Alex Rose-Innes

Ayakha Melithafa may only be seventeen and one of the youngest climate activists, but had already proved beyond a doubt the impact young people could make towards a healthier planet.

As one of 16 teenagers who lodged a landmark complaint against governments for their lack of action to address climate action to the United Nations (UN), her passion for inclusivity of people of colour in the fight against climate change, had already ensured her recognition among top global activists such as Gretha Thurnberg, who had recently been nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Born in water-scarce South Africa (SA), on a farm in Eerste River in the Western Cape, a suburb of Cape Town, she experienced first-hand the ravages of drought on her mother’s farm in the Eastern Cape Province in SA, which could soon be declared a disaster area. This led to much research on the subject of climate change and Ayaka realised that Africa would suffer even more in the future if something was not done soon. As a student at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha, Melithafa knew that she had to educate others on the effects of climate change.

After joining the environmental organisation, Project 90 by 2030, who is committed to ensure 90% reduction in carbon dioxide by the end of this decade, there was no stopping this driven young girl. The YouLead project at Project 90 by 2030 also saw this SA teenager at the forefront of this highly successful campaign.

At the same time, Ayakha was approached by the African Climate Alliance and had already positively contributed to its success by becoming a spokesperson and recruitment officer inits youth section. She excels at giving presentations at climate change conferences where she speaks from her heart without any fear of offence.


“Poor people of colour, especially the youth, should join protests and marches. They are most susceptible to the effects of climate change and should have their voices heard and their demands met – Ayakha Melithafa

In a short space of time, Ayakha became the most recognised African voice as she advocates for inclusion of people of colour in the fight against climate change on an international stage. Together with the world’s most renowned youth activists from across the globe, their legal complaint against governments regarding the violation of the Rights of the Child by not taking climate change seriously enough, had achieved more than any other document preciously or since.

Taking on, not only the world’s largest polluters and contributors to global warming, Melithafa has her job cut out for her as SA is way behind meeting the international objectives to negate climate change. In an interview with Daily Maverick, she was quoted as challenging the country’s government to up their ante.

In candid interviews with national and international media, she is adamant that those who create the environmental problems are the more privileged and made it clear that she did not want climate activism to be associated with “people who complain about the quality of their drinking water while people of colour are just grateful to have water.”