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Activism and Agency: An inspired first week highlight of CER’s Rights & Remedies 2023 Journey 

15 September 2023 at 10:37 am

CER Executive Director, Wandisa Phama, the AS&T Programme team and R&R Class of 2023. 

Images by Mad Little Badger
CER Executive Director, Wandisa Phama, the AS&T Programme team and R&R Class of 2023. Images by Mad Little Badger

On September 5th, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) proudly launched the 7th edition of the Rights and Remedies Course for environmental justice activists, welcoming 14 dedicated environmental and climate activists from various parts of the country, to embark on a journey of empowerment and knowledge-sharing at this year’s Rights and Remedies course. The theme for this year’s course: “Activism and Agency.”

Setting the tone  

The opening session, led by Wandisa Phama, Executive Director of CER, set the stage for three weeks of learning profound transformation. Wandisa underscored the course’s remarkable track record in nurturing activists who have gone on to catalyse significant change within their communities. She acknowledged the immense challenges activists confront, including threats to their safety, as they tirelessly champion environmental rights.  

CER Executive Director Wandisa Phama

CER Executive Director Wandisa Phama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gift of learning 

But why this course, and why now? Wandisa Phama reminded the activist participants that in a world faced with socio-political, economic and climate upheaval, the opportunity to learn is a priceless gift—a right denied to many. Yet, here they stand, ready to embrace knowledge, share stories, and forge unbreakable bonds with their fellow activists. Wandisa emphasised three vital aspects of this gift: 

  • Be Open to Learning: Beyond the classroom, this course offers a platform for profound knowledge exchange. Embrace the wisdom of seasoned facilitators and your peers. 
  • Pack Up and Add to Your Tools of Activism: Equip yourselves to be agents of change in your communities, advocating for justice, equality, and environmental stewardship. Arm yourselves with knowledge to make a lasting impact. 
  • Build Community: Effective activism thrives on collaboration and a sense of real community. Get to know each other; together, your strength multiplies. 

In conclusion, Wandisa Phama urged participants to create a space marked by kindness, mutual respect, and safety. She encouraged them to not only learn but also find joy and fulfilment in their journey. 

Activist Participants Share Their Experiences 

Nondumiso Mabuza: “My first week of the course was very interesting and it helped me with improving my self-confidence. I also feel privileged to learn about my country’s Constitution and the NEMA and the SEMAs.”

Nondumiso Mabuza

Thandeka Makhabane: “I am glad to be part of the amazing R&R class of 2023, it has helped me a lot, I now have a better understanding of how the law works, the NEMA & SEMA acts/principles. A better understanding of the sections and subsections on the Constitutional rights of South Africa.” 

Thokozile Mntambo: “My first week of the course was a pleasant experience that exceeded my expectations, akin to the nostalgia of a first day at school. Meeting the CER team was truly encouraging, as learning from young attorneys willing to share their knowledge with activists feels like a privilege.” 

Innocent Ramuhala: “It’s been an eye-opening and highly informative experience that provides activists with essential tools and guidelines to combat environmental injustices, even for those who may struggle with reading. Realising the significance of the country’s supreme law, the Constitution, has been a crucial revelation, shifting our focus from vocal protests to utilizing legal avenues and acts effectively. I’m thrilled to be part of this program and feel prepared to support my community in addressing challenging projects.” 

Lindelani Mbulawa: “The Centre for Environmental Rights and Remedies offers an excellent course. During our presentations about our backgrounds and organisations, I learned valuable lessons on media engagement, storytelling, and understanding the media landscape. Additionally, I gained insight into the South African constitution, its supreme authority, and the laws to reference for addressing environmental issues in my area, including Section 24 of the Constitution.” 

Lindelani Mbulawa

Makhotla Sefuli: “My stay has been incredibly enlightening, and the Rights and Remedies course has ushered me into a new chapter in my activist journey. I now feel empowered to confront industrial giants who have caused misery in our communities, armed with the strength of the law. The session on the constitution’s supremacy and its practical application was particularly exciting, and I’ve been impressed by the engagement and maturity of our debates. As I conclude my first week, I appreciate the presenters’ teaching structure and eagerly anticipate the second week with enthusiasm.” 

Matshidiso Makintane: “During the introduction section on Monday, I gained insights into our communities and their challenges. The most intriguing part of the course was learning how to fight effectively, with a focus on the constitution’s power, even though it may seem small, as well as the significance of powerful acts like NEMA in protecting our environmental rights and serving as our security from birth.” 

Matshidiso Makintane

Minenhle Sibiya: “The introduction to CER was entertaining, allowing us to get to know everyone and share our feelings, and the short walks to the ocean have been enjoyable. Additionally, I’ve started learning about the importance of knowing our rights in the law and constitution, especially in addressing community challenges, as well as gaining insights into the mining process and NEMA.”

Tshepiso Choung: “My experience at the R&R course has been truly enriching. From meeting new people to realising the importance of the Constitution and law. I’m learning to defend my environmental rights, especially regarding mining, and appreciate the value of using legal memos like NEMA and SEMA, as well as harnessing media for advocacy, even though I’m still working on my letter-writing skills. Thank you for this opportunity.” 

Justice Mphethi: ” My first week at the Rights & Remedies course has been incredibly positive. I’ve connected with friendly environmental lawyers and activists, exchanging valuable knowledge and real-life experiences that relate to the environmental struggles in my community. I’ve gained insights into my rights, how to use constitutional laws for and the importance of Chapter 9 institutions. While I’m ready to challenge unlawful actions in my community, I eagerly anticipate learning even more in the coming weeks.” 

Keabetswe Manyane: ” My journey to this point in life is something I wouldn’t change for anything. The first week began gently, allowing me to ease into this new experience, which I appreciate. It’s been a valuable learning curve, especially regarding the constitution and mining laws, broadening my perspective on what’s happening around me. I’ve also found joy in engaging with the sessions, discovering that even mining law can be an engaging subject. I eagerly await the upcoming sessions and the knowledge they will bring.”

Keabetswe Manyane

Andile Mlambo: “My first days at CER have been a whirlwind of emotions, from excitement of joining the Rights and Remedies environmental course with remarkable activists and legal experts, to nervous anticipation before arriving in Cape Town on September 3rd. I’m deeply grateful to those who made it possible, and as we delved into discussions on Section 24 of the Constitution, the NEMA act, and related laws, I feel a growing responsibility to my community and future climate justice activists” 

Given Zulu: ” My first week at Rights and Remedies was both exciting and enlightening, starting with a focus on media and gradually delving into the Constitution and its subsections, emphasising our entitlement to rights. As the week progressed, we delved into environmental rights and the art of impactful letter-writing, which I believe can significantly benefit our community’s struggles. While I’m grateful for the experience so far, I eagerly anticipate learning more in the weeks ahead.” 

Xabiso Ndinisa: “The Rights and Remedies program offers a practical legal studies course focused on environmental law. It addresses the existing shortcomings in the teaching and learning of environmental law at the university level. Participating in the Rights and Remedies program has rekindled my passion for environmental justice.” 

Activist Support & Training: 

The dedicated team responsible for planning, convening, and facilitating the course shared their thoughts: 

Matome Kapa: “Rights & Remedies is my favourite time of the year. Spending time with passionate movement leaders is a gift. After months of planning, it’s finally here. Monday was special, sitting outside in the sun, discussing justice, community, and the environment. So inspirational. Excited for the next two weeks with a refreshed spirit.” 

Thami Nkosi: “The 2023 Rights and remedies started in earnest on a high note as expected. Through the selection process, we assembled an enthusiastic group of participants from different parts of the country with deep understanding of environmental issues in the communities, their provinces and nationally in general. Armed with curiosity to learn new skills in relation to the rights and remedies that they can apply to fight against environmental injustices. The first day of the school was spent learning from the different life experiences of the participants in their communities.” 

Danjelle Midgley: “Week 1 of Rights and Remedies saw 14 enthusiastic and passionate environmental activists convene in Cape Town from across South Africa for the CER’s annual Rights and Remedies course. Participants shared their journeys into activism, delved into communication, media, storytelling, and learned about the Constitution, Bill of Rights and South African environmental law. The week also covered mining regulation and strategies for public participation meetings, concluding with insights into holding mining authorities and mines accountable for issues like mine blasting.” 

Thobeka Gumede: “On September 4, 2023, the Centre for Environmental Rights welcomed 14 passionate environmental activists from various regions of South Africa to the 2023 Rights and Remedies School. Aligned with this year’s theme of activism and agency, participants expressed a strong desire to learn about legal tools to combat environmental violations in their communities. While many already possess knowledge and skills, they seek to bolster their activism with legal expertise.”  

Marchelino Brown: “As a first-time participant, I was impressed by how R&R helps activists refine their approaches and equips them with legal knowledge relevant to their community issues. This week offered valuable insights into the daily challenges faced by community activists, and it was inspiring to meet like-minded individuals committed to meaningful change. Despite the struggles we encounter, the spirit of ‘ubuntu’ sustains us, reminding us of our collective goal: a better and more equitable world for all.” 

Activist Support and Training Programme Team: Marchelino Brown, Danjelle Midgley, Matome Kapa, Thami Nkosi, Thobeka Gumede

Stay tuned for more updates from #CERRights&Remedies2023 

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About the programme: 

ACTIVIST SUPPORT & TRAINING programme focuses on enabling and resourcing the Environmental and Climate Justice movement through carefully planned strategic interventions. These include the annual Rights & Remedies course for activists, the environmental violations portal, fiscal sponsorship and institutional support for activist networks like the Mining and Environmental Communities Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA) and participation in Human Rights Defender networks for activist safety and security.