The hero of this story is Nhlakanipho Shabalala, also known by one of his other names, Thomas.
After growing up on a farm outside Breyten, a small farming town in Mpumalanga, he obtained a BSc degree in Community Water Services and Sanitation at the University of Limpopo. His time there sparked a desire to preserve the environment by becoming an environmental activist. This spurred him to engage with like-minded people globally through international organisations, flying off to various conferences to learn how to tackle the problems. He commented on his experiences at one of these:
“I was blown away with all the people I met there. People with bright ideas, who are passionate about all things environmental and are willing to fight for what they believe in.”
His practical projects, however, are all centred on Breyten. He says that he has changed some local people’s mindsets, attracting them to work with him in keeping the environment clean. They focus on cleaning up illegal dumping sites, such as the one that lay alongside Masizakhe Secondary School. They collect waste, separate it and, at the moment, sell it to be recycled. So there is also some small-scale job creation. All this in his spare time.
Thomas is dreaming big. The vision is eventually to produce goods from their own recycled materials. To this end, a business incubator and entrepreneurship Section 21 company has been started. They have had some minor support from the provincial government by way of a fenced-in piece of ground to store the sorted recyclables.
The vision here is to clean the schools, ensure their yards are clean, that recycling happens within the school yards, and every child respects and loves the environment.
He is also spreading the preservation message further afield as a motivational speaker on environmental issues and as an adviser to other environmental activists.
Thomas has his eye on the youth in his community, targeting the local schools. The vision here is to clean the schools, ensure their yards are clean, that recycling happens within the school yards, and every child respects and loves the environment. The carrot for the children would be their schools competing in various youth environmental competitions within South Africa and internationally. And they will carry the message to their parents – spreading the new mindset.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted these plans, and they have resorted to social media to discuss a way forward after the crisis has passed.
He’s taken on a tough job but he’s not giving up!
Edited By: Val Bruce
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