Locally Led Adaption – interview with Ditebogo

In the sixth of a series of articles by our Youth Newsroom reporters, Tshegofatso Matlou from South Africa interviews a young climate activist, her fellow-countrywomen Ditebogo Lebea.

Locally Led Adaption – interview with Ditebogo

Ditebogo Lebea

Ditebogo Lebea is a South African activist who is most passionate about climate justice and youth advocacy. She enjoys reading, hiking, travel and baking/cooking. Her favourite part about activism is seeing the change and engagement through workshops and conferences that she attends. Ditebogo has experience in international climate change negotiations, and  attended Council of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (COP) 22 to COP 25; COP 25 as a junior negotiator.

How did you become interested in climate change?

I got interested in climate change after seeing the effects first hand. I saw how people like my family in Limpopo were disproportionately affected by climate change and how it impacted the way we had to live. I also saw how vulnerable they are in comparison to us who are cushioned by privilege in the city.

How was your family impacted by climate change?

There is no running water at my grandparents house and so when there are droughts, access to water is extremely limited. This water shortage makes it very difficult for them to water their crops and also just to live. There have also been cases of extreme floods and due to a lack of strong and solid infrastructure, there have been homes that were damaged by these floods.

Do you think enough is being done to address climate change impacts like those in your community? 

There are a lot of people trying to make a change in their own communities by advocating for climate action. I think it just goes back to the understanding of the term climate change because it’s easier to address the issue when you know what the term means. But if you don’t understand what the term means, then it becomes a lot more difficult to try and begin addressing its challenges. There’s been a lot of work done by the international community, so a lot more people are becoming more aware and putting in the work to change their individual behaviors. The only thing making me sad is how slow policy makers are, especially when there needs to be a bigger push for legislation that will drive us towards a more climate resilient future.

Why do you think policy makers are slow on that front?

I think it's because we don't have enough policy makers seeing climate change as an intersectional issue. In South Africa at the moment, we have the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of gender-based violence, poverty and racial issues but we are not making the linkages as to how climate change is exacerbating these existing issues. Young people have been great at pushing for intersectional legislation and I think it's time that our policy makers listen to us. I know sometimes intergenerational dialogue can be challenging but we need to break such barriers and work together to find these solutions.

You spoke a bit on young people’s roles, how do you think they can better represent  their communities on locally led adaptation in spaces with policy makers?

As young people we need to walk into spaces with the intention of learning, and through that process adding our inputs based on personal experience. We are so innovative, creative, and we have a lot of knowledge and great ideas, Therefore we need to see ourselves in various fields creating that change for our communities. It is also our responsibility to educate those back home to ensure that they are not constantly in a disadvantaged position. Young people need to look at where they are living, what challenges they are seeing and how they can fix that. For example, boreholes can be built in spaces where there is a water shortage.

What do you want to see in conversations around locally led adaptation?

More inclusion of indigenous knowledge systems. I remember being at a meeting once where a climate change policy on agriculture and water was being presented. A traditional healer asked why policy makers do not consult them before presenting these policies. As traditional healers, they are dependent on plants and herbs for their medicines and practice as a whole, therefore they are directly impacted by climate change. More than that, they also have a lot of knowledge about how the environment works because they work so closely with it.

On the point that was raised above, why do you think it is important to include various representatives from communities in conversations about adaptation?

It goes back to the fact that climate change is seen as an elitist topic. Global climate change discussions speak of reducing things like water use. However, people in my home town in Limpopo don't have flushing toilets, they have pit latrines and for access to water they have to go to streams. How can we tell them to use water sparingly when that is all they know? It is the equivalent of telling them not to use water at all. Policy makers often legislate from a point of privilege, assuming that everyone has equal access to resources. That's why it is important that we include representatives of different communities especially in South Africa where climate change has exacerbated poverty. This will ensure that different realities are taken into account.

As a climate activist, do you feel like you are making a change?

I do, and I think the moment I knew that I did was when one of the participants from the Limpopo model legislature quoted me months later at the Young leaders Conference. He said “I remember Ditebogo told me that before I can unpack a topic, I should ask myself ‘what is the state of my community and what my role in addressing it is?’” He said that is how he approached every challenge moving forward. In that moment that was enough for me. As a climate advocate I have taken time to identify my entry and my role and now that I can help others find theirs, I am fulfilled.

Tshegofatso Matlou (South Africa)