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May 20, 2020

Generation Z is coming for city council: Doha Khan on continuing the fight

CityMag met 18-year-old environmental activist Doha Khan a couple of days after the result of the City of Adelaide central ward election was delivered, and despite not winning this round, she says she’s already sharpening her sword for the next skirmish.

  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

“I encountered racism while running for city council,” Doha Khan says, with the sun setting behind her, haloing her headscarf.

“I got other candidates not really taking me seriously, or not negotiating with me as if I were a serious candidate, quite a bit.

“It’s just about kind of showing them that you can do it anyway – proving them wrong.”

Doha Khan was one of eight candidates who campaigned from April to May to fill the Adelaide city council’s empty central ward seat.

The position became vacant when former Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad suddenly resigned from council in January to pursue a career in Saudi Arabia.


When the supplementary election was called, CityMag published a handy guide showing how the Adelaide city council landscape could change with a new player.

The candidates each vied to represent the interests of the central ward – a predominantly business-oriented area in the CBD, covering the top of the River Torrens to the bottom of Wright Street.

Doha was working at myGov, her side job, when results from the 2,000 votes came through last Thursday. She says she felt a “massive bowl of anxiousness in her stomach.”

“But I was actually pretty happy with the results,” she says.

“I had managed my expectations well enough to know that I wouldn’t be smashing the election, going against an excellent councillor and a property council executive.

“I still see it as a bit of a win and I’m proud of how I performed.”

Doha garnered 140 first-preference votes, whereas the winning candidate, SA History Trust CEO and former city council member, Greg Mackie, collected 568. Greg will now fill the seat and is expected to advocate for a public art trust and a reduction in red tape for festivals and events.

Although she lost this time, Doha describes the experience as “eye-opening”.

In high school, Doha was taken by Legal Studies. City council politics was where theory and reality collided for her.

“It was worlds apart,” she says.

“Going into it with basically no experience or expert advice was a massive learning curve”

Doha belongs to Gen Z. This is a cohort characterised as being politically and globally minded, counting 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg in its ranks.

Fighting climate change is tough, but Doha knows the end goal is worth it.


Doha originally entered the public eye when she helped organise the South Australian chapter of the School Strike 4 Climate protests.

The then-16-year-old rallied on the steps of Parliament House with 300 other students, demanding the State Government commit to only renewable energy within 10 years, and create opportunities for those looking to move out of the fossil fuel industry.

Three years later, that small throng grew to 20,000 people, she says.

Fiddling with a campaign sign she’d taken down now that campaigning is over, Doha explains that the reason she ran for council was because she’d previously felt ignored as a young person.

As someone who is only newly eligible to vote, Doha thought running for city council would be a time to change the script and give young people a voice.

But while campaigning, Doha was told by 26-year-old Deputy Lord Mayor Alex Hyde, the youngest councillor elected for city council, that “ageism is at its worst in politics,” she says.

“[My critics] need to realise that democracy is about representative government and such a huge segment of our society is made up of young people,” she says.

“It’s so important that we have young people fighting for young people.”

If we don’t band together, and if we don’t pick ourselves up and get over it, then you don’t really have much left

Convinced of this fight for representation, Doha ditched school when planning or attending strikes. As a result, her ATAR suffered – “I got a D+ on my chemistry exam,” she says, laughing – which means she has to re-sit one more subject to complete high school to her standard.

In this way, Doha is like any regular 18-year-old. And outside of campaigning, she tries to find the time to bake large, fancy cakes and go on “GYG dates” with her friends.

This is an acronym that made CityMag feel really old.

“It’s Guzman y Gomez,” she says.

“But it’s like I’ve forgotten how to be like a normal teenager.

“I’ve just had no time because between Year 12 and strike organising and exams, I don’t really have much time.”

Despite losing this round, Doha says she wants to run for city council at the next opportunity

“Probably [for] the South Ward” because it’s more of a residential area, and she feels she can connect more with those ratepayers, she says.

When looking to her future, it’s notable to CityMag that Doha seems unfazed by her election loss. She speaks with a strong, unwavering voice.

“If we don’t band together, and if we don’t pick ourselves up and get over it, then you don’t really have much left,” she says.

“Because if you give up then you’ve definitely lost, but if you try again, there’s a chance you might win next time.”

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