With a rad drum back beat and a ‘marimba’ filling in the blanks, Mandi ‘Poefficient’ Vundla kicked off TEDx in Johannesburg this morning with a poem about how poetry is in fact not dead.
Her words served as the perfect opener for a day that promised to expand attendees’ minds and thinking.
First up was Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, executive director of Greenpeace Africa who used South Africa’s snowfall in Winter last year to illustrate how the world is rapidly changing and more importantly, how the challenges we face are changing at the same pace.
O’Brien-Onyeka said Greenpeace remains worried about the state of affairs in the world because in 2010, Africa had a population in excess of 1 Billion people and the struggle for food sustainability and access to water continues to be a challenge. He said that numerous lakes and rivers in Africa are drying up.
There’s evidence that the Nile, Lake Chad and the Niger are drying up. Lake Chad, he said, has lost 20% of its content and lake Victoria today has 75% less species of fish than what there’s been historically.
It’s not just the opinion of Greenpeace however. A CIA report from a few of years ago, he said, cites natural resource shortages, like the water shortage as the main reasons for the major conflicts in 21st century.
South Africa is in the process of building two new mega power stations. Coal, which will fuel these plants is one of the biggest emitters of pollution.
By 2014, he said, the population in Africa will be 1.9bn and by 2015, one in four people of working age will be from Africa. Close to 65% of the population will be aged 25 and younger. That means there will be plenty of young, energetic people with no jobs. How are we going to manage, he asks, if we’ll be struggling with water and energy access in 27 years’ time?
Now is the time to press the reset button, O’Brien-Onyeka said.
For this reason, he said, Greenpeace is calling on Africans to individually and collectively, to do their bit, not for the planet but for the sake of the people.
“The planet will survive,” he said, “after all, it survived the age of the dinosaurs. When people start mugging others for water, we’l be facing a real the challenge.”
What should Africans be doing then?
O’Brien-Onyeka said we should Consume less, learn how to share better and produce better.
“We’re never going to have economic growth in the context of pollution.
“We will have to clean that mess up eventually, and will cost a lot of money,” he concluded.
An equally worrying problem, was unpacked well-known activist Yusuf Abramjee, who says Africans and South Africans need to become active citizens.
“Almost the entire room of people here today knows someone affected by crime,” he said.
The issue is according to Abramjee, that often we protect the criminals.
“We know the people buying stolen goods, know where the drug dealers are…” he said.
“We’ve become innocent bystanders while the country is burning. The mindset must change. We must create an ethos of active citizenry,” he said.
The enemy, he said, during the Apartheid era was inequality. “Today the enemy is crime and a lack of leadership,” he said.
And example of leadership from a citizenry perspective is Lead S.A. crime watch. Over the past few years Abramjee says thousands of criminals have been arrested and over R50m worth of goods recovered and seized.
Lead S.A.’s current campaign, called ‘Drug Watch” has been running for a little over a month and a half. In that time, he says almost 15 000 drug dealers and drug labs have been shut down in Gauteng alone and R7m worth of drugs have been seized.
Importantly though, he said, it’s important that we become active citizens in a law abiding way, using structures that do damage to crime, but don’t turn the citizens in criminals themselves.
The same ethos can be applied to educational challenges in the country, as outlined by Prof. Job Mokgoro who was recently invited by the minister of Public Service and Administration to lead the new National School of Government.
In Mokgoro’s opinion the approach needs to be inclusive of all stakeholders in the education process and to mobilise the entirety of society.
Here he points to a recent case study that dealt with the non-delivery of text books in Limpopo Province. While fingers were pointed at the government (and they should have been), the parents could have raised a red flag way earlier int he process, as could the learners, teachers, private sector suppliers etc.
The point is, if every structure does their share, many crisis can be averted, he said.
The focus of Mokgoro’s talk was not to shift blame, but rather to approach the challenges from a different perspective and a more all-inclusive one.
Worth thinking about…