South Africa: Environmental Champ of the Year – Civil Justice Activist Ferrial Adam

The executive manager of WaterCAN is turning the tide on water security in South Africa.

In 1983 in Lenasia, Ferrial Adam was just 11 years old when she went to her first anti-apartheid meeting. Adam is the youngest of five siblings in a family that didn’t shy away from political issues, and human rights have always been at the forefront of her mind.

After taking part in anti-apartheid rallies and protests throughout high school, just before she started university Adam watched Nelson Mandela speak as a free man in 1990, when she was among the crowd on the Grand Parade in Cape Town.

“It was that activism, that critique [of the system], that influenced me to look at justice as a broader issue,” said Adam. “It was always an aspect of keeping human rights and justice at the forefront of everything I did. And so it was almost like a natural progression into issues around the environment.”

She said people used to talk about environmentalism as only being about conservation, not about people. She gravitated to environmental justice because it brought those two things together. After studying geology at university, Adam said her passion for activism and her passion for the environment merged into environmental justice.

When she was working for environmental justice NPO GroundWork…

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