“IT’S DIFFICULT TO LOVE THE ENVIRONMENT WHEN SOCIETY DOESN’T LOVE YOU”
Meet the non-profit organization EMG, a team of people in South Africa doing everything within their power to tackle the injustices around access to natural resources.
For each of the stopovers of The Ocean Race 2022-23, 11th Hour Racing Team is supporting a local grassroots organization to drive positive change and take action for ocean health as part of our legacy grantee program.
“How can you expect anyone to prioritize the environment when they live hand-to-mouth and struggle to put food on the table for their children?”
The above sentence and the title of this article came from a woman called Mandy Moussouris, Director (a title she hates), of an organization called Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG). EMG fundamentally believes that a strong civil society is necessary for any social, political or economic change.
In a place like South Africa, which was recently reported by the World Bank as being the most unequal country in the world – with race playing a determining factor in a society where 10 percent of the population owns more than 80 percent of the wealth – the work of organizations like EMG fighting for equality is imperative. If you look (not even that closely) inequality is everywhere, but who is responsible?
The need for change
During the team’s stopover in Cape Town we were granted access to a snapshot of what a day’s work involves for Mandy and her team and how they tackle the challenges facing their local communities to strive for improvement. This is anything from managing access to clean water, lobbying the government, organizing river clean-ups, educating school children, teaching agroecology… the list is endless.
“The problems we are facing are a part of something bigger, it’s not about addressing issues such as water scarcity in isolation, but about having the vision to see the bigger picture,” explains Mandy as she addresses our team.. “We believe that fairness and justice must be at the heart of any effort to conserve and protect the natural environment, which sustains life on earth. We’re here to facilitate processes that lead to healthier, more respectful relationships with each other and the environment.”
Mandy’s words that follow – and the words of her colleague Siya Myeza – are powerful. It’s clear they expect better from the government and aren’t afraid to lobby for EMG’s vision.
“If we’re not going to get help from the government with regards to jobs or food, then we need to do it ourselves. We’ve long had the realization that help isn’t going to come so we’re doing something about it,” says Mandy. “There can be no environmental justice without social justice.”
All about the baseline
“What is normal?” asks Siya, gesturing to the river. “The conversations we are having are in the context of baselines. It’s amazing how we can quickly be led to believe something is ‘normal’. This is not normal.”
In front lies a river, the Kuils river, which could be (and in fact has been by a member of our team) confused for a drain, running through the center of a small township community in Burundi Informal Settlement, a section of Mfuleni Township. The Kuils River starts in the northern part of Cape Town, just 30 mins inland of The Ocean Race stopover location and flows southeast downward through the Cape Flats to Macassar, exiting into the sea at False Bay. In total the Kuils River is 23 km long, and runs through a multitude of communities. And in parts it’s filthy.
The unnatural smell fills the air and the luminous green water is clogged with trash. “There is little to no waste management service here,” explains Siya. “What many people don’t realize is that within the structure of these communities, the way they are built with everyone living on top of each other, it’s not possible to ‘go around the houses’ and collect bins.
“At EMG we can provide support through community initiatives and raising awareness but ultimately the long-term, life-changing change can only come from permanent infrastructure.”
After several hours of work, there is joy amongst the community as the school children from Manzomthombo High, Bardale High, Fairdale 1 High and Fairdale 2 High and Mfuleni Tech, break out into song to celebrate the clean up of the river flowing through their backyard. Standing by and watching the moving celebrations, it was evident to any bystander just how important EMG’s work is.
It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s us.
As EMG continues their work, we asked Mandy what can be done to help? As it would be easy to assume, reading this from anywhere else in the world, that purposeful contributions are limited. But as Mandy explains, that’s not the case.
“This problem here is part of something so much bigger. This is a human struggle and although you might not think you can help, you can. There are things you can do at home, climate change is a huge issue globally, and South Africa in particular is a hotspot.
“For example if temperatures rise between 1.5 and 2% globally, they are predicted to increase 3-4% in Sub-Saharan Africa, which massively impacts the living conditions of those here. We also suffer from a decrease in water availability, rising sea levels, and changes in rainfall patterns.
“Climate change also affects biodiversity in Cape Town, with changes in temperature and rainfall patterns affecting the distribution and survival of plant and animal species. This, in turn, can have knock-on effects on the food chain and ecosystem.
“So, please think about every small action you take to improve the health of our planet. Think beyond yourself and your community. I don’t know you, but what I do know is that we are in this together.”