Tokyo on ice

2012-02-25 15:13

“I am a disciple,” says Tokyo Sexwale as he leans back in his leather chair. “A disciple of climate change.”

The human settlements minister has just returned from a voyage to the Antarctic to study the effects of climate change. It was a life-changing experience.

“Antarctica is so peaceful. The animal life is intact. These animals are not scared of you at all. They are curious,” he explains.

“It is actually quite humbling. You feel like a pioneer exploring a shore for the first time. You see these huge colonies of penguins. Amazing!”

The wily minister has gone. Instead, 58-year-old Sexwale is filled with the wonder of a child experiencing a new world.

The minister was personally invited by former American vice-president and climate change crusader Al Gore to join his Climate Reality Project’s Destination Reality 2012 expedition to Antarctica to investigate the effect of climate change.

But what is the housing minister doing on a climate change expedition? Why didn’t Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa go?

Sexwale smiles. “Good question. But I was not a government representative on this trip. This was a personal invite from Al Gore himself. I was invited as a thinker. He doesn’t see me as South Africa’s human settlements minister.”

Gore and Sexwale became close friends nearly a decade ago when Sexwale, who was Gauteng’s premier at the time, hosted Gore when the then American vice-president visited then president Nelson Mandela.

Sexwale’s attention shifts to a picture of his children on his mahogany desk. Chris and Gabriella joined him on the week-long expedition at the beginning of the month after Gabriella, a photographer, insisted on coming along.

“Gabriella took the double bed in the cabin. Chris and I had to bunk on a single bed. We were the main manne (men).”

Other high-profile guests on the ship included Richard Branson, filmmaker James Cameron and United Nations climate boss Christiana Figueres.

“She (Figueres) is an impressive leader,” says Sexwale.

He and Figueres discussed why climate change had suddenly gone quiet as a topic after last year’s COP17 talks in Durban.

Says Sexwale: “COP17 was a missed opportunity. The agreement we got was only a procedural agreement. That anything emerged was only due to South Africa and COP president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s good negotiation skills. But the resolutions must not evaporate into thin air.”

“The reality of climate change is that the rise in sea level will flood islands. That was an interesting dynamic we as island owners discussed,” he said.

Sexwale and two other guests who where on the expedition own islands. His island, Quilálea, lies off the coast of Mozambique near Pemba.

“But we will only lose property. Islands such as the Maldives will lose their livelihood. That is devastating.”

The expedition started in the world’s most southern city, Ushuaia in Argentina.

“Our entry was not difficult. It was actually like Lake Placid. As we got closer, the Sentinels of Antarctica got bigger and bigger. They towered over us.”

But it was the expedition’s scientists who impressed Sexwale the most.

“We can contain climate change,” he says. “But then we should build on the science. It will be the science that will win this for us. I want to start a philanthropic campaign to invest in the technical knowledge that will solve this. I want to champion this campaign.”

He ends the interview in a philosophical mood: “People on my island say when the baobabs die, it is the end of the earth. Maybe we should pay more heed to that.”


Real story behind Sexwale’s iPad

It has been brought to City Press’ attention that Minister Tokyo Sexwale did not recover his iPad as a result of a call he made to the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa as reported by the newspaper.

The report created the unfortunate impression that members of the SAPS and Mthethwa does favours for people he knows in the execution of his duties.

Sexwale reported the theft of his iPad at the OR Tambo International Airport police station on his return from Cape Town following the State of the Nation Address, two weeks ago.

Seven days later, the police made an arrest and recovered the iPad. Sexwale was informed of these developments by the investigating officer.

It is only then that he called Mthethwa to congratulate him about the good work the police are doing.

We apologise for the error and for the inconvenience caused to all parties concerned.

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