Young SA climate activists join explorer Riaan Manser on Antarctica adventure

Five environmentally minded matrics have set off with the explorer on an educational trip of a lifetime.

young sa climate activists join explorer riaan manser on antarctica adventure - Young SA climate activists join explorer Riaan Manser on Antarctica adventure

Ayakha Melithafa, from the Centre of Science and Technology (Cosat) in Khayelitsha, is one of the five matrics from the class of 2020 who left Cape Town on Tuesday on the all-expenses-paid trip to Antarctica.

The matrics won their places after entering a competition, Manser’s brainchild, at the start of the lockdown in 2020. The competition drew more than 3,000 entries from across South Africa. Matrics had to answer this question:

“If saving nature and the environment is a world problem – how can YOU help? What can you do in your own hometown that you believe will make a positive impact on the planet and possibly Antarctica?”

Matrics to spend five days in Antarctica

a88b9c3b ayakha melithafa photo - Young SA climate activists join explorer Riaan Manser on Antarctica adventure
Ayakha Melithafa is gaining a reputation as a powerful young voice for environmental activism. Image: Supplied

The winners were announced on 11 January and flew out to Antarctica with the Antarctica Logistics Centre International (ALCI) to spend five days on the virtually uninhabited continent.

The team from Stellenbosch University will be led by Professor Jonathan Jansen.

Ayakha will be joined by Cobus Burger from Hoërskool Duineveld in the Northern Cape, Boiketlo Lamula from Sedaven High School in Gauteng, Thea Earnest from Mountview Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal and Kelby Barker from Diocesan School for Girls in the Eastern Cape.

Young climate activist’s dream of a low-carbon future

Ayakha is a young climate justice activist whose entry focused on her work as a spokesperson for the African Climate Alliance. In 2020, she attended the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to urge world leaders to take drastic action on the climate crisis.

In February, she will be inaugurated as a member of the Presidency’s Co-ordinating Committee on Climate Change. Like several pupils at Cosat, she is part of Project 90 by 2030, an organisation advocating for a sustainably developed and equitable low-carbon future. 

Cosat principal Phaldiela Cooper said she was proud of Ayakha whose efforts were rewarded by her being chosen for this unique opportunity.

“I am very happy that a learner from Khayelitsha can represent the Western Cape. She has been working very hard in the community to bring attention to the climate crisis and urge people to take care of the environment.”

Matrics learn about sustainability

Fadli Wagiet from Stellenbosch University said he was impressed with the calibre of the winners. In the week before they left, the matrics were exposed to a holistic programme focused on sustainability and alleviating poverty.

“Through this programme, we want to develop future leaders who are ethical and have a passion to be part of change. We expect the students to plough back what they have learnt in their communities and the projects that they are involved in,” Wagiet said.

“They are all very passionate about the environment and positive change. Our role is to facilitate and guide them.”

What they will learn and see in Antarctica

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Riaan Manser with the ALCI plane that flew the group to Antarctica this week. Image: Supplied

While in Antarctica, the pupils will do experiments and go on an overnight adventure camp. They will learn about Antarctica and the scientific research being done there, while also being enriched through personal development.

Manser said the trip was focused on environmental education and enrichment, exploration and developing future leaders with a strong environmental ethos.

“The group will be challenged to craft solutions to environmental issues such as pollution, water scarcity, food security and finding sustainable energy sources while including people and planet health.

Matrics will also get to have fun on icy continent

“They will get the opportunity to do hands on experiments analysing freshwater in Antarctica, biodiversity observations, a litter clean-up on the ice, as well as human physiology investigations with regards to the body’s response to the icy conditions.”

The matrics will explore the Queen Maud Land area, visit ice tunnels and walls, tour the nearby Russian research station and view incredible rock formations.

“With 24-hour sunlight, they will have plenty of time for fun activities such as ice tennis,” Manser said.

Manser, who himself has plenty of life experience gained during his adventures, said the group would return “with a much broader understanding of their impact on this world and how they can inspire their communities to work together to reduce their carbon footprint”.

Group’s lockdown marathon before departure

The five spent seven nights quarantined at Cape Town’s luxurious Table Bay Hotel in the V&A Waterfront before flying to the ALCI Airbase in Novolazarevskaya. While isolating at the hotel they learnt about various sustainability initiatives.

With their educator Delecia Davids and Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation CEO Maryke Musson, they also attempted a co-ordinated ultra-marathon from their individual rooms.

The group ran a combined distance of 50km made up of at least 5,000 laps from window to door. Musson ran 21km with the rest of the team clocking the remaining 29km. They also calculated the overall carbon footprint of their expedition.

To follow their journey, visit “Matrics in Antarctica” on FacebookTwitter or Instagram, or visit the Matrics in Antarctica website.

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