“Climate justice is social justice.” This phrase from the Climate Justice Charter, being handed over to Parliament today, is perhaps the most important in the document.
It sums up the core of what our struggles as progressive activists will be over the next generation at least.
That one line alone, is a stark reminder of how issues of equality, justice, dignity and peace pivot so fundamentally around our ability to keep earth clean.
Within the context of the current Coronavirus pandemic, the linkages between the environment and social justice became increasingly apparent for so many South Africans.
In the Eastern Cape for example, the severity of the drought was compounded the impact of the virus. In Burgersdorp, residents have reportedly only had access to water for seven hours every second day. Now they’re facing an outbreak of the virus and attempts have to be made to make water more accessible.
To top off the bleak scenario, our government is seemingly unable or unwilling to deal with the extent of the challenges.
In Burgersdorp, the Department of Water and Sanitation apparently had no money to fix a dam, so the department of roads had to lend their equipment to do the repair work.
People have been starving as a result of the lockdown, while on the other hand, government officials have been accused of food parcel corruption.
While climate scientists and activists are warning about the disastrous consequences of a warmer planet – particularly for the developing world – there is no clear indication of strong enough political will or sustainable plans being put in place to deal with the impact.
As the climate crisis looms, some of our politicians are to a great extent more concerned about factional battles, staying out of prison and protecting their own interests.
The Climate Justice Charter shows how the issues of good and clean governance are directly linked to effectively ensuring a ‘deep just transition’ to deal with the climate crisis.
The Charter says that we must “overcome the crisis of corporate-captured political leadership, which is incapable of thinking beyond the short term”.
It emphasises that government must “reduce all wasteful spending, end corruption and professionalise the state bureaucracy by appointing the best people in the country to serve in government”.
It highlights that we should “strengthen local government to have enhanced powers and democratic planning competencies to deal with the climate crisis”.
It affirms that we must “strengthen our democracy, constitution and transformative constitutionalism, by claiming our rights and building united people’s power, as we confront the climate emergency and worsening socioecological crises.”
These are important statements, but the challenge is ensuring that they are given practical meaning.
Today, on World Food Day, there are pickets and workshops taking place across the country in a bid to create more awareness and build support for a ‘deep just transition’ to move towards a fair, equal and ecologically sustainable society.
Young people from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation who have been supporting the Orange Mask Campaign against C19 corruption picketed this morning in several areas in Johannesburg South. They painted plates orange – to symbolise the orange overalls that the corrupt should be wearing. On these plates, they wrote slogans indicating that people are ‘Hungry for Justice’. They demanded transparency and accountability – their orange plates bearing the words: ‘Tell us, who ate the money?’
Similar protests are being held by others, many of whom have spent the last few months assisting with humanitarian aid or finding long term solutions – such as community food gardens – to address the hunger crisis.
These are activists who like most other South Africans, feel betrayed that while the country was struggling under the burden of the pandemic, corrupt private and public sector networks saw the chance to steal resources from the poor, the vulnerable and from our frontline workers.
We felt betrayed, as we were when the some in government tried to push through a nuclear deal just a few years ago, knowing full well the economic and environmental consequences.
These are not things we will forget easily, as we evaluate the various legal ways in which we as we as citizens can exercise our responsibility going forward to hold our elected representatives to account.
As the threat of a second wave, and the ever larger threat of the climate emergency looms, we are aware that we will face challenges that previous generations were not confronted with.
We cannot allow a state of affairs to go on, where the blatant disregard for the rule of law, and for serving the public, is not challenged. If this goes on, we stand very little chance of mitigating the impact of the crisis. We need a competent and honest state that puts the interest of the people and of the environment first.
Very much like the Freedom Charter that since 1955 has served as a lodestar against racism, apartheid and inequality, the Climate Justice Charter lays out a new vision for a better society. This Charter tells us we are at a crossroads. It encourages us all to become activists for climate-social justice so that our country makes the right choices. In its own words, it is “a call to all who care about human and non-human life to act together in advancing a pluri-vision – of people’s dreams, alternatives and desires for a deep just transition.”