reading up on stuff about the environment.
When I was in Grade 12, I got involved with Ashoka Youth Ventures, which was a global project that got the youth to start thinking about social entrepreneurship and social issues that they could address in their own neighbourhoods and schools. I ended up starting a company with some fellow activists called Centigrade; we visited primary schools in order to create awareness about climate change, litter, and recycling.
I then studied law at the University of Johannesburg, and I’m now in the process of beginning my Master’s Degree in Environmental Law.
I believe that law is the best way to effect change – other than having a personal conversation with someone that allows them to internalise what you’ve said and then act accordingly themselves. If something is mandatory (like law), change will happen, whether big or small. Influencing government decision-making and steering it in an environmentally friendly direction, through legislation, is what appeals to me in terms of a vocation.
I’m also passionate about people. For me, it’s all about people being able to live on. It’s about finding ways for people to be able to survive and then prosper, and for us to start limiting the damage.
Project 90 by 2030
I’m involved as a schools club co-ordinator in Gauteng for Project 90 by 2030, which showcases renewable energy sources at various demonstration sites around the country, which are basically spaces where you can see renewable energy at work. For example, the Two Oceans Aquarium has a wind turbine that generates electricity, and there are others at the Tshwane and Pretoria zoos.
Our mission is to share positive climate-change stories, and show how inspiring change can lead to behavioural change, which then leads to a greener, more energy-efficient lifestyle change.
What’s the government doing about climate change?
Not enough. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place – specifically when you talk about energy and water.
If there were more people like me that were involved – passionate about the environment, while also understanding law – then there could be way more traction.
The two biggest issues facing us in SA are energy and water. Acid mine drainage means that we’ll soon have a water shortage.
But we still believe that water is abundant and so don’t yet treat it as the precious resource it is. That’s really worrying.
Do you enjoy what you’re doing?
I love it. Chatting to schools and getting involved in environmental activism was my form of escapism from the monotony of university lectures, assignments and exams. I get a kick out of seeing change happen, and knowing that I’m personally a part of that change. Other people’s lives also impact on mine – whether it’s a conglomerate doing fracking or someone burning coal in a shack. So I try to play my part in creating awareness of the alternatives.
Are you proudly South African?
Hell yeah! I like to refer to former president Thabo Mbeki’s speech “I am an African”, and then take it down a notch to “I am a South African”. It’s amazing being in a country where so much has been done in such a small amount of time, and so much still has to be done. There’s so much diversity, and the interaction between people here is amazing.
Do you consider yourself a leader?
I consider myself part of a movement. Part of a generation that is doing something. We live in an age where everything is being rediscovered, and my peers that studied law and accountancy aren’t becoming lawyers and accountants. They are doing something related maybe, but outside of that specific career field, something more aligned with their passions. We are more than our careers, more than what we study.
Are you hopeful?
History has shown us that at the point of impending danger or disaster, humans always come together and come up with amazing ideas. From founding the UN during times of war through to combating HIV/Aids in times of disease, when we get to that tipping point, we will innovate. When I see someone reaching for their dreams, happy in what they are doing and happy with who they are, that inspires me. It fills me with a sense of joy and hope.
Please visit: www.ashoka .org/youthventure and check out Project 90 by 2030 at www.90x2030.org
* Justin Nurse is a freelance journalist and founder of Laugh It Off