200 Young South Africans: Environment

In this section: Claire Janisch, Gven nkuna, Jane Reddick, Tumelo Ramolefi and more…

Claire Janisch

Biomimicry Specialist

‘Nature has had 3,8-billion years of research and development, and we’ve only had 1 200,” says Claire Janisch, one of only a handful of biomimicry specialists in the world. Her job may seem obscure, but it’s all about turning science fiction into science fact.

Scientists in this field believe humans can learn to live sustainably by emulating strategies used in nature. Architects design more resilient buildings by investigating termite mounds, computer scientists use the human brain as a template for building super computers, and material engineers study abalone shells to create lightweight materials that are stronger than anything we have today.

Janisch began her career as a chemical engineer, a field she says focuses on “making oil and petrol and toxic plastics, things that cause environmental disasters”.
So for her first master’s degree she specialised in environmental process engineering and studied cleaner production techniques. She went further with her second master’s, studying biomimicry to learn how to design sustainable systems from start to finish.

“You have to think in systems. If you don’t, you’ll always end up with little bits that you have to fi x,” she says. And that’s not how nature works.

In the past few years she’s been to the Amazon, Costa Rica and the United States to study how different ecosystems have adapted to suit their environment.

In South Africa, Janisch teaches students, educators and corporates about biomimicry and has worked with organisations as diverse as the Johannesburg Zoo, the CSIR and the Ford Motor Company to help improve their efficiency and sustainability.

Outside of biomimicry, Janisch focuses her efforts on cultivating genius. She helped found the Genius Lab, an organisation that works with children and adults to inspire creative thinking.

“If the world was in a lot of trouble, we’d need genius and new ideas, not repeating the mistakes of the past,” she says.—Faranaaz Parker

Lunch spot: Tumble Downs Café and Restaurant, Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal

Jane Reddick

Co-founder: Aurora Power Solutions

In 2008 a 25-year-old Jane Reddick started a renewable energy initiative, Aurora Power Solutions, with three other partners. The company’s aim is to be one of the first independent power producers in South Africa to develop large-scale solar power projects - and it’s well on its way to success: the group has already secured some investment cash from a multinational private equity fi rm.

Reddick holds a first-class honours in chemical engineering from the university of Cape Town and was awarded the Sasol “in recognition of excellence” award in 2004. She went on to complete her master’s degree, focusing on pollution reduction in the coal-mining industry. She was also awarded the Magdalene Mandela Scholarship to do a second master’s in engineering for sustainable Development at Cambridge university, before bringing her
expertise back to South Africa.

“Government is going to pay developers a premium to develop solar energy,” Reddick says. “But the bid for funding is yet to be opened up.” When it is, it will mean great things for Aurora’s work, and for the future of sustainable energy in South Africa.—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Newport Deli, Green Point, Cape Town

Duncan MacFadyen

Research and Conservation Manager:

E Oppenheimer & Son

Dedicated conservationist Duncan MacFayden believes that human beings can learn a lot from bugs. “We can live and work together in harmony,” he says.

MacFayden caught the love of all things nature related from his father; now he is passionate about passing the bug to the younger generation.

His kids’ book, Tuggy’s Busy Day, has a dung beetle for a hero, and he is working on Betty and Ken’s New Home (about butterflies) and Manny and Lindiwe Make a Move, featuring a praying mantis and a dragon fly.

For grownups there’s A Landscape of Insects and other Invertebrates, which celebrates the diversity of insect life.

MacFadyen has a master’s degree in nature conservation, an Msc in entomology and zoology, and is busy finishing a PhD on mammals in the Bankenveld. He is also the manager of research and conservation for E Oppenheimer & Son and sits on the De Beers biodiversity and environmental peer group committees.—Duduzile Mathebula

Lunch spot: Cool Runnings, Hatfield, Pretoria

Tumelo Ramolefi

Founder: Leqheker

Tumelo Ramolefi , known as Tumi to his employees, has been involved in community-based projects ever since he left high school. But now he teeters on the line between smart environmentalism and smart business.

“I sell renewable energy,” says Ramolefi , who started his business out of concern for the environment, but formed the community-based company, Leqheker, when he saw the demand for renewable energy. Ramolefi sells and personally installs solar water geysers and solar panels and also supplies gel fuel—an environmentally friendly alternative to paraffin.

Among the installations for which his company has been responsible are a demonstration solar water geyser and panels in Pietermaritzburg and a solar geyser and a water pump that generates power for lighting and office equipment on a farm near Sebokeng.—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Organic lunch at Leqheker offices, Germiston


Given Nkuna

Managing Director: Le2 Designs

Le2 Designs is a passion its managing director, Given Nkuna, has been working at for more than six years.

He specialises in designing and making products such as scarves and handbags from felt—compressed from all-natural woollen fibres, which, he says, are “good for the environment” .

In 2009 Nkuna was honoured as the British Council’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Nkuna is the only young man in the local industry to make felt products by hand.

“People buy it because it is unique and different — and because it is proudly South African and local.”

He always knew he wanted to be self-employed and, while working for a spray-coating company, made crafts on the side. In 2004 he completed a NQF 4 in micro craft enterprise leadership and went on to take part in numerous exhibitions and shows. He is also project manager of a recycling project called the Green Footprint Education Intervention Project.

The project holds workshops in different communities, showing how recyclables can, through the use of craft, be turned into products.

Le2 Designs also offer services such as skills development and team-building.—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Any Indian restaurant, Fordsburg, Johannesburg

Joanne Rolt

Programme Manager: EduPlant and Trees for Homes, Food and Trees for Africa

Joanne Rolt never had a particular interest in environmental issues. “I studied photography at Pretoria Tech,” she says. But after fi nishing the course Rolt went on to specialise in documentary photography. “I decided to follow the organisation [Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA)] around for a year and document their work.”

Once she was familiar with the organisation Rolt was asked to help out with administration for a month. “It has been a very long month,” says Rolt, who joined FTFA in August 2004.

Now she manages two separate programmes for FTFA - EduPlant and Trees for Homes. EduPlant is a nationwide initiative to teach community educators “how to create and maintain food gardens and how to make a success of it,” says Rolt.

Between January and March of this year EduPlant held 72 workshops across the country, reaching more than 8 000 educators. The next phase, a programme supported by Absa, Engen and Woolworths Trust, will have schools across the country entering a competition to showcase their food gardens.

“It’s really about changing mindsets,” says Rolt, whose aim is to “teach communities about climate change, sustainable natural resource use and management, food production and how to be resourceful.”

Trees for Homes identifies a group of volunteers from each community who are given a crash course in how to educate their neighbours about planting and looking after trees, to address climate change and improve the environment. To date, Trees for Homes (together with its sponsors and the help of provincial governments) has planted more than 600 000 trees in disadvantaged communities.

Although Rolt deals with a great deal of paperwork, she has retained her passion for photography and is always keen to “try to get out there to take pics” .

“Some of my best shots are from being in the communities, planting trees. These pictures help to educate and raise awareness within the communities as well as more broadly through corporate reporting and FTFA website and newsletters.”

Rolt was a finalist in this year’s Johnny Walker Strides green award and is the first person to have won a bursary from Intec to study carbon footprint analysis.

“I am so glad I stumbled upon this,” says Rolt. “I really feel I am making a difference in some way.”—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Rocket Restaurant and Cocktail Bar, Rivonia, Johannesburg

Tribute Mboweni

Field Ranger: Dassen Island

Tribute Mboweni’s entry into conservation started with tears. She had to cry to convince administrators at the Tshwane university of Technology to register her for an ecotourism management course.

But the passionate environmentalist, who is now stationed on Dassen Island as a field ranger, does not regret her outburst in the least and proved herself during her undergraduate studies, winning the prize for best wildlife guide.

Her workplace on Dassen Island is not open to the public, primarily to protect the seabird and shorebird species that breed and roost there. She handles everything from biodiversity monitoring, to supervising visitors and ensuring environmental law compliance.

Mboweni participated in the making of an 8-mm fi lm documentary, Working with Nature, on South Africa’s biodiversity and the people who care for it and is chairperson and one of the two founder members of Projekt 23—The Green Movement, which uplifts poor communities by greening their neighbourhoods. The project caught the eye of pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which chose Mboweni to represent South Africa at the 2009 Bayer Young Environmental Envoys field trip in Germany at the end of last year.

In February this year, she was selected to represent South Africa as minister of environment at the G8/ G20 Youth Summit in Vancouver, Canada.—Yolandi Groenewald

Lunch spot: Homemade sandwiches, overlooking the lighthouse, Dassen Island

Lebo Dithako

Founder: Oxywaste Management

Lebo Dithako has been making crafts from recycled material since he was in school—only it was a hobby back then. But when Dithako, a former construction worker, found himself in urgent need of employment, his craft soon became an innovative environmental project.

Oxywaste Management has been running for almost five years and now employs three people from the community of Moletsane in Soweto. He generates income by cleaning bins for more than 300 households and is also beginning to educate the community about source separation. Dithako recycles cans and Tetra Paks found in the bins and transforms them into products such as wallets and caps.

“I sell my stuff to tourists — and people who love art,” he says. He has also started teaching others how to make crafts, “but I don’t have a workshop or anything like that”. Oxywaste Management has initiated several cleaning campaigns and Dithako is also working with his local councillor on a project that aims to develop a park from a dump site.—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Thokoza Park, Rockville, Soweto

Shahil Juggernath

C&I Engineer, Eskom

Shahil Juggernath’s philosophy is “it’s not about talking green; it’s about doing green”. He graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal less than three years ago, with a BSc in electronic engineering, and is now taking a part-time engineering course at the university of Pretoria.

Concurrently working for Eskom, Juggernath, 25, is the youngest lead engineer on an Eskom wind farm project and is also involved in several other exciting projects.

“I basically threw myself into the project,” he says, excited by the challenge of making a success of the wind farm and the opportunity to explore renewable energy sources. His hope is that one day the project will feed 100MW of wind energy into the grid.

When thinking logistically about the wind farm, Juggernath says, uniquely South African aspects must be taken into consideration. For instance, when it comes to the question of whether to place the transformers (which contain copper) at the bottom or the top of the wind turbine, Juggernath believed it would be best “to not put them at the bottom”—as theft of copper is one of those uniquely South African issues.

Another challenge Juggernath faces is the cost cutting in most industries: “We need to find the best solution at the cheapest price.”

Having grown up in a fiercely politically active family, Juggernath believes that although part of the revolution is over doesn’t mean we must stop caring about bettering people’s lives. He believes we all need to use our skills to “help the world” .— Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Fratelli, Greenside, Johannesburg

Tselios Phalane

Founder: Indali Food Project and Youth in Agriculture

Tshediso Phalane’s interest in the environment started in grade 11 when he took on landscaping jobs in order to earn money for transport to school and back. While fi nishing matric, Phalane began the Indali project, teaching people of all ages how to grow organic food. He now works with 80 young people (80% of whom are female) at the Indali farm near the Vaal River and focuses on youth development and the environment.

Indali has an outreach programme that goes to schools to teach the youth how to grow their own produce. Phalane says the message he is trying to spread is simple: “You have to work for yourself in order to eat ” .

Every Friday Phalane and his team visit a government school and cook a lunch, using their organically grown produce. In 2004, he spent two months on a Clinton fellowship in the united States (where he spent time with the former US president) and in both 2005 and 2006 he won the Jet community award in recognition of his outstanding work.—Lisa Steyn

Lunch spot: Chief Bambatha Primary School, Everton West, Vaal

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