As a fulltime volunteer for the Khuthala Environmental Care Group and co-founder of the Khuthala Women’s Movement in Mpumalanga, Nelly Nkosi has first-hand experience of the ways that environmental issues affect the lives of South African women.
Over the years Nkosi’s work has included everything from helping to run environmental awareness programmes at schools and hospitals to water awareness and zero waste campaigns, food gardens, and most recently Covid-19 relief programmes for local families affected by the pandemic.
“The aim of the Khuthala Women’s Movement (KWM) is to empower women in our community with the skills and information that will enable them to eradicate poverty through job creation programmes. At KWM, we work together towards rehabilitation and restoration, and the regeneration of degraded land. Our goal is to create social, environmental and economic benefits, particularly for women and children,” says Nkosi.
This is often easier said than done.
Where Nkosi lives, near Ermelo in Mpumalanga province, residents face many often overlapping environmental rights violations. These include air pollution, soil degradation, a lack of access to clean water, the dangers posed by unrehabilitated mines, and flooding caused by heavy rains.
“These issues cause suffering to women especially because they are often the ones who must walk long distances to collect water, who must care for relatives when they are sick, who suffer in the heat working in backyard food gardens and subsistence farming,” she explains.
Nkosi’s work has also shown her the health threats that come with the numerous unrehabilitated mines in the area.
“In our community there are no recreation centres or public swimming pools, children often swim in mine pits that have filled with water. These places are dangerous, sometimes toxic and cause drownings to happen. Such places are also cause threats to local livestock who stray into the pits and drown or fall to their deaths.
While the pace of change is often very slow, Nkosi and members of the organisations she works with have made an impact through educational campaigns, community engagements and raising awareness at a national level.
“I attended the Rights and Remedies course for environmental activists and this helped me to know our rights and fight for them as a community at all levels of engagement. This has also led me to being able to represent the women of my community in Parliament, as well as being elected as a Program Director at various events hosted by Benchmarks, promoting awareness of these issues by speaking out in many articles about the destruction of the environment in the Highveld area and the injustices that residents face.”
According to Nkosi, women should not be afraid to come together and form their own local environmental rights groups.
“Over time I’ve nurtured and built warm and strong relationships with the women of Khuthala through open dialogue and constructive criticism. Organisations like this can inform and educate women through workshops and ongoing campaigns. Together as women we must join forces and start pushing countries and authorities everywhere to address the climate crisis, build a green economy that includes jobs for women and protect our planet for future generations.”