Tebogo Maleka

National project coordinator
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Tebogo Maleka works as a national project coordinator for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Her work is part of a three-year initiative — funded by the Japanese government — that examines the feasibility of switching from conventional plastics to sustainable substitutes.

Being a member of the committee that successfully coordinated the launch and official handover of the biodegradation assessment laboratory equipment to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria — making the CSIR South Africa’s first accredited biodegradation testing facility — was one of her proudest moments. The facility will be able to verify biodegradability claims on imported and locally produced materials, leading to job creation as well as the promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth.

What she took away from this project is that waste management procedures need to specifically promote waste-picker integration to ensure that the role of waste pickers and their entrepreneurial ability is properly acknowledged and appreciated. “Waste pickers should be included in the planning and execution of municipal recycling programmes and other recycling activities that support South Africa’s resource efficiency and recycling production process,” she says.

Maleka wants South Africans to realise how water-scarce our nation is, and how heavily reliant we are on imports such as oil. “It’s critical that we respond appropriately to avert this calamity since a resilient economy depends on access to electricity, food and water.” If the problems with energy, food and water are dealt with separately, there is every chance that food and water insecurity will be added to the nation’s growing list of environmental problems. “We must change how we view our natural resources and adopt a newly balanced life,” she says.

Waste pickers should be included in the planning and execution of municipal recycling programmes

Author - Suzan Shongwe
Centre for Environmental Rights 2

Centre for Environmental Rights 2

Centre for Environmental Rights

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is an organisation committed to maintaining the constitutional right of communities in South Africa to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.

This Cape Town-based non-profit organisation offers environmental litigation, advocacy and activist support and training for organisations and vulnerable communities that lack access to legal knowledge or support for environmental and climate justice.

The vision of CER is to remain sensitive to South Africa’s history of injustice, by shifting exclusionary structures and empowering communities and organisations towards equality and a healthy environment for current and future generations.

It also recognises the importance of women’s influence in decision- and policy-making roles in environmental activism. Research shows a link between climate change, women’s rights and gender-based violence (GBV); the impact of climate change exacerbates systemic gender discrimination and patriarchal dynamics. Women in rural communities are often vulnerable to GBV when they have to travel long distances to retrieve resources such as water when the immediate environment is damaged.

In 2019, CER represented groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement (VEM) in the #DeadlyAir case, demanding that the government clean up toxic air caused by coal mining in the Mpumalanga Highveld region. In March this year, the high court recognised the poor air quality as a violation of residents’ constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing. The judgement passed was a triumph for groundWork and VEM, the pursuit of environmental activism for CER — and all such affected communities.

The non-profit aspires to: “A just, equitable, compassionate society which is resilient, celebrates diversity, and respects the interdependence between people and the environment, where environmental and climate justice is realised and all people and the planet flourish.”

The impact of climate change exacerbates systemic gender discrimination and patriarchal dynamics

Danielle Dowling | mg.co.za
Murendeni Mafumo

Murendeni Mafumo

Kusini Water

Murendeni Mafumo dared to find an answer to a vital question: how does one filter dirty water in an energy-efficient way so that more people can drink and make use of clean water? Macadamia nut shells — of course!

Mafumo’s innovative thinking led him to become the founder of Kusini Water, a social enterprise that builds water treatment systems from nanotechnology. His company has developed a mobile and solar-powered water purification system that operates using locally sourced macadamia nut shells to filter and produce safe drinking water in rural areas.

The knowledge that he gained while studying chemistry at Cape Peninsula University of Technology is evident in his every move. Kusini is innovative not only in the way it purifies water, but also in its decentralising treatment, which ensures a more efficient local distribution of water. Kusini systems produce more water while using less energy than comparable practices.

One of Mafumo’s proudest achievements was when Kusini Water entered one of the driest regions in South Africa, Griekwastad. Its technology is now being used in this community to produce 1 000 litres of clean water per hour.

“People, our community and our beneficiaries are the most important stakeholders. Without their buy-in, no well-intended project will ever work,” Mafumo says when asked what he’s learned through his work.

The one thing that he wishes South Africans knew more of regarding their environment is that as much as we are resource-rich, we are still vulnerable — and we all need to be responsible stewards.

His philanthropy doesn’t end in the environmental sector. Mafumo also owns a company called Gentle Giant, a technology company that helps the youth in townships and rural areas learn maths and science. From chemistry to calculus, this man is on a mission.

Without [community] buy-in, no well-intended project will ever work

Eva Murphy | mg.co.za
Kyle Odgers

Kyle Odgers


Kyle Odgers is an environmental entrepreneur at heart, with a desire for success in life. He is the director of KleenHealth, an Enviropaedia and Eco-Logic award-winning nanotechnology and bioremediation solutions social company based in Edenvale, Johannesburg.

KleenHealth creates ecofriendly cleaning products for treating businesses, homes, schools, sports grounds and communities. Odgers is as enthusiastic and passionate about growing KleenHealth as he is about the wellness of the environment.

His proudest accomplishment is the #TreatAtTheSource campaign: a drive to protect water at the source by cleaning sewage-polluted dams, rivers and wetlands with nature-based solutions. Initiatives such as this exemplify his motto, “saving rivers from ourselves”, which he pushes on his social media platforms, engaging with his audience about climate change and environmental sustainability.

Another accomplishment was the unblocking of sewer networks at the source by emptying pit latrines in underdeveloped and rural school toilets, and drastically reducing Camps Bay High School’s water consumption, cutting it by 2 500 000 litres over five years.

Through working at schools in this capacity, Odgers learned an unexpected lesson — that children’s sense of smell is more acute than adults’, so a foul odour smells worse for kids.

Odgers would like all South Africans to know that we are all connected through our groundwater, sewer networks and rivers. That means the condition of your kitchen drain and toilet affects your neighbours.

His ultimate goal is to improve the quality of lives through the development of a revolutionary range of KleenUp products that will help Africans to take good care of their environment.

We are all connected through our groundwater, sewer networks and rivers

Nelisiwe Masango | mg.co.za
Shafick Adams

Shafick Adams

Executive manager
Water Research Commission

For Shafick Adams, the task of ensuring water security in South Africa is one that rests with us all. As the executive manager at the water research commission, and a recent appointee to the presidential climate commission, he continues to make significant contributions to securing our access to water.

He holds a PhD and MSc from the University of the Western Cape, where he was a lecturer prior to his current role, in which he manages research projects relating to groundwater, water protection and capacity development, with the goal of creating better tools from the findings.

South Africa’s reputation for high-quality water may seem under threat, but Adams still believes the majority of South Africans’ tap water to be of a high standard and safe to drink. However, this could change rapidly in the context of global climate change and more localised issues.

One of the potential answers that Adams offers in response to the issues South Africans face is regarding our natural groundwater. He argues that by introducing more groundwater into usage we may mitigate the negative effects of consecutive dry seasons and climate change.

Adams remains optimistic about these challenges without downplaying the need for change. He reminds us that we do not want to find ourselves unable to drink our tap water, something that can be avoided through a concerted effort between efficient management and civic responsibility. If we are to realise the water security that is so vital to a healthy country, we need to continue to develop expertise on the subject. As a relatively dry geographic region, we cannot afford the costs of poor management and ageing infrastructure.

We cannot afford the costs of poor management and ageing infrastructure

Luca Stefano | mg.co.za
Ron Sabelo Luvo Memani

Ron Sabelo Luvo Memani

Conservation project manager
Friends of the Liesbeek

Ron Sabelo Luvo Memani is not only an expert on environmental conservation with extensive knowledge on botany and biodiversity, he’s also making an impression by expanding the green economy.

The conservation area manager for Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area, Memani has worked to preserve plant and animal species for almost a decade. He has worked hard to establish and confirm a Cape platanna population, an endangered frog species endemic to South Africa, and has identified at least five new plant species in the Kenilworth Conservation Area.

Memani is committed to educating and employing the youth in the green economy in order to achieve an environmentally sustainable future for our planet. He has managed an eight-month-long National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level Two skills and development programme for the Friends of the Liesbeek volunteer organisation.

The programme trained six interns from low economic backgrounds in Environmental Management Practice. Three of the interns did a further year of training for the Liesbeek Maintenance Project. “It was a true success story,” says Memani, “I am proud to have been part of a team that helped create employment and workplace training opportunities for youths to pursue a career in the green economy.”

Memani acknowledges how community and local authorities play a major role in environmental conservation. “The public are our eyes on the ground. Non-profit organisations [also] play a key role in the green economy sector, because we always seek to evolve and to be adaptable to changing social climates, and not to be just environmental custodians, but stewards for youth’s socioeconomic benefit.”

He stresses: “We are all connected. Continued unsustainable living impacts us all: socially, environmentally and economically.”

Continued unsustainable living impacts us all: socially, environmentally and economically

Sarah Irwin | mg.co.za
Dr Ferrial Adam

Dr Ferrial Adam

Manager of WaterCAN

Water pollution in South Africa is so rampant that it should be declared a state of national disaster, believes Dr Ferrial Adam, WaterCAN’s manager. Day Zero of no water in the taps is an impending reality facing many South African towns and cities, she warns.

Each of us must take some responsibility — stop littering, stop blocking stormwater drains with construction rubble. It is only by getting involved that we can hold the government accountable,” she says. Strong action must also be taken against industrial and municipal polluters that constantly release chemical waste and poorly treated sewage into our rivers, dams and oceans.

Adam has previously worked for Earthlife Africa and Greenpeace Africa, and chaired the board of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). She’s now heading up WaterCAN, an Outa initiative created to build a network of citizen scientists, collate water data, and hold authorities to account through research, citizen science, advocacy and litigation.

She’s proud to be building this network of citizen science activists and encourages ordinary people to test the water quality in their taps, rivers and streams. “Learning the science empowers people to seek accountability from those responsible,” she says.

She points out how the Vaal River is extremely polluted by sewage from municipal wastewater treatment works. In Cape Town, practically untreated sewage is pumped into rivers and the ocean, while Nelson Mandela Bay metro has declared its drinking water unsafe.

The government will only act if citizens demand results, she believes, by helping to expose corruption and inefficiency, staging protests, and testing water to verify government data. The country also needs to tap into private sector skills and call on retired engineers, technicians and plumbers to volunteer and share their knowledge to turn dysfunctional municipal water and sanitation systems around.

It is only by getting involved that we can hold the government accountable

Lesley Stones | mg.co.za