“The Human Rights Festival at Constitutional Hill on Saturday 25 March was the beginning of a new era for environmental activists: a determined step to build a new coalition of community voices that will stand together to affirm the rights of the environment in all its expressions,” reported Kristin Kallesen, chair of the GEKCO – Greater Kyalami Conservancy and Anthony Duigan of ARMOUR (Action for Responsible Management of Our Rivers).

Sinegugu Zukulu, programme manager of Sustain the Wild Coast , and Tarryn Johnston, founder of Hennops River Revival, set the platform for the discussions that followed.
The golden thread woven by the two keynote speakers at the “Listening and Learning from Community Voices” themed event was that the individual often set the vision, but it was the power of the collective that made the impact. In other words, building partnerships as the route to a coalition that uses its leverage to challenge and correct wrongdoing.

Zukulu: A problem we have in the rural areas is that the government does not ‘see’ us. When it does appear, it acts like Father Christmas, giving what it thinks the communities might need then disappears. Corporates must internalize the costs of doing business such as pollution. When they do not, we have rights and must claim those rights, even the right for clean water or of a river to flow. We have gone to court to give life to the Constitution, to set precedent for communities in future.

Johnston: The challenge of a young daughter set her on a commitment to make a difference to one river as a model of what could be done across the country. The energy put into this vision has already mobilized hundreds to take responsibility for what is common and links all of us – Water. “We as adults must use our voices to highlight the problems and stand up for our planet. This sets the stage for our youth, who have the most important voices, to be heard.”

The community members and representatives, from a diversity of backgrounds and races, from 5 to 80 years old, shared their experiences and concern for the planet we share. The African Integrated Platform, a troupe of Diepsloot youth gave a lively performance which wove the threads of food security, income generation, gender based violence and environmental awareness together.

As the session drew to a close, the skilled and energetic facilitator, Rehana Moosajee, gathered the 100 or so people present in a mighty circle to commit to establishing the network of networks, a coalition of activist organisations that will uphold the environment is all its forms.