FEEL GOOD | Eco-warriors on ice: 5 matrics to explore Antarctic with renowned adventurer Riaan Manser

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Riaan Manser on August 31, 2011 in Iceland.
Riaan Manser on August 31, 2011 in Iceland.
PHOTO: Marianne Schwankhart/Gallo Images
  • Five matric pupils were chosen out of hundreds to explore the Antarctic with Riaan Manser.
  • The "Matrics in Antarctic" team will be leaving the country on 27 January.
  • They will be in the Antarctic for five days.

It was their understanding of what needs to be done locally to deal with climate change that earned five South African matric pupils a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conquer the icy terrain of the Antarctic with renowned explorer Riaan Manser.

Ayakha Melithafa, Cobus Burger, Thea Juanita Earnest, Boiketlo Lamula and Kelby Barker were chosen out of hundreds of matric applicants to join Manser on a five-day scientific adventure in Antarctica.

Applicants needed to submit a piece related to climate change, followed by a video of those who made it to the next round and then finally, an interview with the top 10.

Renowned adventurer Riaan Manser
Riaan Manser reflects on the incredible ALCI plane that will take the top five to Antarctica.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

"The process was a lot of fun. It was wonderful to reach out and get a sense of what is happening in the education system. What stood out was to be able to engage with these youngsters, with tomorrow's minds.

"When we talk about the environment and saving the planet, you can't be talking to people like you and me who are already in the system, you have to hear from these young students," Manser told News24.

On Monday, Basic Education Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule announced the winners during a virtual event.

'I am a climate justice activist'

No stranger to taking the fight for climate change internationally, Melithafa is an eco-warrior from the Centre of Science and Technology, a school in the Western Cape.

Her signature was one of 16, including 18-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg's, on a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for failing to adequately address climate issues.

Melithafa said she hoped she would be able to take all she learnt from the trip and put it to use in the environment around her.

Ayakha Melithafa is one of the five students
Ayakha Melithafa is one of the five students who have been selected to go to Antarctica.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

"The only way we can truly know what is happening in other places and truly sympathise with other people is if we experience the same thing.

"If I am able to experience it, I will be able to articulate what is happening in our world more and make sure that our grievances are being heard because the Antarctic is really suffering, ice caps are melting, and people need to give that aspect of the world more attention because we are all going to be affected by what is happening out there.

"I am a climate justice activist and sometimes we protest against inactive climate change work in South Africa. I am also a part of policy drafting.

"What I do is fight for the marginalised so that we can have more climate literacy, because most times people of colour or people that are poor don't know what is happening in our society and economy and normally they get the worst of it," she added.

Global warming affects Africa 'greatly'

In KwaZulu-Natal, Earnest's work with her community of Verulam in Durban, planting vegetable gardens and outreaches to other communities opened her eyes to how global warming on a macro scale affected small communities.

"When you go to those communities you see the kind of suffering people endure in terms of a lack of facilities and whilst those problems may be structural, there could also be an environmental connection to the situation," she said.

Thea Juanita Earnest is one of five students
Thea Juanita Earnest is one of five students who have been selected to go to Antarctica.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

"After doing a lot of reading, I realised that global warming, although it may be perpetuated in places like America, on a larger scale, it affects continents like Africa greatly. That's when I realised that small changes to how you live can contribute greatly to how we as people are suffering because of the actions of corporates."

Earnest added she hoped that all she learnt while in Antarctica would help her pursue her studies in geospatial sciences.

'You have to take up the responsibility'

In her application to the Antarctica programme, Barker looked at how the litter problem in Makhanda (previously Grahamstown) was a multi-layered issue that needed to be addressed by various stakeholders.

Kelby Barker is one of five students
Kelby Barker is one of five students who have been selected to go to Antarctica.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

She sent in her application to challenge her abilities and take a chance after a challenging 2020 and hoped other youth would be inspired by the journey to take up arms against climate change.

"In this day and age, you can't not be environmentally inclined. The climate crisis and the way it is going we can't afford for anyone not to care, otherwise there won't be a future for us or our children. You have to take up the responsibility that has been given to you," said Barker.

'There are no plants here anymore'

Burger said he was ready to trade in the 40-degree weather in the Northern Cape for the -40-degree weather in Antarctica.

His passion for the environment and desire to influence it was borne from witnessing his province endure a drought and how that affected his own family, who own a farm.

Cobus Burger is one of five students
Cobus Burger is one of five students who have been selected to go to Antarctica.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

"There are no plants here anymore, so we must have a love for the environment, if you don't look after the plants you are destroying the environment," said Burger.

He is looking into going into farming and will study agriculture and plant science.

'I want to impact the world'

During their time on ice, the group will be conducting various experiments that have been prepared by the University of Stellenbosch, something Lamula from Gauteng is most looking forward to. She found out about the programme while browsing the internet catching up on the latest news.

Boiketlo Lamula is one of five students
Boiketlo Lamula is one of five students who have been selected to go to Antarctica.

"Climate change has been really concerning and is something that I have been interested in, so I really want to make a difference in the world and contribute to making someone's life better. I hope to learn a lot that will help me in my career in the future and I want to impact the world," said Lamula.

The group will be in isolation in Cape Town before jetting off on 27 January 2021.

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