The Mail & Guardian’s annual feature of eminent 200 Young South Africans has become a hallmark of our calendar, and is now in its 13th year. It is one of the most popular editions of the M&G, but it has earned significance far beyond our newsroom. A listing in the 200 Young South Africans supplement is now a feature of the best CVs in the country.
Every year since 2006, we’ve featured 200 young South Africans, on course to touch the world with their greatness. It is not an award as much as it is a mark of distinction — a number of young people featured have since grown into leaders in their fields. This is a celebration of excellence as much at is a directory of future leaders.
We begin by inviting nominations from the public, of people between the ages of 18-35, and we received over 6 000 nominations in 2019.
What’s our track record?
Among the notable young people we’ve featured in since 2006 are the likes of Julius Malema, who went on to launch his own political party, and of course become the most vocal in the National Assembly, or Trevor Noah, who was featured in 2010 and now hosts the Daily Show in New York City. There’s Kagiso Rabada, who was featured in 2014 as a rising star in the U19 cricket set-up – today he’s recognised as one of the world’s best bowlers.
And to prove that we do indeed take a listing in 200 Young South Africans seriously, our editor-in-chief was listed in 2011.
As in previous years, the project will continue the task of showcasing young leaders, and celebrating the good work they do. The bigger function is to change the image of our youth: if we don’t see them only in terms of the challenges they pose to society (like employment and poverty), then we can begin to build them as key to the success of South Africa.
Since the first edition of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list came out 13 years ago in 2006, our 200 Young alumni have cemented themselves as key people in their respective industries. It’s not just any list, after all — it’s THE list. What started out as “The 100 young South Africans you should take out to lunch” grew to a list of 200 when we realised the calibre of the young people in this country.
Previous year’s lists have featured people who have played a big role in shaping different sectors of South Africa, including Minister Fikile Mbalula, artist Lady Skollie and Proteas sensation Kagiso Rabada.
From sports to politics to media and civil society, here are some of the alumni that the 2019 200 Young candidates will count themselves among:
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng – 2006
The University of Cape Town’s vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (then Setati) featured on the inaugural list back in 2006, which described her as “a much-respected mathematics education researcher and educator of mathematics teachers.” Even then, she held several leadership positions, including the role of national president of the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa. Until her move to UCT in 2017, she was Unisa’s vice principal of research and innovation and the president of convocation at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Julius Malema – 2008
The commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters featured in the 2008 list — the third edition — when he was the new president of the ANC’s Youth League. “Malema is the new face of the youth of South Africa,” we wrote 11 years ago, when he was 27 years old. But even with all of the things that have happened since then, his priorities, as we wrote about them back then, still remain the same: “Listening to problems facing the youth and formulating proposals on how to solve them remains his core function.”
Trevor Noah – 2010
The Daily Show host Trevor Noah enthralls fans the world over with his charming South African accent and tongue-in-cheek commentary on current affairs, but when he featured on the 2010 list, he was still a rising star. Aged just 26 then, the comedian — one of South Africa’s proudest exports — told us that he never planned to become a comedian; “it just happened organically”. At the time, Noah was packing local theatres, and had opened up the stage for international funny man Russell Peters. He was the only South African comedian to make the cut for the international audition of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
Jen Thorpe – 2010
Feminist writer Jen Thorpe has remained consistent in the work that the 2010 list featured her on. At the time, she had just published a collaborative women’s writing project called My First Time. “I was thinking how the significant moments in a woman’s life are experienced as some sort of crisis. But there was very little space anywhere for women to talk about these,” she told us at the time. Nine years later, Thorpe has edited a successful collection of feminist essays (Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth) and published a novel (The Peculiars), with another one on the way this year.
Bonang Matheba – 2011
South Africa’s current champagne queen, media personality Bonang Matheba, is one of our most famous 200 Young alumni. Featuring on the 2011 list when she was 23, the superstar was already famous as she had kicked off her career when she was just a teenager. She went on to host a hip-hop show on Yfm and even had her own fashion label, Baby Star. A few years later, she’s also had a MetroFM stint and her very own reality show, Being Bonang, is two seasons in.
Khotso Mokoena – 2010
Long jump superstar Khotso Mokoena is a force to be reckoned with. In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he was the only South African to earn a medal, bringing home silver for long jump. He also set a new African record in the long jump with a leap of 8.50m, which is also a national record. Mokoena’s consistency in the long jump over the past 10 years has been remarkable. He came second at the World Indoor Championships held in Qatar in 2010. In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he won a gold medal for his brilliant performance in the triple jump
Busiswa Gqulu – 2014
A 26-year-old performance poet when she featured on the 2014 list, Busiswa Gqulu has gone on to carve out a role as one of South Africa’s most well-known singer-songwriters and poets. Hailing from the Eastern Cape, she’s now released two albums, gone on to collaborate with DJ Zinhle, also an alumini, received multiple award nominations and continues to drop hits and very good dance moves.
Dr Sindi Van Zyl – 2012
Known simply as Dr Sindi, Van Zyl is one of South Africa’s most beloved doctors. Known for her tact and humility, especially when it comes to dealing with taboo medical topics, she has become a trusted source of information and guidance for people across South Africa and beyond. When we wrote about Dr Sindi in 2012, she was working with non-profit organisation Anova, travelling the country, teaching people about how HIV could be prevented and treated. These days, among other things, she hosts #SidebarWithSindi on KayaFM and has guest stints as herself on 7de Laan, where she’s advising on a recurrent storyline concerning HIV.
Laduma Ngxokolo – 2011 Knitting sensation
Laduma Ngxokolo was 24 when he featured on the 2011 list. Encouraged by his mother’s skill, the Port Elizabeth designer created his first jersey when he was just 14. He has since taken the world by storm with his MaXhosa knitwear collection, inspired by the dazzling motifs of 18th-century Xhosa beadwork. His range, which he extended to women’s wear in 2014, has now appeared on runways across the world and been worn by celebrities including Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. In January 2018, he bought the knitwear manufacturing factory he had dreamed about for so long, and he now employs a team of 30 people.
Tembeka Ngcukaitobi – 2011
Earlier this year, high court advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi was recommended to be made a senior counsel, just eight years after becoming an advocate. In 2010 he featured on the list after the Legal Resources Centre team he was part of, in a groundbreaking social grants class action suit, went all the way to the Supreme Court of Appeal — and won. He also spent a year as clerk to former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, and has represented Julius Malema. He is one of southern Africa’s best legal minds.
Khotso Mokoena – 2010
Long jump superstar Khotso Mokoena is a force to be reckoned with. In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he was the only South African to earn a medal, bringing home silver for long jump. He also set a new African record in the long jump with a leap of 8.50m, which is also a national record. Mokoena’s consistency in the long jump over the past 10 years has been remarkable. He came second at the World Indoor Championships held in Qatar in 2010. In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he won a gold medal for his brilliant performance in the triple jump.
Veli Ngubane – 2017 and Zibusiso Mkhwanazi – 2010
Alumni Veli Ngubane (2017) and Zibusiso Mkhwanazi (2010), combined their entrepreneurial drive and expertise to establish Avatar, a successful full-service marketing agency with digital at its core. The two have set up the Mkhwanazi & Ngubane brands as an initiative to influence the industry and accelerate transformation by providing start-up companies with capital and expertise to help them thrive, and provide close to 350 jobs. Ngubane said in 2017 that he and Mkhwanazi sought to be different and establish challenger brands in an industry that was fast becoming complacent. “A lot of entrepreneurs are quick to start ‘me too’ companies and don’t take the necessary time to find their unique space in the market. The real secret, though, is that we hire people who are more intelligent and talented than us, to move the vision forward.” Mkhwenazi says another recipe for success is to keep up with trends. “Our business relies on being current and being able to advise clients on what would work on an individual basis.”