Otsile Nkadimeng (left) and Pètra de Beer (right) regularly hold ‘teen-friendly’ protests to bring awareness to climate change. Photo: Supplied

Sundial Movement: Inspiring SA’s youth to fight climate change

By Gemma Gatticchi
Tuesday, Aug 1, 2023 Climate CrisisInterviews

Is there a place for youth in the movement towards a green future? Well, South African teenagers like Otsile Nkadimeng (18) and Pètra de Beer (19) may be leading the change.

Last year they founded the Sundial Movement, an initiative that creates opportunities for young people to meet and engage about environmental issues and, more importantly, find solutions.

When they aren’t writing exams, Otsile and Pètra organise and take part in demonstrations around the country and educate the youth on climate concerns.

We speak to them to find out more.

Why did you start the Sundial Movement?

We founded Sundial on 29 August 2022 after we met at the South African Institute of International Affairs’ young leaders conference and connected over our experiences in the climate movement. We created the Sundial Movement so that high schoolers would have a safe and comfortable space to discuss and plan movements related to climate change. 

What do you do?

We want to create a network so young people can learn about climate change and actively find solutions to the crisis. We want students to be able to learn about climate-related issues without feeling overwhelmed or burdened. 

The Sundial Movement was set up to inspire hundreds of school children to take action both on the streets and in policy spaces, influencing their leaders to bring about the necessary changes to address the climate crisis. We don’t only dream about this, we believe that we can meet this potential. 

Why is an initiative like this important?

We aren’t seeing much action or engagement from the youth when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. In South Africa, the level of youth involvement falls behind that of other countries. That’s why it is so important to establish initiatives that encourage meaningful participation from young people when it comes to climate activism and advocacy.

Why should young people make time for climate change?

We are in this situation because of our current actions, and these will affect our future too, so it’s important that we take action. If we don’t, the repercussions will be severe. 

The people who aren’t taking action will not be around to witness or experience the devastating effects of the climate crisis. It is the responsibility of young people, like ourselves, to act because we will be the ones directly impacted. The youth are also filled with ideas and solutions – we have something to say. 

How do you empower the youth?

Our aim is to make the climate dialogue as accessible as possible. We don’t want people to feel overwhelmed; instead, we want them to engage meaningfully with the climate crisis and find solutions. This means we need to break down the complexities and jargon related to the environmental crisis. It’s so important for young people to understand this topic so that they can explore solutions.

What kind of events do you host?

We have a series of upcoming climate trainings designed to give young students information about the climate crisis. They will learn how to deliver presentations on climate change, its impacts on us, and the urgent need for action. 

What are some small steps young people can take?

One great way to take action is to establish groups of like minded people, especially at  schools. It’s within these ‘societies’ that solutions and changes are made These groups can  promote recycling and climate-related discussions. 

Attend a protest, engage in climate conversations in your classroom, and most importantly, ask questions. Change starts in your community, so engage with the people around you. 

What are your main challenges?

Time is our biggest challenge as a volunteer movement. People lose momentum because there are only so many hours in the day, especially when they are full-time students or children who also deserve to enjoy their childhood. It becomes difficult for us to dedicate as much time as some adults who have climate-related work as their full-time jobs. 

How can people get involved?

We invite everyone to join our movement. Like any other movement, we rely on people who are willing and capable of contributing.  This movement is centred on people and their needs.

We want individuals, especially young people and school students, to do everything they can to join and actively participate in our movement. So reach out to us, we would love to support your journey. 

Where are you located?

We operate mostly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, but we do have youth from across the country that are involved with us. 

Do you have any success stories?

We organised a demonstration outside Parktown High School for Girls in Parkhurst in Johannesburg, where we protested in favour of more action on climate change and environmental responsibility. After that, a school assembly was held and students shared stories about how climate change affects them and the world.

Other schools that have held similar movements include the National School of the Arts as well as Springfield Convent and Wynberg Girls School in Cape Town. This type of awareness about the climate crisis is incredibly valuable and essential. 

Creating posters and engaging in school walkabouts are great ways for teens to get involved in the fight for an eco-conscious environment. Photo: Supplied

How can young people learn more about climate change?

There are so many YouTube videos available that explain climate change in simple terms. One is a South African satirical YouTube channel called Politically Aweh, which offers a three-part climate series. 

Most importantly, we must learn from each other. Listening and talking with our peers can result in young people who care about the world and understand the crisis.

How do you keep up with environmental news?

Our Burning Planet is a daily feature by the Daily Maverick that we think everyone should follow. We read plenty of articles from around the globe so that we can better understand our sector.

Which organisations inspire you?

We work with organisations like Fridays For Future, School Strikes for Climate and African Climate Alliance

What’s your pet hate?

The belief that climate change is unstoppable – it stops change and creates a pessimistic view of the climate movement.