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Arnold Maudi (24)

High school Science Teacher & sports coach

Twenty-four-year-old high school science teacher and sports coach Arnold Maudi is involved in ensuring township schools integrate sports as a culture in the township of Mamelodi, northeast of Pretoria. He is currently serving as chairperson of the Mamelodi High school sports committee, a body that deals with promoting and facilitating participation in sports amongst the youth at school level. The driving force behind his work is his confidence in the many extraordinary and talented youth in townships who lack the resources, support and exposure they need to improve their livelihoods.

Maudi is heavily involved in promoting and facilitating participation in sports amongst the youth at school level as an attempt to popularise sports over drugs and alcohol. He takes his involvement in facilitating high school games and organising relevant logistics that will ensure inclusion of Mamelodi schools into regional and provincial championship games, very seriously.

A member of the Global Shapers Tshwane Hub group which advocates for promoting the United Nations Social Development Goal, community engagement and youth empowerment.

One of the hub projects he is part of is the annual project called FinLit, which offers financial literacy to youngsters in grade 8 and 9, as well as entrepreneurship skills.

“Sports was slowly dying out and it was mainly due to lack of funds. Being voted regional chairperson of high school sports in 2019 was a highlight in my career because it allowed me to ensure that 18 high schools in Mamelodi got involved in athletics, soccer, netball and volleyball which hadn’t happened in more than five years,” he says. —Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @Thabo_Arnolds

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Jessica Breakey (26)

Jessica Breakey (26)

Associate Lecturer, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand

Jessica Breakey (26) is a sociologist working as an associate lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at University of the Witwatersrand, where she co-ordinates a multidisciplinary course called Engineers in Society, teaching final-year electrical and information engineers. The course is aimed at connecting social and critical theory to the rapid emergence of new technologies, and challenges students to use a sociological lens to examine the roles of race, gender, power and prejudice in datasets, algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. She believes this work to be necessary because, “the students are designing future-shaping systems and organising processes and structures many of us can’t even imagine just yet”.

Breakey says: “I went into this line of work for exactly that reason — I didn’t think there were enough people talking about the social side or the human consequence of what has popularly been termed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.” She says that it was particularly tough for someone with her background in the social sciences to delve deeper into design processes and their impact on society. But she has seen a gap for plenty of critique to offer as the Fourth Industrial Revolution grows. “New technologies have had profoundly negative consequences and often propagate systemic injustices, and I want my students to do better, think deeper and use their wonderful and unique skill set to promote justice,” she says.

Although Breakey tries to keep her teaching and research relevant and responsive to what young people in South Africa and the world are thinking about, she says she finds it incredibly hard to be taken seriously by students, colleagues and the institution as a young academic. “I still haven’t worked out how to deal with it all, but being both strong and empathetic are two parts of me I love and want to hold onto as I move in academic spaces.”

Breakey is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar and holds an MA in Sociology from the University of Witwatersrand and an MPhil from University of Cambridge which she completed on the Chevening Scholarship. She also holds another role as a researcher at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, working on a Basic Package of Support for young people who are not in education, employment or training. When she is not working you will probably find Jessica walking her dog Milly at Emmarentia Dam.  —Welcome Lishivha 

Bhaso Ndzendze (23)

Bhaso Ndzendze (23)

Research Director, Centre for Africa-China Studies 

Twenty-three year old academic Bhaso Ndzendze wears two professional hats at once, but he loves them both. He is both research director at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Centre for Africa-China Studies and a junior lecturer in the department of politics and international relations at UJ.

“I was fortunate enough to know what I wanted to do from a young age, and started quite early to demonstrate my ability to start, modulate and complete a research project independently,” he says.

As research director, he draws up an annual research strategy for the centre in collaboration with its executive director and colleagues, and then his task is to implement and modify it. He also manages the research outputs of non-resident research fellows associated with UJ in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Brazil, Russia and China, and is constantly recruiting newer ones, in addition to co-lecturing a course on the international political economy of Africa-China relations and supervising postgraduate students.

For Ndzendze, the life and work of John Fairbanks, who was the first non-Chinese historian to write major volumes on China, played a key role in inspiring his passion for China. Michael Barr’s Who’s Afraid of China? is another major influence on him, as it highlights the puzzle that China poses in relation to international relations.

Ndzendze’s greatest contribution to Africa-China studies so far, which was cited in a book recently published by Oxford University Press, is the fact that China-Africa relations is an analytical impossibility. “China’s relations with the over 50 countries on the continent take on such differentiated forms, due to the diversity of actors that speak of ‘Africa’-China relations as a shorthand for a broad phenomenon rather than a relationship,” he explains.

His book Africa: The Continent We Construct, was published in 2015 by Pretoria-based Verity Publishers, when he was only 19. One of the greatest highlights of his early career was organising a seminar on satellite and outer space cooperation between African countries and China. In his spare time, he likes to visit historical museums; and the South African National Museum of Military History is his current favourite. While he occupies his spare time in learning to code, another pastime of his is learning new languages and Mandarin and Amharic are top of his list. — Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @Bhasondzendze95 

Dr. Lieketseng Ned (30)

Dr. Lieketseng Ned (30)

Lecturer, Centre for Rehabilitation Studies (CRS) 

Thirty-year-old academic Dr Lieketseng Ned completed her PhD last year and at 29 became the youngest person it the department of global health at Stellenbosch University to have achieved this remarkable feat. She is the youngest lecturer at the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies (CRS) and represented Stellenbosch University in April 2019 at the University of Helsinki.

Ned is also a board member for the South African Christian Leadership Association and serves as the deputy chair for the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre. She has published book chapters and articles in accredited journals and convenes the postgraduate diploma programme at the CRS.

“I am in this role because of my passion for teaching and learning and for an education that is of service to humanity. I believe in the need to produce young graduates who will form part of a community of questioners, thinkers and writers,” she says.

Hailing from Mount Fletcher, a village in the Eastern Cape, Ned plans on drawing in even more voices in the production of knowledge. She wants to bring in African, rural, indigenous and disabled people to develop a disability and rehabilitation studies scholarship that is diverse.

“This is particularly important because the majority of disabled people worldwide are located in the global south, yet disabilities studies continue to be dominated by thought from the north,” she says. “I want to do a follow-up participatory study from my doctoral work that is about exploring the use of participatory visual methodologies to enhance community participation in research dissemination.”

She believes that anyone can be a success and the youth have a responsibility towards creating a community of questioners and nurturing their own potential.

“Do not be afraid to reach out and network so we can all learn together,” she concludes. — Tamsin Oxford 

Twitter: @BabesWeSgubhu 

Mnqobi Banele Njoko (30)

Mnqobi Banele Njoko (30)

Lecturer, University of Limpopo

Development and planning academic Mnqobi Banele Ntjoko has an impressive resume for someone so young. Just last year, he completed his Bachelor of Community Development Studies and his Honours in the same field; he was offered a scholarship from the German academic exchange service (DAAD) that took him to Friedrich-Alexander University in Nuremberg, Germany; and he was granted the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship enabling him to complete his master’s in development management at Ruhr University in the German town of Bochum. But that’s not all: he was also named one of the most inspiring graduates at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal; appointed the academic development officer for UKZN’s school of built environment and development studies, and published three articles in department of higher education and training-accredited journals.

“I have always wanted to change the socioeconomic status of my family and it pushed me to work hard,” says Ntjoko, who grew up in Estcourt, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal.

“As I grew, I drew inspiration from people who have come from challenging backgrounds and yet made successes of their lives. Today, I am very passionate about education, specifically for young Black South Africans from rural backgrounds.”

Njoko wants to change the face of academia in South Africa – the average employee in this sector is a 60-year-old white male. He believes this makes it hard for young Black people to believe that they can occupy the same spaces.

“I have the platform to inspire our students and it has given me the opportunity to show the university what we are capable of,” he says. “My immediate plan for the future is to complete my PhD and then to further grow in the field of academia, particularly in development planning and management.”

“Only you know what you want in life and what it needs from you,” he concludes. “To be a success is an every day decision. You have to make this choice daily. My advice to young people is to remember that their backgrounds do not determine their future.”—Tamsin Oxford

Twitter: @Mnqobi_Banele

Nondumiso Phenyane (28)

Nondumiso Phenyane (28)

Lecturer, Stellenbosch University 

Nondumiso Phenyane is one of the youngest Black lecturers at Stellenbosch University’s law faculty. She teaches the Law of Evidence and Mercantile Law and has the rare privilege of being the course convener for the Law of Evidence course. Prior to joining Stellenbosch University, she was a legal researcher at the Supreme Court of Appeal and worked on high-profile cases such as the Director of Prosecutions, Gauteng vs Oscar Pistorius, and Van Breda vs Media24 Limited. She has a Bachelor of Social Science in International Relations and Organisational Psychology and a Postgraduate LLB from the University of Cape Town.

“We often expect young people in urban townships to make good decisions, but we seldom consider how much of a tall order it is to achieve this when you are mostly surrounded by brokenness,” says Phenyane. “Through my work as an academic and a businesswoman I hope to affirm and uplift young people in urban townships around me.”

Phenyane wears two hats — one as an academic and another as a businesswoman. As an academic her goal is to contribute to the transformation of a predominantly white profession, as she believes young Black people would like to see people who look like them in their lecture rooms.

“I also hope to do research on access to justice in urban townships and that my work in this field will lead to the legitimisation of informal community tribunals,” she adds. “I want to finally graduate with my Master of Laws and proceed to a Legum Doctor over the next few years. Over the even longer term I want to publish extensively on the issue of access to justice and eventually obtain a professorship at the University of Stellenbosch.” — Tamsin Oxford

LinkedIn: Nondumiso T Phenyane

Dr Mpho Raborife (30)

Dr Mpho Raborife (30)

Senior Lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Thirty-year-old computer science academic Dr Mpho Raborife completed her PhD at the University of Witwatersrand by the time she was 26. Her achievements include winning the L’Oréal Women in Science scholarship in 2013, and a doctoral award from the Department of Science and Technology for Women in Science, the following year.

Raborife started formal schooling earlier than her peers, and had a head start in terms of chronology, but she is humble: “I have been fortunate enough to gain access to funding for my higher degrees and have had great mentors throughout my career,” she says.

A seasoned presenter and researcher, Raborife, is no stranger to platforms such as TEDx and she has also worked for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Wits University and now the University of Johannesburg where she works in the field of computational linguistics. In this role, her focus, using both computer science and linguistics phonology, is on the limitations of human language technologies and how they can be improved using phonology and theoretical computer science.

“I realised that speech technologies developed for our languages did not fully capture the properties of our languages,” she says.

The driving force behind Raborife’s work is the need and hunger to learn more, which she agrees has made a career in science the perfect choice for her. Her research is notable through her publications, particularly in the Computer Science domain where gender inequalities are still highly prevalent.

At the moment, she is pondering the question as to how, in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, technology can be developed to address the needs of South Africa. In her downtown, Raborife enjoys kickboxing and swimming. – Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @MphoRaborife

Jessica Blom (28)

Jessica Blom (28)

Programme Manager, Centre for Early Childhood Development

The early years of children’s development are crucial in influencing a range of education, health and social outcomes, and 28-year-old programme manager for the centre for early childhood development (CECD), Jessica Blom really believes in this. She has invested her career so far in the non-profit organisation.

Its philosophy is that by providing quality early childhood development programmes, young children are given a head start in life that enables them to progress through formal schooling and to exit, having completed school successfully. The centre aims to contribute to a society that puts young children and their educational needs first.

The core work of the centre is focused on supporting other centres similar to it, so that children all over South Africa can receive quality early education and care when they attend an ECD centre.

During her earlier years at CECD, Blom developed and managed the Young Leaders for Children programme, a national year-long leadership programme that empowers young non-profit leaders to provide sustainable services to children in South Africa. The highlight of this programme is to create a powerful network of young leaders from across South Africa who can encourage and support one another and drive each other to make a sustainable difference in the lives of children.

In April this year, Blom submitted her master’s thesis while working a fulltime job, convening and lecturing a fourth year University of Cape Town class in the department of social development.

“I am informed in my teaching by my work experience and I am able to use the work I do to bring to life academic and theoretical models. I also believe that students have much knowledge and that they are not ‘blank slates’ who come into a lecture to just learn from me. Social development is not something that happens in the abstract, it is rooted in our everyday realities” she adds.

She also sits on the committee of the Literacy Association of South Africa (Litasa) in the Western Cape on a voluntary basis. Her work for Litasa entails organising workshops and events that promote teaching and research in reading and writing at all levels in South African society. The organisation empowers and assists South African citizens to be literate and be able to develop to their reading potential. She’s is part of this year’s organising Litasa’s annual conference, entitled Masifunde ditale: Literacy and language in a multilingual world. – Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @jess_blom 

Dr Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe (25)

Dr Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe (25)

Senior Lecturer, University of the Free State

She’s only 25, but Dr Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe has already achieved the status of senior academic at the University of the Free State. This is because her schooling was fast-tracked and she completed high school at the age of 15.

She enrolled at the University of the North West at the age of 16, and by the time she was 21, she had attained her master’s in industrial psychology. She wasted no time and delved right into her PhD the following year, completing this qualification also, in a record time of two years, breaking an astounding academic record by becoming the youngest female PhD in Africa, at the age of 23.

Saurombe’s research work focuses on talent management and talent value proposition which entails the investigation of the relationship between employee and employer. Saurombe’s work explores the psychological contract that often exists between the two parties: what the employer offers to the employee for their expertise and contribution to the organisation and what the employee expects to receive for their expertise, commitment and contribution to the organisation.

Although it may seem like she breezed her way through her academic qualifications, Saurombe experienced financial constraints throughout her studies, especially at undergraduate level.

“My father is a teacher by profession and my mother had to work several part time jobs to pay for [my] fees. Even then, sometimes I would run out of resources during the month and was always reluctant to tell my parents when I ran out of food or money because I knew the sacrifice they were already making,” she says.

Her appointment as senior lecturer has been significant for her. Acknowledging the fact that many other academics take many years to reach this status, she admits that the appointment was a surprise to her because it was contingent on the work she had been teaching on a junior level for the past two years, at North West University.

Saurombe is very aware of her status as a role model to many young Africans. “This means I must live my life with great honour and strive for success”, she smiles. – Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @MusaSaurombe

Dr Taryn Bond-Barnard (34)

Dr Taryn Bond-Barnard (34)

Senior Lecturer, University of Pretoria 

Last year, Taryn Bond-Barnard was awarded the global young researcher of the year award in 2018 by the International Project Management Association (IPMA). The award recognised the exceptional research she had done in her field and her PhD research into project communication, trust, collaboration and success. She has been subsequently invited to serve on the IPMA Research Group until 2021 with the focus on promoting and providing support for the IPMA Global Research Awards. Bond-Barnard has also been chosen for the Tuks young researcher leader Trogramme (TYRLP) and received the University of Pretoria graduate school of technology management teaching and learning award in 2018.

“I moved from industry to academia a few years ago and realised that being a researcher and lecturer was something that fulfilled me,” says Bond-Barnard. “I don’t expect to change the world, I just believe that you should use the talents God has given you.”

Bond-Barnard plans to maintain a high level of academic excellence in South Africa over the next few years and she wants to inspire young South Africans to consider education and research as a career.

“It is only through education that we can uplift our fellow South Africans,” she says. “My journey has been inspired by my family – my two sons – and by my students. They have worked so hard to get where they are and many continue to do so. Many are full time employed and have children and a family and yet they still make the time to further themselves and their families.”

Bond-Barnard believes that young South Africans need to be resilient in order to succeed, and they need to acknowledge how others have helped them achieve their goals.

“Know yourself and remember others, you didn’t achieve it all on your own,” she concludes. “I was most helped by my parents as they taught me to work hard, be resilient and always do my best.” – Tamsin Oxford 

LinkedIn: Taryn Barnard

Dr Thabang Sefalafala (31)

Dr Thabang Sefalafala (31)

Economics lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand

Thirty-one-year-old economics lecturer Dr Thabang Sefalafala decided on an academic career because it represented a platform to express curiosity and intrigue about the world and other people.

He lectures at the University of the Witwatersrand, having enjoyed a stint as deputy director for the Gauteng department of Economic Development, under the economic policy and development cluster. His role as deputy director enabled him to work with research as well as policy: He conducted research and developed industrial strategy to help support the development objectives of the department.

Armed with his PhD in economic sociology from Wits, Sefalafala really loves to teach. “I want to contribute to research and intellectual development of students through supervision and other means. If we do not build proper research and intellectual capacity in the country, we are going nowhere,” he says.

Sefalafala’s research focuses on areas such as labour, economic policy and development, which he has accomplished with distinction and he’s been no stranger to awards ranging from commendations and accolades to funding. Yet, still he feels that there is a major transformation gap in the academy and “if we want to participate in active knowledge production, pursuing an academic career is a compelling way of doing that”, he says.

A founding member of a book stokvel, a collective that came up after a realisation that there was a lack of support for authors and distributors in African literature, Sefalafala is very proactive in his community. In order to join, members sign a 12-month contractual agreement and every month, each member contributes R250 to a business account. A roster is developed indicating the month in which each member will receive his/her books. Each member gets to choose their own book collection which are purchased by the stokvel’s administrator from African-owned book stores and vendors.

In his spare time, Sefalafala loves to hike, jog and shop. — Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @Thabang_Sefalafala

Dr Melissa Card (34)

Dr Melissa Card (34)

Clinical Psychologist / Senior Lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Thirty-four-year-old clinical psychologist Melissa Card is a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with an impressive resume of studies, learning and achievements under her belt, including, above all, a sense of priority in being able to hold up a candle to the goodness of humanity.

To date, she is one of the youngest doctors of psychology in South Africa, having earned her doctorate at 31 in 2016. In the same year, she also won the faculty teaching excellence award and followed this up with the vice chancellor’s teaching award in 2017. Over the years, she has developed further skills in psychotherapy, clinical supervision, lecturing, psychological assessment and workshop development and training.

Added to this impressive bulk of work are three international journal publications, international conference presentations, and a certification as a yoga practitioner across Womb Yoga, Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Restorative Yoga.

“I heard this quote – ‘be the reason someone believes in the goodness of humanity’ – and I think this is what keeps me inspired,” she says. “Working with people who want to see a difference in their lives and connecting with my students and patients lets them know that they have someone in their corner.”

Card, who was born and raised in East London and read for her undergraduate degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand, works as both a lecturer and in private practice. She teaches from first year to masters level, and supervises postgraduate research projects across UJ’s honours, MA and PhD programmes.

“I hope to cultivate a curiosity for learning, knowing, questioning and creating in the field of psychology,” she says.

“I hope to continue to grow in the academy and to ultimately climb to the level of professor. In my practice, I would like to establish a therapy centre where people can access therapeutic services for reduced rates or for free. This would allow for counsellors and therapists to volunteer their services to the less privileged.”

Her work ethic dictum is clear: “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done and that’s the difference between those who dream of success and those who get up every day and make that success happen.” – Tamsin Oxford 

Twitter: @Michi_05 

Tolika Sibiya (33)

Tolika Sibiya (33)

PhD candidate, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University 

Thirty-three-year-old Tolika Sibiya has held the position of technical and vocational education and training researcher at the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. He has also worked as a research assistant for the Raymond Mhlaba Research Institute for public administration and leadership; as a researcher on a project commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council, and has been a research assistant for the Centre for Researching Education and Labour at the University of the Witwatersrand. With this full resume, he’s still found the time to co-author a book, write for some of South Africa’s most popular newspapers, and serve several youth organisations, non-profit organisations and non-government organisations.

“My goal is to be part of the academia and young intelligentsia that society needs to solve its problems,” he says. “I want to help contribute to knowledge production, especially in the education sector, particularly around the thorny issue of skills and unemployment among the youth. I want to contribute to issues relating to industrial growth and transformation, and youth development.”

For Sibiya, the South African youth are his greatest inspiration. And he is inspired by how they step up and step forward in spite of the socioeconomic challenges that face them and their profound commitment to building a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South African.

“Their efforts to contribute meaningfully towards the future of this nation make me proud and confident of the future,” he adds. “My plans for my future are clear and straightforward. I want to help young people realise their full potential through organisations I am part of. I want to lead by advocating their interests and addressing the scourge of unemployment.”

The lofty goals driven by Sibiya are inspired by some of his mentors and those who have supported him over the years. Those who stand out include his late high school economics teacher, Mr Mndiyata, who contributed towards who he has become today and shaped his world outlook.

“My advice to all young South Africans is that success does not come cheap or easy,” concludes Sibiya. “Hard work, commitment, and determination are the steps to success. Most importantly, education is they key. It may not guarantee you a job today, but it does guarantee you a better tomorrow.” —Tamsin Oxford 

Twitter: @Tolika47971081

Femme Projects

Femme Projects

Sexual Education Collective

Femme Projects is a Black, queer and womxn owned organisation, co-directed and founded by Kim Windvogel (28), Loren Loubser (28) and Kelly Eve Koopman (29), that uses interactive methods of running comprehensive sexual education, sexual reproductive health and rights, gender education and consent motivating workshops with youth in communities throughout the Western Cape.

In addition to its work in schools, Femme Projects has been involved in a number of campaigns for gender equity and sexual and reproductive rights. Acceptance and sex positivism is very central to the workshops and educational programmes Femme Projects facilitates.

“We want our learners to know that they should not be shamed for bleeding. That they will not be judged for being sexually active, for being queer, for being sexually curious, for exploring masturbation,” says Loubser.

Femme Projects’s contribution to the advocacy space is ensuring access to sanitary products, education on vital conversations such as advocating for tax free sanitary products, the decriminalisation of sex work, inclusive rights and health access for trans people, breaking taboos around menstruation and advocating for the rights of all sexual and gender identities.

They’ve been involved in the fight to abolish the tampon tax and very recently in curating an anthology of writing from people who occupy a broad range of identities. They are hoping to use the anthology to further advance their mission for queer inclusivity and gender sensitisation among youth.

“If our youth are supported to understand and appreciate their bodies, their sexual orientation, gender, expression, consent and rights, they will make informed and healthier decisions,” adds Loubser.

Although the organisation has enjoyed some serious strides, such as having British model and public figure Naomi Campbell come to their workshop as a motivational speaker and support their initiative, they admit to having difficulty in securing consistent funding.

“What we have at the moment is project-based funding, but it’s really difficult to grow and be sustainable in our commitment to our learners without a more sustainable organisational fund” says Loubser.

The project is hoping to collaborate with the government to produce sexual reproductive health and rights materials to facilitate workshops as part of the revisions of the high scool Life Orientation curriculum, which they have been advocating for years.

“We are in a global gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health and rights crisis. It’s horrific, it’s intolerable, it’s damn scary. We need to teach our learners that their bodies are their own. That their bodies have rights. That their bodies deserve only love and acceptance. This is what keeps us going,” Loubser adds. — Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @FemmeProjects 

Rev. Mantima Thekiso (29)

Rev. Mantima Thekiso (29)

Minister of Religion, Methodist Church of Southern Africa 

At 29, Mantima Thekiso is one of the youngest ordained ministers in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. She brings a sound theological understanding and strong academic background to her role, making her arguably one of the country’s most gifted ministers. She strives to empower young people through education and insight and is currently enrolled for her PhD in theology. Thekiso’s work challenges complacent dogmas and ideologies, introducing fresh ways of looking at theology and reaching young minds.

“I draw inspiration from real life faith encounters with women and men who seek to make sense of the world through the lens of their faith,” she says.

“I find it interesting that part of the human quest is to make sense of the role that faith plays in everyday life experiences.”

Thekiso is also inspired by theological education that seeks to challenge previously accepted forms of theological research, mostly male, westernised and elitist, which don’t always communicate to the lived experiences of African people.

“My role, I believe, affords me the opportunity to use my convictions of faith and pair these with theological training in ways that allow me to influence for positive change and the restoration of human dignity in the communities I serve, and to challenge previous biblical readings which have contributed to the adverse treatment of those who are on the margins of society – women, children, the poor and the marginalised,” she says.

Thekiso’s passion is to work with young people and improve their quality of life in terms of moral regeneration and in encouraging participation. Her hope is to see people’s lives positively enhanced through church participation while emphasising the role that religious education has to play.

“It is through this role that I find the space to be an active citizen in moulding our society,” she concludes. “I plan to be even more involved in the education and training of those who seek to follow their calling into ministry and who wish to study theology for their personal benefit.” —Tamsin Oxford

Twitter: @_ntimi007

Mochelo Mackson Puleng Lefoka (30)

Mochelo Mackson Puleng Lefoka (30)

Lecturer, University of Cape Town

Mochelo Lefoka completed his degree in Construction Management but,when working in the industry, he found that much of his skills development had to be self taught. He realised that he was unlikely to be the only person working in the engineering industry who struggled to find the right information and support, so he changed course to invest his time into skills training, and found his passion.

“I grew up in Makgodu village in Limpopo and was inspired by the incredible mix of people who would get up and make something of themselves every single day,” says Lefoka. “They took responsibility for their lives and others, and I wanted to approach my life with the same passion.”

It was this belief that saw Lefoka move from his career in engineering and construction towards one that was more focused on teaching. He noticed that many new graduates battled to find knowledge when they first started working, and that often this information was dispensed on a “need to know” basis. The problem was time —the staff on most construction sites were too busy to spend time sharing insights and learnings.

“It became my responsibility to solve this problem,” he said. “In 2016, UCT was looking for a New Generation of Academics Programme developmental lecturing post under the department of higher education and training. I applied for the job, but I didn’t get it — I ended up being offered the Employment Equity post. I see this as an opportunity to supplement the curriculum with everything I have learned in the industry and to give students the tools they need to become the best in the industry.”

Lefoka is working on his MPhil with the goal of pursuing his PhD and an MBA soon after. As he moves deeper into his training and education with the goal of improving his contributions to students, Lefoka remains motivated by his late grandparents, Tlhabana and Nape Lefoka. They had no formal education, but they ensured he never missed a day of school.

“It is very important to be teachable and open to new perspectives,” concludes Lefoka. “I learn from my students as often their experiences in the built environment are far more interesting than mine. Representation matters more than we realise and I believe when students walk into class and see someone like them as their teacher, it may be the catalyst they need to keep going.” —Tamsin Oxford 

Dr Mpho Tshivase

Dr Mpho Tshivase

Senior Lecturer, University of Pretoria

Dr Mpho Tshivase is a senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria and obtained her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Johannesburg. She is the first Black woman to achieve this significant accolade in South Africa and it is a testament to her hard work, passion and commitment to this field. In addition to these achievements, she is the first Black woman president of the Philosophy Society of South Africa and has a list of awards and recognitions behind her.

“Professionally, my role involves lecturing undergraduate and postgraduate students and supervising postgraduate research projects,” says Tshivase. “I am currently abroad on a visiting scholarship as part of building international scholarship on topics relating to African knowledge systems and the works produced therein. Part of the aim of this project is to decolonise academia and what we teach at universities in Africa.”

Tshivase is, on top of this impressive workload, a researcher. She works in the fields of uniqueness, personhood and African ethics and this work intersects with her other research themes of feminism, love, death, authenticity, and autonomy among others.

“I also have an interest in exploring the ontological status of Blackness,” says Tshivase. “I am a guardian to a group of students who form an executive committee of the Faculty House in Humanities, an academic mentor for some students on the Student Representative Council, and I am a consultant at Redhill School in Johannesburg, which runs a project on philosophy for children.”

Tshivase plays multiple roles across numerous education institutions and levels of society, but she’s tempered with a deep humility and awareness of others.

“I have humbly learned not to plan for the future, as tomorrow is a mystery that will only become known to me when it manifests,” she concludes. “My journey has been affected by many people in different yet valuable ways, especially by my late mother, who unfailingly prioritised my wellbeing. She created a space for me to use the world as laboratory where I could experiment with different ideas and models of life.” – Tamsin Oxford

Twitter: @BlackademicM4 

Ayanda Magida (31)

Ayanda Magida (31)

Researcher, Wits Business School

Thirty-one-year-old researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, Ayanda Magida, oversees and manages the research portfolio in the Chair of Digital Business at the Wits Business School (WBS), and she is responsible for driving the research agenda and coordinating the school’s master’s and PhD research programmes. Her own current research focuses on the future of work, the social and economic effects of digitalisation and digital inclusion, and on the digital financial inclusion in Africa.

The initiative 4IRSA, seeks to proactively facilitate a discussion on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As part of the operations committee in 4IRSA, Magida is responsible for the development and implementation of its research agenda in line with five themes: the future of work; inequality in society; state and citizenry; future opportunities; and critical success factors.

Further to this, she is part of the WBS ethics committee which oversees and ensure that all research conducted by the students meets the ethical considerations of research. Her PhD research was on the political economy of the digital divide in South Africa which has the potential to contribute to the academic understanding of the digital divide in the African context.

Magida notes that strides have been made in as far transformation and inclusion of Black women in academia is concerned in the higher education sector through the Department of Higher Education and training new generation of academics programme which is facilitating the inclusion of previously disadvantaged groups into academia.

But Magida is not only office bound. Her hobbies include travelling, hiking and reading books that offer pragmatic insights into doing things better. — Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @ayanda_magida

Carla Watson (30)

Carla Watson (30)

Programme officer, University of Cape Town’s Jakes Gerwel Fellowship

Thirty-year-old programme officer at the University of Cape Town’s Jakes Gerwel Fellowship, Carla Watson is passionate about making an impact in education, through classroom teaching, leadership and educational entrepreneurship. She coaches the candidate fellows in their first and second years, providing practical support for the transition from high school to university through one-on-one coaching during their academic journey.

Watson is responsible for heading up the strategic communications department to reach out to matriculants across the country who are passionate about transforming education in South Africa. She is a strong believer in the idea that the country’s incoming cohort of teachers must be supported as they are the ones who will be at the forefront of solving the most pressing issues in South Africa. For her, teaching provides the platform to engage with South Africa’s most pressing needs.

As a gay woman of colour, Watson founded foryouandyours, a company designed to reposition the inclusion of the LGBTIQA + community and to educate society about celebrating its various aspects. Foryouandyours focuses on using greeting cards which represent people of colour and members of the queer community who are seen as worthy of being celebrated and honoured during milestones in their lives.

Foryouandyours is aimed at increasing representation and providing the platform for celebration for a marginalised community. “I am so excited at how this venture is developing and being met with such resounding support,” she says.

“The vision of foryouandyours aims to provide a platform for South African artists, designers and illustrators selling their artwork which celebrates these milestones inclusively”.

Watson enjoys her time in the kitchen, which she generally spends making things as interesting sun-dried tomatoes and limoncello. Every couple of weeks you will also find her working on a canvas where she tries to bring forth her visions of an ideal South Africa on canvas. —Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @SaysWatson 

Dr Tebogo Mashifana (31)

Dr Tebogo Mashifana (31)

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering, University of Johannesburg

Don’t tell Dr Tebogo Mashifana (31) that engineering is only for men! This senior lecturer and researcher in the faculty of engineering at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has already achieved her doctoral degree from UJ, a MBA from Regent Business School and is currently studying for her postgraduate diploma in higher education. Passionate about finding solutions to the challenges that affect environmental pollution, Mashifana is committed to community, people and the future.

“I am learning every single day that I need to share, transfer the skills and the knowledge that I have acquired to those I meet. I have seen these skills transferred to the students I teach and I could not trade that experience for anything. As a researcher, I am given the opportunity to investigate solutions to some of the challenges that this country is facing. It is what I love doing,” she says.

For Mashifana, it is critical that she invest her time and effort into developing value-added products that can address the human settlement and unemployment challenges. She works on community development projects and motivates young people, mostly young women and girls, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“My family inspires me a great deal – the joy and pride my parents have every time I share a milestone is something that keeps me going,” she says.

One of the people who has most motivated and helped Mashifana on her journey is her husband, Kgaogelo Mashifana. She describes him as her greatest motivator and someone who makes her journey bearable. “He always says to me ‘we will support you’ and I know he really does,” she adds.

“I have come to learn that there are young people who look up to me and because of that I am always walking the extra mile, working a little harder. I want to show them that they can achieve anything they want. My advice to those who want to achieve success is to grab opportunities with both hands. It is one thing to dream, another to do something about it.” — Tamsin Oxford

LinkedIn: Tebogo Mashifana

Rendani Mbuvha (28)

Rendani Mbuvha (28)

Lecturer in Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of the Witwatersrand

Rendani Mbuvha is a young academic with an impressive CV. He is a qualified actuary and a Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa, holds the Global Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary designation, has a Master’s in Machine Learning from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and is doing his doctoral studies in Bayesian Methods for Neural Networks at the University of Johannesburg. Mbuvha is a strong proponent of capacity development in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and has already won a provisional patent and the 2017 Gauteng Accelerator Township Economy Innovation Competition.

“I serve as a lecturer at the school of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand,” says Mbhuva. “My role encompasses teaching, research supervision and doctoral research in artificial intelligence (AI). It allows me to be actively involved in capacity development in AI, which is a critical skill needed to navigate the future of our nation and continent.”

Mbhuva plans to continue building his impressive research profile over the next few years. His ultimate goal is to turn his research into feasible and relevant solutions that address national and continental issues. When asked who has inspired him on this highly complex and challenging journey, his immediate reply is: “My parents, who have always supported me and believed in my efforts.”

Mbhuva has become an authority in predictive modelling and risk management and has won numerous awards for his work. These include the Deans Merit List at the University of Cape Town, a national finalist in the South African Youth Water Prize in 2006, and the award for Most Promising Innovation for Township Economy at the Innovation Hub Gate competition in 2017.

For those young South Africans looking to explore a career as cerebral and education-intensive as the work done by Mbhuva, he offers this salient advice: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And never be afraid to change course in the pursuit of your dreams.” —Tamsin Oxford 

LinkedIn: Rendani Mbuvha

Linford Molaodi (27)

Linford Molaodi (27)

Teacher and Executive Director, TeaSterl Projects

Linford Molaodi won the national best teacher award in the excellence in ICT-enhanced learning and teaching category at the Department of Basic Education competition in 2019 and the Limpopo teaching awards in 2018. He teaches physical science to Grade 10, 11 and 12 pupils at Masemola High School in Ga-Masemola, Limpopo and his awards attest to his incredible passion for his occupation.

Molaodi has launched multiple initiatives in his home province, working hard to deepen learning and build networks on a shoestring budget. He is one of the founding members of the non-profit organisation TeaSterl Projects that is dedicated to advancing teaching in rural settings, and he actively serves as a consultant in his district.

“I am inspired when I see the impact that I have on the lives of my learners, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he says.

“The excitement of seeing them succeed and collect accolades in tertiary institutions adds flavour to my community development projects. I am also inspired by the teachers who change their practices through my teacher development training.”

Today, Molaodi works with teachers to infuse technology-driven tools into their teaching methodologies. He also supports learners in rural villages by providing them with intensive career guidance and sustained mentorship.

“I would like to see the learners under my mentorship become critical, responsive and active participants of the South African society,” he adds. “I also want them to become part of my projects in community development. My goal is to adopt five or more rural and underachieving schools that can serve as our model schools and to give these children intensive career development opportunities.”

Molaodi is inspired by his TeaSterl Projects team as they all share similar life philosophies and overcame difficult challenges in their childhoods. He was also inspired by his university lecturers, Dr Jacqueline Batchelor, Dr Anasthacia Buma and Mphiriseni Khwanda as they believed in his work.

“For every solution we bring, we must have the intention of bringing about a peaceful society, one that lives with the spirit of ubuntu,” concludes Molaodi. “No pride, arrogance, racism, tribalism, sexism and xenophobia – just working towards achieving goals and using our gifts to find solutions.”  — Tamsin Oxford

LinkedIn: Linford Molaodi 

Dr Kapil Moothi (33)

Dr Kapil Moothi (33)

Head of Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Johannesburg

As a child, Dr Kapil Moothi enjoyed studying and learning. “I was always inclined towards studying, from my time at primary school — I really did not dread going to school,” he says.

Now Moothi is an associate professor in the faculty of engineering and the built environment at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and the head of department for chemical engineering. He has an impressive CV, and a master’s degree and PhD from Wits University.

He says he studied an additional degree in higher education “so as to improve my skills and knowledge in teaching, learning and assessment practices”.

Teaching is also one of his favourite parts of academia. He enjoys his interactions with his students.  “It is fulfilling to watch them grow and develop to become 21st Century graduates equipped for participating in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he says, adding that he loves speaking to high school students about the engineering field.

Moothi has never been one to back away from a challenge. He began studying in the field of engineering because he had heard it was a difficult programme. He says he knew then “that is a challenge I would like to take on”.

After studying he worked at Sasol because he felt “it was time I get this ‘work experience’ that I heard people talking about”. However, he wasn’t prepared for the mental adjustment required and grew disillusioned with the whole experience. “I had not spent a decade of my life studying to end up doing this kind of routine job,” he says.

He then took up the job teaching at UJ. Moothi says he enjoys academia as it allows him to conduct further research in the “role of nanotechnology in environmental engineering for the treatment of water and wastewater”.

He hopes his research will help support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Looking to the future, Moothi says he hopes to have a role in shaping and developing the graduation of Black female students. “That’s something I’d really like to see — Black female South Africans students becoming lecturers — and that’s something I’m passionate about.” — Fatima Moosa

Instagram: @kapilm_86

Thembile Ndlovu (26)

Thembile Ndlovu (26)

Programme Manager, Microsoft 4Afrika 

Thembile Ndlovu is the cofounder of ACT – Authentic Chicks Talk – an NGO that empowers young women through dialogue sessions, giving them the tools they need to speak up and become active citizens in their lives and communities. Ndlovu is also the former curator of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Tshwane Hub that drives positive local impact within the Tshwane community. She is on the advisory board of the Transformative Development Capacities, an organisation that works to promote transformative approaches in Africa and she has recently been appointed the director of business development for My Voice, an organisation that safeguards the quality of democracy in South Africa.

“We live in a world where being true to yourself and your work is rare,” says Ndlovu. “I believe that by being true to who you are enables you to work to your strengths. In my family we say ‘excel in your lane’ and this is so true — there is no need to be the second best version of someone else when you have been given the gift of being the best version of yourself.”

Inspired by her mother, Ndlovu grew up in an environment where talking about global issues was the norm. She stared volunteering at an early age in orphanages, attending climate change dialogues and sex worker health education forums. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to contribute to making the world a better place. She just needed to figure out how.

“As a young girl hearing stories about women being raped and abused by family members, by boyfriends and husbands, women being shamed for their bodies, girls dying from illegal abortions — I found myself asking a lot of whys,” concludes Ndlovu. “I knew that I wanted to encourage girls to love themselves and be proud of who they are. I believe that we all need to be accountable from start to finish. This accountability starts in our daily lives and extends to our chief executives and our presidents. Shifting the blame doesn’t solve the problem.”

With an impressive career history behind her at the tender age of 26, it seems that Ndlovu is a woman to watch in South Africa. She’s making change happen in all the right places. – Tamsin Oxford 

Twitter: @nonhletee2