There is no social justice without environmental justiceDate Released: Fri, 28 September 2018 14:56 +0200
By Lelethu Tonisi, Journalism & Media Studies postgraduate student
The annual Environmental Awards promote environmental awareness and acknowledge the work of those who quietly soldier on to promote sustainability. Hosted by Professor Jo Dames and Professor Hugo Nel of the Rhodes University Environmental Committee (RUEC), the celebratory event was held on Tuesday 25 September at Eden Grove.
According to Prof Dames, the Environmental Awards are the University’s way of extending gratitude for the significant contributions groups and individuals make not just to the Rhodes community, but to the greater Grahamstown community.
The keynote address was presented by RUEC member and Safety, Health, and Environmental Officer, Ms Nikki Ko?hly, who is sadly retiring from Rhodes in January 2019.
Prof Nel praised Ko?hly’s exemplary work as a committee member who has dedicated much of her valuable time and noteworthy efforts to the environmental cause. “Nikki has been excelling not only at Rhodes, but as part of her work with NGOs, forums and community organisations within the Makana community.”
Ko?hly has also been actively involved in the process of designing and implementing a new environmental sustainability policy for Rhodes University. “We are not sure at this stage how we are going to continue without her,” added Prof Nel.
Ko?hly acknowledged a transformation in people’s mindsets through the slow yet steady shift away from narrow self-interest to an enlightened self-interest – which means they are “doing well [for themselves] by doing good [for the environment and others].”
“Section 24 of South Africa’s Constitution focuses on our rights. It states that we all have ‘the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislation and other measures’. However, the problem is that the responsibility and the power to act is mostly in the hands of government. And is our government really interested in our environmental rights?” she questioned.
Ko?hly believes it is time for people in South Africa to take power and act on behalf of the environment in which we live, despite a lack of governmental support. “We will only have social justice when there is environmental justice,” she emphasised.
This year’s Environmental Awards recipients were Dylan McGarry in the Individual Category, and the Common Ground Society in the Student Society/Residence category.
McGarry was honored for his work in co-founding and developing branding for the Sustainability Commons at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), as well as for his contributions to encourage sustainability on campus and in Grahamstown since 2001. His organisation, The Arkwork Collective, was responsible for the ‘Greening the Green’ initiative, which has provided recycling services to the National Arts Festival since 2009. He also enacted the first Student Environmental Organisation at Rhodes and was subsequently involved in the international Environmental Management for Sustainable Universities (EMSU) Conference in 2002. Furthermore, he has initiated research, teaching, and community engagement activities for sustainability.
The Common Ground Society was rewarded for its revolutionary approach to teaching the benefits of local food systems by creating a social gardening space where students can engage in a relaxed social setting while developing skills that promote food sovereignty, self-sufficiency and urban resilience. Engaging in dialogue and hands-on learning, the social gardening exercise also helps students gain a sense of personal fulfilment. The Common Ground Society share educational material via email, social media and print it for students at the gardening meetings. Their posts on Facebook are insightful, encouraging, and vibrant.
Also commendable, the runners-up for this year are:
• Chad Keates (Individual Category)
• Desmond Tutu Hall (Student Society/Residence Category)
• Adelaide Tambo House (Student Society/Residence Category)
• Victoria Mxenge House (Student Society/Residence Category)
More info at www.ru.ac.za/environment/awards/2018awards