Share Their Story

Aakanksha Malik-Nair (35)

Acting Director of Tourism: Western Cape Economic Development

You might think that Cape Town is an automatic magnet for local and international tourists, but making sure that tourism actually creates work and positively contributes to the economy is a job in itself. Akanksha Malik-Nair has that task as Acting Director of Tourism with the Western Cape’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

She’s responsible for developing and implementing the provincial strategy around destination management for the Western Cape, including creating opportunities for the unemployed to be upskilled so they can find work, people development and engage with stakeholders.

One of her first roles in the department was to develop, lead and execute a high priority and multifaceted strategy to combat crime against tourists and ensure their safety.

Tourism wasn’t initially her field, as Malik-Nair first trained in financial services and worked for leading companies including Old Mutual and Sanlam. During those years she was frequently recognised as a future leader and selected for management development and leadership courses.

Then came the career switch. “I had an illustrious career in asset management, but the negative political climate surrounding South Africa and the high emigration rate, propelled me to leave my corporate career and join the government as a civil servant to make an impact at grass root levels,” she explains.

She started university when she was only 16, and holds a degree in statistics and mathematics, but she also won a beauty pageant that gave her the chance to represent South Africa internationally. Promoting the country to the world has now become her career.

Malik-Nair is passionate about empowerment of minorities and is a thought leader on issues that she cares about, including women’s empowerment, opposing inequality and injustice and standing up for the voiceless.

“I am an Afro-optimist who has an unyielding conviction of a bright South African future. I firmly believe that if someone with my aptitude, skills and education does not stand up and be the voice of the destitute, then who will?” she says.

She also believes in life-long learning, and spends time and effort on her personal development and fine tuning her professional leadership skills. She aspires to become a leader on a global stage helping businesses and organisations grow internationally. – Lesley Stones

Twitter: @AakankshaMN

Author -
Thando Mthimkulu (27)

Thando Mthimkulu (27)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

Twenty-seven-year-old transport practitioner for South African Cities Network (SACN) Noluthando (Thando) Mthimkulu was aware of the disparity in spatial planning, one of apartheid’s cruel legacies, from early childhood. As she grew to adulthood, she remained determined to address it.

She lived in Soweto but attended primary school in Craighall. Each day she had to wake up at 4am in order to get to school on time. By the time she arrived at school, her classmates who lived in Craighall were only then waking up.

Because the rest of her family also started their days in the dark in order to get to work in other parts of the city, she never questioned this, but even as a little girl, she knew that something was wrong with this situation.

“I remember my uncle coming to fetch me at school one time. We had to stay behind after school for some sports programme. I remember him walking so fast and struggling to catch up with him,” she says.

Mthimkulu’s uncle was rushing because they had to catch a taxi at Bree taxi rank in downtown Johannesburg. He was anxious that they would miss the last taxi home and be stranded in the city for the night.

“This hustling for modes of transport has never seemed fair to me,” she says. “What makes this even sadder is this is a reality faced by the majority of South Africans living in South African cities.”

To try and solve this problem that is one of the inheritances of apartheid, Mthimkulu studied urban and regional planning at the University of the Witwatersrand, completing her honours in 2015.

“Many people in this white male dominated industry are so far removed from the problems that ordinary Black people face with regards to public transport,” she says. “They have all the right intentions, but because they use their own cars to commute, many of their ideas fail.”

It’s not easy to be a Black woman in this field. But, she says: “I’m persistent and keep showing up, even when my voice is not heard. You have to be persistent about speaking about your lived experiences and those of the people close to you.”

Mthimkulu works in the SACN’s building environment integration programme and is currently reading towards her master’s degree in transportation studies at the University of Cape Town. She intends to pursue a PhD and hopes to do further research into the politics of public transport and the transportation needs of South Africans from all walks of life. She believes that people should not lose out on different aspects of life because they have to spend so much time commuting. – Itumeleng Molefe 

Twitter: @Nolu_Mthimz 

Chuma Fani (28)

Chuma Fani (28)

Chairperson, Western Cape Cultural Commission

The ins and outs, rights and wrongs of corporate governance, have for a long held the passionate interest of 28-year-old policy developer Chuma Fani, a board member for the Western Cape gambling and racing board and chairperson of the Western Cape cultural commission. She plays an important role in helping to ensure good governance and sound decision-making in these institutions.

Here her responsibilities include the development of capacity-building workshops, adjudication over industry matters, consideration of policy development issues and developing arts and culture in the Western Cape.

Also a member of the Institute of Directors, she has completed courses in board effectiveness and corporate governance.

“Hailing from a rural town in Mthatha gave me a better perspective as to what we were doing wrong as a country,” this graduate from the University of the Western Cape explains.

“In the past, South Africa resorted to bringing in consultants to draft policies in relative isolation, which our government took on board to implement without any real critical interrogation.”

Keen to ensure that policymakers properly consider all the data and evidence before they formulate policies, she says:

“My passion lies beyond just developing and implementing policy – it entails improving governance, reforming public institutions and extending consultation to all involved stakeholders in policy making to help shape a better governance system and build a better economy.”

Her work helps to address pertinent issues such as what constitutes acceptable behaviour by organisations and the government. She also helps to develop and implement policies to attract foreign investors and provide an enabling environment for domestic manufacturing.

In 2018 the inter-ministerial committee elected Fani as one of the 100 Women of Fortitude campaign ambassadors.

“Since my election as an ambassador, I have worked to bring light to a number of issues, including policy development and building capacity for other young women in the government sector. My goal is for the next generation of leaders to follow my pattern and apply ethics in all that they do,” she says.

In the future, Fani dreams of working for the African Union, so that she can use her skills to promote pan-African growth and economic development by championing citizen inclusion and increased co-operation of African countries.

She’s also an aspiring businesswoman, and co-owns media company Dominoe Pictures which she founded in order to harness the talents of young people to solve the problems that the world faces. – Lesley Stones 

Twitter: @ChumaFani_

Nokubongwa Mdlalose (30)

Nokubongwa Mdlalose (30)

Head of Strategic Planning Department of Public Enterprises

Making sure that the government delivers on its promises is part of the job description for 30-year-old Nokubongwa (Bongwa) Mdlalose, the head of strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation in the Department of Public Enterprises, where her role includes planning the department’s yearly and five-year strategic initiatives, and monitoring those plans on a quarterly and annual basis.

“I am passionate about this because it involves the roll-out of the promises that the government makes to citizenry. I feel like an active participant in making sure that the government delivers on its mandate,” says this University of the Witwatersrand sociology graduate.

“There is nothing as great as knowing that my everyday task involves serving the country at large.”

Mdlalose, who was raised in Vryheid, a small coal-mining town in KwaZulu-Natal, describes herself as an activist, a mother and a feminist who is passionate about the public sector.

Her career started in the trade unions, working as a researcher in Cosatu’s research institute. Since then she has held several positions in the public sector, both nationally and provincially, including a stint as spokesperson for the Limpopo treasury. She has also served as a director in the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, where she was responsible for strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Later she was appointed head of office for the former deputy minister of public enterprise.

Mdlalose aims to grow in the public sector but to divert into an agency where the work will be more sector-specific. She also wants to pursue her studies further: building on her existing honours degree in industrial sociology and her postgraduate diploma in management from Wits. She is currently busy with her masters degree in management, focusing on conditional grants.

“I would also like to coordinate a series of essays in a book that tells the lived experience of women across all sectors, classes and backgrounds in South Africa to draw parallels on the possible familiar experiences of patriarchy and sexism,” she adds. – Lesley Stones

Twitter: @bongwam

Leston Motsepe (34)

Leston Motsepe (34)

Senior Communications and Brand Manager, City of Ekurhuleni 

Persuading people that the municipality of Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg is an attractive place in which to live, work and invest is the job of 34-year-old Leston Motsepe, a senior communications and brand management officer for the City of Ekurhuleni.

Much of his work revolves around building better communities for its existing citizens, by giving people access to information and access to a city that delivers services efficiently and adds dignity to their living conditions.

Motsepe is a strong believer that public servants are there to serve, and can only bring about transformative change through their efficient services to others.

He was born in the small town of Heilbron in the Free State and finished high school in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. His desire to improve the community stems from his experience of growing up in suburbs impoverished by crime, high unemployment and a lack of economic opportunities. As a result, he’s passionate about supporting affordable housing development projects to offer dignified living spaces to low income families. He’s also committed to developing programmes for young entrepreneurs and academics to help them brainstorm their ideas and give them access to information and tools to put them into action.

He’s the youngest amongst his working peers by 10 years, and he’s driving efforts to use digital technology to enhance the work of the council and its officers. Digital channels are becoming increasingly prevalent in how communities and public officials engage, and allow more active public participation and cooperation. Online communications also allow real time responses to challenges in the city, allowing public servants to reach their citizens faster and more efficiently.

Motsepe finds the work both challenging and exciting, and he’s a huge believer in self-discovery by absorbing the wisdom and knowledge shared by those who have travelled the road before him. He holds a national diploma in communications and marketing and is currently completing a degree in international relations, politics and psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 2017, he was invited to join the inaugural Apolitical Academy fellowship programme started by former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader and Harvard graduate Lindiwe Mazibuko. This is a non-partisan leadership programme designed to develop the next generation of young leaders to occupy public office or political structures.

He’s also a part-time preacher, social activist and speaker at churches and conferences, and was a guest speaker at the International Global Young People’s Convocation 2018, a church conference attended by delegates from over 40 countries. – Lesley Stones

Twitter: @Leston_Paul

Mbali Motsoeneng (26)

Mbali Motsoeneng (26)

Manager: Policy and Planning, Private Office of Executive Mayor, City of Johannesburg

A specialist in policy formulation and planning, Mbali Motsoeneng hopes to change South Africa by reimagining policy in the public sector. She holds a Master’s of Management with specialisation in Public and Development Management at the Wits School of Governance, and is the manager of policy and planning in the office of the executive mayor of Johannesburg.

In the city, she focuses on governance, public safety, public health, fast-tracking key service delivery projects, and setting political directives on the city’s overall policies and strategies. Motsoeneng remarks: “We are still not in a time where our political discourse is effectively addressing socioeconomic issues facing the youth; if we are not fighting for the voiceless or underprivileged, then we are not serious about developing our country. So, educate people, and they will be more likely to challenge systems, structures and policies that disadvantage them.”

Motsoeneng is the national deputy chairperson of the DA Youth. She says: “The youth of the DA are offering a challenging voice, centered on issues of government accountability and transitioning campaigns, and offerings that are realistic and solutions orientated.”

Outside of politics and government, Motsoeneng was selected as a Global Shaper in 2018. She also is the vice chairperson of the alcohol harm reduction project in Alexandra, which addresses alcoholism in the informal settlement.

Twitter: @Mbali_bloom

Bafana Nhlapo (30)

Bafana Nhlapo (30)

Senior Human Resources Business Partner, Absa 

Thirty-year-old activist and politician Bafana Nhlapo, who today is a senior human resources business partner at Absa, was raised by a single mother in a poor family in the township of Orange Farm. “I have personal experience of the effects of poverty and its brutality,” he says. “My view is that we have a generational responsibility to end poverty, eliminate racialised inequality, overcome patriarchy and conquer all forms of classism. I want to be part of creating a much better South Africa and Africa.”

As a student at the University of the Witwatersrand, he was the founding president of the humanitarian fund formed in 2010 by the university’s Student Representative Council. It was created to pay university fees for impoverished students who couldn’t afford their tuition. It’s still operating and has covered fees worth millions of rands.

But Nhlapo distinguished himself as a student leader on many level: he was also Gauteng treasurer for the Provincial Executive of the South African Students Congress.

Today at Absa, his full-time job is to provide business advice and insight relating to human capital and to help organisations transform to become better corporate citizens, alive to the realities of the country and the continent.

“My role ensures that business leadership makes sound decisions based on behavioural and organisational science, and helps create an environment conducive for people to develop and for their careers to flourish,” he says.

Nhlapo also serves as the founding chairperson of Black Orange Kairos, a non-profit organisation that responds to immediate challenges caused by poverty and unforeseen tragedies. Its work includes giving school uniforms and material to pupils and responding to disasters such as shack fires.

“We have reached over 1 000 people through this kind of work,” Nhlapo says, explaining that the specific goals of Black Orange Kairos are to contribute to changing the economic situation so that Black people own the production of what they consume and benefit from the wealth of the country.

Nhlapo, who has a masters in organizational psychology, is passionate about wanting to see the elimination of historical student debt for the multitudes who dropped out because of their inability to pay their fees.

“They are either unemployed or in jobs that do not use their full potential. The successes of #FeesMustFall did not touch this group of people,” he says.

An active member of the ANC, Nhlapo enjoys provoking public discourse on matters of national importance by writing opinion pieces for publications including City Press and Eyewitness News, primarily on issues involving the youth, gender equality and poverty. – Lesley Stones

Twitter: @Bafana_Nhlapo

Mokgobi Ramushu (32)

Mokgobi Ramushu (32)

Director of Civil and Structural Engineering, National Department of Public Works

Making sure that all civil and structural engineering services provided by the government nationwide meet acceptable standards and provide value for money is a huge responsibility. That’s the job of Mokgobi Ramushu, the director of civil and structural engineering services in the construction project management division of the National Department of Public Works.

Ramushu grew up in rural Limpopo, and studied civil engineering because he loved the sciences and wanted a career that would directly improve the lives of people around him.

He began as a design and research engineer with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation. Then he joined Sasol Synfuels as a plant support engineer and later became an engineering discipline lead.

In 2016 he joined the office of the auditor-general as a manager responsible for technical audits throughout the government.

A big motivator for his switch to the public sector was his desire to demographically transform the sector by training and mentoring young Black professionals, and to attract the appropriate skills to improve the technical capacity in government departments. It’s an enormous task, he says, but he’s determined to succeed.

Because skills development for young people is close to his heart, Ramushu is a registered mentor with the Engineering Council of South Africa.

He’s also a course moderator in structures and concrete at Tshwane University of Technology.

He loves how engineering can tangibly impact and improve the lives of ordinary people and is passionate about helping to open up the system to those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds such as his own.

“My main goal is to transform the engineering profession within the public sector, especially at the national sphere of government, by establishing a strong and competent engineering discipline that represents the demographics of our country,” he says.

Since joining the department he’s worked hard to raise awareness about the interesting engineering work it does to attract suitably qualified young black professionals into the public sector.

“My ultimate goal would be to leave behind a sustainable, more representative and competitive engineering profession in the public sector that is synonymous with the principle of high performance to ensure effective, efficient and quality service delivery to our people,” he says.

“It remains my wish for the public sector to reclaim its rightful position in the broader engineering profession in the country.  It is a mammoth task but one that I am ready to tackle.”

– Lesley Stones 

Twitter: @MokgobiR

Rhulani Shivambu (32)

Rhulani Shivambu (32)

Acting Director of Railway Safety Regulations, Department of Transport

As the acting director of the railway safety regulations at the department of transport, Rhulani Shivambu  is responsible for overseeing and regulating railway safety in the country through the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR). Most railway accidents can be attributed to human error with fatigue, lack of technical skills and inadequate training as common root causes says Shivambu, who acknowledges that the current legislation is silent on this aspect.

One of the key issues of the new Railway Safety Act that he is responsible for implementing is regulating the licensing and training of “Safety Critical Grade” employees such as train drivers and train control officers, who are critical for the safe movement of trains. His role also includes advising the minister of transport on railway safety matters, developing a railway safety regulatory framework and strategies to ensure a safer railway environment.

Shivambu started his professional career at the Limpopo department of transport as an administrator responsible for issuing operating licenses and permits for the public transport operators in the province. There, he played a pivotal role during the initial stage of the revitalisation of the taxi industry through the government’s Taxi Recapitalisation Programme.

A mover and shaker on track to head up the country’s railway system, Shivambu then joined the RSR as an administrator responsible for the development of technical railway safety standards and regulations for the country’s railway industry. At the RSR, he also played a leading role in the development of Dangerous Goods Handbook for the SADC countries. At 25, he joined Transnet Engineering as a regional manager responsible for railway safety when the organisation was undergoing massive infrastructure investments.

His career highlights include being nominated to represent the South African government at the United Nations as an expert on the transportation of dangerous goods in a committee in Switzerland, presenting the South African National Railway Safety Strategy during the 26th International Railway Safety Conference in 2016. It was hosted in Paris, and he contributed papers on the development of national railway safety standards.

Having grown up in a previously disadvantaged community with no access to basic amenities and services, he notes that this experience pushed him to succeed against all odds. “It is one of my goals to go down in the annals of South African railway history as one of the black professionals in a largely white-dominated industry who contributed significantly to the improvement of railway safety in the country,” he says. – Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @Shivambula

Michael Nassen Smith (30)

Michael Nassen Smith (30)

Deputy Director, Institute for African Alternatives 

Helping African countries to broaden their economies beyond being dependent on commodities is the focus of 30-year-old Michael Nassen Smith’s research. He sees a profound need to heal and resolve the deep inequities in South Africa that remain across economic, political and cultural spheres.

As the deputy director of the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA), his research involves shaping minerals policies for South Africa that are more socially just, and helping the continent work towards social and racial equality.

“Recent years have exposed the fragility of our political system and the inadequacy of our current economic model to tend to redistributive needs, and we have seen an alarming rise in narrow racial nationalisms,” he says.

“I’m committed to advancing social justice, and through my writing I aim to advance values of non-racialism and humanism, economic equality and democracy.”

His work at the institute has seen him develop educational material for the democratisation of economics knowledge, to empower those most affected by economic inequality and injustice. He has written for various journals, policy research papers, newspapers and magazines on subjects including inequality, race and racism, the state of left-wing politics in South Africa and decolonisation and curriculum reform at universities. He also serves on the editorial team of the IFAA’s flagship publication New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy.

This year, Smith edited Confronting Inequality: The South African Crisis, (Jacana, 2019) which contains essays by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, former President Kgalema Motlantle and other prominent figures.

He holds a masters degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Cape Town, where he has also taught.

In addition, Smith has founded a forum for students and young activists to discuss pertinent social issues and social theory, to promote communal thinking at a time and in a culture in which such spaces are scarce.

In the future, he hopes to contribute towards a movement for institutional and curriculum reform for universities in South Africa and beyond, to better align the knowledge being produced with the changing needs of society.

Cricket and music are Smith’s other passions: he plays and coaches for Green Point Cricket Club, and is a violinist and singer who accompanies local artists and performers in Cape Town. – Lesley Stones

Twitter: @mike1001nsmith

Tebogo Thotela (28)

Tebogo Thotela (28)

Deputy Director Parliamentary and Governance Officer, Gauteng Department of Health

Passionate about education, health and law, Tebogo Thotela has identified these three areas as key catalysts for transformation in Africa and made it his personal mission to push them forward.

Currently the youngest parliamentary and governance liaison officer in the Gauteng government, Thotela sits in the executive authorities office, ensuring that he supports the execution of the MEC’s duty in improving the public health system. On the most practical level, he’s responsible for ensuring compliance in the office of the MEC with statutory governance structures: more than 34 hospital boards, 370 clinic committees, five district mental health review boards, and labour and hospital licensing appeals.

Asked about the ultimate purpose of the work he does, Thotela responds: “The mantra by which I live my life, and why I choose to work as a public servant, is, ‘We may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but we will certainly die having tried.’”

He’s served on a presidential task team to address the issue of student funding, from 2016 till December 2018, and on the management committee of the South Africa Student Solidarity Foundation for Education, an organisation addressing the structural challenges in higher education. He was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2013 till March of 2016 to serve as the deputy president of the National SRC, South African Union of Students (SAUS), working to address challenges faced in the higher education sector. As deputy president of SAUS, he was part of a team required to find solutions and mediate between students, vice chancellors and government during 2015’s Fees Must Fall protests.

Outside of his professional role, Thotela has worked with numerous initiatives to serve the needs of South African youth. He served as a subcommittee member of the higher education SA Aids Radio Station initiative; created an educational campus radio programme on the topic of HIV, and with a group of like-minded students facilitated the creation of education nongovernmental organisation Shine in the Dark to deal with issues of access, success and redress in higher education.  – Cayleigh Bright

Twitter: @PrezSankara