Civil Society 2018

Share their story

Farhana Parker (30)

Social Entrepreneur: The Social Makeover

Farhana Parker’s qualifications paint a picture of her passion and commitment towards the development of her fellow citizens. Parker is a master’s candidate in Inclusive Innovation at the UCT Graduate School of Business, and holds a social work degree and three postgraduate qualifications in psychology, social policy and management and social innovation management.

These qualifications have been pivotal in laying the foundation for her to actively tackle issues of inequality and social injustice. “Our world is extremely unequal and unfair, and we see it every day in different situations. The gap between the rich and the poor, and the poor services and treatment based on one’s status, are disheartening realities that keep me up at night,” she says.

“This has encouraged me to pursue my master’s in Inclusive Innovation to enable me to do more in-depth research and make a contribution to addressing this complex challenge both on a local and global scale.”

Parker founded The Social Makeover, an enterprise with a special focus on the rights, development and advancement of women. Her passion for women’s issues and their empowerment has compelled her to make a difference, as she strongly believes in the important role women play in empowering communities. The Social Makeover enterprise has been instrumental in fostering an environment wherein Parker can effectively pursue and commit to a career of meaning and valuable social impact, serving and affirming the humanity of as many people as she can.

Parker’s work within South Africa’s civil society has seen her serving the most vulnerable communities as a social worker, and working as an executive support officer and special projects manager to the minister for social development, leading key projects (such as Youth Cafés) in the Western Cape. These valuable contributions to civil society are what drive her to continue her efforts towards the betterment of the communities she serves.

If anyone who has crossed paths with her forgets her name, she hopes they will remember her as a woman who actively and selflessly serves humanity with great passion, authenticity and humility. A woman who possesses the ability to positively influence and inspire others to live to their potential. Above all else, Parker strives to ensure that her knowledge and expertise are used to positively and progressively impact social and transformational processes in the world. — Simphiwe Rens

Author -
Paul Jozua Steyn (31)

Paul Jozua Steyn (31)

Founder and chairman, Paul Steyn Foundation

Paul Steyn has walked thousands of kilometres to create awareness and show other amputees, and the general public, the mobility that a prosthetic leg provides an amputee. In the process, he has raised thousands of rands to assist disadvantaged amputees.

Optimistic, compassionate and driven, Steyn is committed to making a difference in the lives of other amputees.
After an accident at school at the age of 13, Steyn’s right leg was amputated and he had to use crutches to get around. When he was 16 someone donated a prosthetic leg to him. In college he was elected to the Student Representative Council with the portfolio of community involvement, which ignited in him a passion for community work. These experiences led him to devote his life to community work and start the Paul Steyn Foundation.

“I believe in paying it forward,” Steyn says.

At first Steyn did shorter walks, mainly in the Western Cape. Then in August 2015, he walked for nearly 7 000km over a period of 15 months through all nine South African provinces. Through his walks, Steyn experienced the country in its diversity, both in its nature and in its people. “No matter where you are, be it in the dry Northern Cape, the lush Garden Route or the rolling grasslands of the highveld, walking through it, there is always something of beauty to be found,” he says. Everywhere he went people were interested and interesting, helpful and hospitable. It taught him never to judge anyone by the way they look.

Walking long distances for long periods of time is not easy, but Steyn’s faith in God and his belief in his mission motivates him to keep going. During his walks, problems with a recurring abscess behind the knee of his stump meant he had to stay over in some places for longer than scheduled to have it treated.

During tough times his main motivation is the difference he has made in other people’s lives. It never occurred to him to give up. When Steyn sets himself a goal, he is determined to complete it.

As for his plans for the future, Steyn says: “I hope we can expand the foundation to be able to assist every person that applies, and qualifies, for help in the future. I would like to see the Paul Steyn Foundation as the foremost organisation working with, and on behalf of, amputees in South Africa and Africa.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Saidy Brown (23)

Saidy Brown (23)

Youth advocate, South African Youth Positive (Y+ SA)

When Saidy Brown first found out about her HIV status at 14, she felt confused and ashamed.

Growing up in the small town of Itsoseng in the North West, where speaking about sex and HIV is taboo, Brown’s knowledge of the virus was scant. She thought she was surely going to die soon, and believed you could only get HIV if you slept around and “lived recklessly”.

Brown was born with HIV. When she discovered this, she was angry. Angry at the virus, angry with her late parents and angry with her siblings, because she was the only one of her siblings born with HIV.

She only disclosed her status publicly at age 18, when her health started deteriorating and she knew she had to begin antiretroviral treatment.

Fed up with it all, Brown wrote an angry post on Facebook titled An Open Letter to HIV. The post she wrote for her own personal healing resonated with a number of young people, who saw their story in hers and drew strength and inspiration from it. After that, she decided to be more open about her status and used social media to educate people about living with HIV.

Brown recently achieved her dream of launching her own YouTube channel, Saidy Brown, which she uses as a platform for her HIV activism.

Today the 23-year-old activist works as a youth advocate at South African Youth Positive, a network advocating for the rights and needs of young people living with HIV. She hosts workshops encouraging the youth to speak openly, dispel illusions and break the stigma around the virus.

Brown hopes people will be easier on those living with HIV and that HIV-positive people will be able to forgive and accept themselves.

Brown calls herself an activist in all aspects of life and is all about equality. Her main objective is to change the narrative of how the story of a person living with HIV ends. Living with HIV is not easy. Besides the social stigma, there is no cure for it and treatments have to be adhered to religiously. But Brown perseveres. “If I can use my story and my personal journey with HIV to help other people to deal with theirs, then it’s going to be okay.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Siboniso Ernest Thusi (23)

Members of the Fees Must Fall movement are familiar with the dejection and ire that South African students experience at tertiary institutions that fail them. Sboh Thusi is no exception.

Hailing from a disadvantaged background, Thusi studied office management and technology at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Like many, Thusi struggled to pay his fees and relied on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to do so.

After a some glitches in the application process, NSFAS only paid his fees for 2015 and not the previous two years. On the day of his graduation, Thusi received a statement of debt for about R65 000 instead of a qualification.

“When I realised that even though I was allowed to attend the graduation ceremony, I wasn’t going to get a certificate as proof that I’m a graduate like anyone else; that really killed me. I felt like the three years was a waste of time,” Thusi says. His parents could not afford to settle his debt, he couldn’t borrow the money and without a qualification his chances of finding work were slim.

Thusi realised being angry at the system was not going to help him move forward. “Sitting at home was not going to bring any change. Taking a stand and showing the university management and NSFAS that they failed us was the only option to get our fees paid,” he says.

In 2016 Thusi rallied other students whose fees were unpaid and started a petition to force NSFAS and DUT to settle their fees and release their qualifications. The online petition, called Hand Over Our Certificates DUT was ultimately a success, and NSFAS paid the outstanding bursary money to DUT. Thusi was able to complete an internship with the KwaZulu-Natal department of transport, and other students have been able to apply for and obtain jobs.

Thusi says institutions should always be held accountable if they don’t fulfil their promises, because people depend on these promises.

Thusi describes himself as “a simple guy who loves people a lot”. He believes everyone should be treated fairly regardless of who they are and where they come from. Now that he has overcome the student debt hurdle, Thusi wants to secure a job for himself. Next, he wants to solve youth unemployment, and his dream is to own a business to create job opportunities for graduates and other South Africans.

“I desperately want to be at the forefront of creating jobs for the youth, as we all know that youth is the future of this beautiful nation of ours.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Tinashe Njanji (34)

Tinashe Njanji (34)

Coordinator, People’s Health Movement South Africa

Zimbabwean-born social justice and human rights activist and educator Tinashe Njanji has worked extensively to campaign against xenophobia since 2008, when xenophobic violence swept across the country.

Along with other activists, journalists and religious leaders among others, Njanji helped respond to the spate of hateful xenophobic attacks. Njanji advocated for better government and police protection for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.

He says xenophobia angers him as it’s an injustice done only to black non-South Africans who happen to be Africans, and not white non-South Africans.

“We need to welcome and accept everyone as an equal human being and be reminded that during the struggles of liberation we helped each other in fighting for freedom. We housed each other and called each other comrades, brothers and sisters, not labels and name calling that happens today,” he says.

Those who instigate xenophobia must be held accountable to the law, Njanji says. He encourages the public to come out strongly condemning xenophobic incidents whenever they happen, just like how people come out on issues such as race and women abuse.

Njanji has been fighting for social justice since he was completing his tertiary studies back home in Zimbabwe. He has over 10 years of experience in community mobilisation and working with grassroots organisations across South Africa. His work extends beyond campaigning against xenophobia and he is involved in a number of civil societies that promote social justice.

Njanji was among the founding activists that formed the Right2Know Campaign and served as national administrator in previous work with the organisation.

Currently the coordinator of People’s Health Movement South Africa (PHM SA), Njanji works tirelessly to ensure better health care provision for poor people in southern Africa. Besides project management and the coordination of the national PHM SA office, he runs community workshops and training mainly in disadvantaged communities.

In the future, Njanji dreams of becoming a popular educator who works effectively at the community level to address the social determinants of health — and the social and health issues people face on a daily basis. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Wandisa Phama (29)

Wandisa Phama (29)

Acting deputy director, Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Wandisa Phama has always loved the idea of law. Growing up in the small town of Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, Phama became frustrated at how rural communities in small towns face lack of access to water, poor schools and high levels of unemployment. She wanted to use the law to search for solutions to these.

She is now an attorney and acting deputy director at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), where she heads the business and human rights programme.

“I don’t know how to translate the feeling of what it’s like to work as an acting deputy director at Cals at this age; it is nothing shy of a blessing,” she says. For Phama to be in a leadership position at Cals while it is undergoing a leadership transition is exhilarating, proving that there’s always been black, capable people who can lead public interest organisations.

On holding big business accountable for human rights violations, she says power over others should be kept in check. Phama was actively involved in supporting the Fees Must Fall protests and sits on the steering committee of the Right2Protest Project.

Assisting protesting students was a given for her. “I have known what it’s been like to sit outside the fence of better opportunities that education can provide due to lack of funds. I have known what it’s like to be sued by a powerful university for outstanding fees. I saw myself in the students I represented. I saw my mother in the parents arrested in Brixton, and I studied law to be available for a time such as Fees Must Fall,” she says.

Sitting on the Right2Protest steering committee is important to Phama, because she says in an unequal society like ours, a space for dissent is important for those who are unheard.

Phama is loud and bubbly. She loves to laugh, even through tough times. Losing her mother to cancer and her father a month later at 26, she has spent the last few years trying to recover and learn from her experiences. In honour of her mother who lived life fully and loved humanity, she intends to live life with similar zeal. As for her career, she will continue to practise and teach law in various capacities and will be working towards a PhD in the next few years to come. International human rights organisations may be on the cards too. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Carol Mohlala (29)

Carol Mohlala (29)

Media and communications manager, Lawyers for Human Rights

Carol Mohlala successfully utilises the influential power in the art of communication to engage with various social justice issues, including those affecting the LGBTI and other vulnerable communities.

This media studies and industrial sociology graduate is a writer, editor and communications strategist who also studied financial journalism through the Gordon Institute of Business Studies. Mohlala’s passion for media and communication sees her using her skills to drive her continued commitment to the effective communication of key messages to the most vulnerable in society. This work lends itself to the betterment of the communities Mohlala serves through her efforts within the NGO sector as well as her current role as media and communications manager for Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

In her role at LHR, Mohlala has been instrumental in communicating and facilitating debates around the Hate Crimes Bill and offering training to individuals in the NGO sector on effective media strategies and enhancing their understanding of the best tools to use in the media. Mohlala also offers commentary on broadcasting regulations, ethics and policies in South Africa.

Her biggest motivation is her late mother who instilled a strong sense of community in her. “Even though she had very little, she always wanted us to dream big. She pushed us to study but at the same time always reminded us to stay grounded. That even with education, or a job, we were part of a community and needed to give back,” says Mohlala. She hopes that anyone crossing paths with her remembers her strong belief in others, the fact that she never lets talent go unnoticed, and her openness to offering advice to the betterment of those she interacts with.

Currently serving her second term as a public representative on the panel of adjudicators at the Press Council, Mohlala has also played a noteworthy role in previous positions held within Media Monitoring Africa and the Save Our SABC (SOS) Coalition — civil society pressure groups that contribute towards highlighting marginalised voices.
Her active role in South Africa’s civil society is driven by a life lesson that Carol holds dearly: “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (a person is a person through other people). “No matter how educated you are or the car you drive or your position at work you can never survive on earth on your own. You are part of a community and you need to nurture those circles.” — Simphiwe Rens

B Camminga (34)

B Camminga (34)

Postdoctoral Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University

B Camminga completed their undergraduate and honours degrees at Rhodes University in 2008, majoring in history and politics.

Following this, they received a Chevening Scholarship to undertake an MA at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, University of Leeds, UK; and in 2012 was awarded a position as one of four Doctoral Fellows at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town.

Camminga situates their work at the intersection between transgender studies, queer studies and refugee and migration studies within Africa. Camminga’s PhD in Sociology from UCT is entitled Bodies over Borders and Borders over Bodies: The Gender Refugee and the Imagined South Africa.

Camminga’s research focuses on knowledge production and concepts of the everyday in relation to the needs of transgender and gender-transgressive asylum seekers from across Africa. In particular, they say: “I am interested in how transgender and gender-transgressive identity functions in South Africa and how asylum seekers come to access the country in order to find a perceived/hoped for notion of freedom and safety within the country’s borders.”

What is most interesting in these times and in Camminga’s work is the question of what it means to be gendered and sexed within this context, particularly in relation to the available rights and protections, not forgetting the global flow of information and human rights norms.

Camminga joined the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of the Witwatersrand as a postdoctoral researcher in 2018. Their research interests in rights, migration, asylum and diaspora as they relate to transgender people from the African continent make them an invaluable contribution to ensuring the human rights of the trans community are not infringed upon.

They continue to explore themes related to the bureaucratisation of gender in relation to transgender bodies and asylum regimes globally; possibilities for mobility and migration of transgender identified people from across and within the African region, and the history of trans phenomena in South Africa.

They publish in journals regularly and a recent book project, Beyond the Mountain: Queer Life in Africa’s ‘Gay Capital’, with Dr Zethu Matebeni, explores the conflicting iterations of race, sex, gender and sexuality that mark the City of Cape Town. — Sifiso Buthelezi

Ariane Nevin (30)

Ariane Nevin (30)

National prisons specialist, Sonke Gender Justice

For Ariane Nevin, engaging with social justice issues has been a long-standing passion. “I’ve always had a passion for social justice, particularly to address inequality, discrimination and stigma,” she says. Nevin has developed a solid knowledge foundation within the legal fraternity; knowledge she draws from to participate in South Africa’s betterment. She holds an LLM from the University of California, Los Angeles, and completed an LLB at UCT.

Nevin joined SECTION27 in 2013 as a Students for Law and Social Justice Fellow working on issues related to the right to education, including the Limpopo textbooks case, school infrastructure and sanitation cases and a guide for survivors of sexual violence at school.

“Through my involvement as a student activist in Students for Law and Social Justice, I learned about the power that the law has historically played in entrenching injustice, but also its potential to further social justice, and decided that the best way to go about combating inequality was to learn how to harness the law and, where necessary, to dismantle it.”

Nevin has also worked on the Pollsmoor Prison overcrowding case, partnering with Lawyers for Human Rights, to eventually win a court victory against the government that led to a drastic reduction in overcrowding levels at Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility. Her professional and academic pursuits have allowed her to work with vulnerable groups, particularly incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. She credits Nikki Stein, Adila Hassim, Professor Tendayi Achiume, Marlise Richter and Emily Keehn as some of the women who have mentored and inspired her tremendously.

There are a number of things Nevin wishes to contribute towards to bring about change in South Africa’s current state of affairs: an end to all the toxic gender norms, discrimination and stigma that lead to such high rates of physical and sexual violence in South Africa. “I’d want to break down the stigma against the hyper-marginalised — sex workers, incarcerated people, parolees and others — and include them in the conversations that affect them.”

Currently working as the national prisons specialist at Sonke Gender Justice, Nevin is grateful that she can contribute in this sector. “I know of many people out there doing incredible work for the rights of incarcerated people who may never be recognised for that work. I’ve been honoured to work with them and learn from them: Thulani Ndlovu, Jerry Mbetane, Mzamo Sidelo, to name just a few.”

In July 2018, Nevin joins the Constitutional Court as a judicial clerk. — Simphiwe Rens

Gilbert Pooley (34)

Gilbert Pooley (34)

Managing director, Umuzi

Gilbert Pooley is the managing director of Umuzi in downtown Johannesburg. The academy contributes greatly in providing youngsters a year of training that renders them workplace-ready for jobs in advertising, photography and videography, coding and data analysis.

Pooley says South Africa’s overlooked talent is his motivation. “We think of our reported six million unemployed youth with shame and disgrace. For South Africa’s hard-working income tax payers, there’s a handy narrative that the plague of matric failures and unemployment is a lost cause; its victims destined to tend gardens, wash dishes and fill tanks. We blame the government and assume it’s their mess to fix. The truth is, there are millions of young, industrious, talented, entrepreneurial self-starters who are systematically excluded from the economy due to massive inequalities of access.”

Recruits at Umuzi are paid a stipend and work 9am to 5pm to get them used to real work. Many are university dropouts who were bright but couldn’t pay the fees. Umuzi Academy — sponsored by companies who offer work experience — trains these youngsters, and more than 80% of the recruits get full-time jobs after completing the programme.

“I’m most proud of our Umuzi community of black creatives, directors, designers, consultants, strategists and coders transforming the tech and creative industry. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing their lives and careers take off,” says Pooley, who is positive about the professional development and future of young South Africans despite his concerns about the country’s current public education system.

“Thankfully, there is hope. Through my Umuzi experience, I’ve learned that unemployed and under-valued young people are able to help themselves. They can become independent, innovative value creators if they have access to high-quality learning, and high-value careers. We’ve seen hundreds of previously unemployed, but talented, young people blossom in just one year on Umuzi’s Creative Tech programme. Today, they work at some of the top employers in the country, changing the narrative and securing their future, their families’ and hopefully our nation’s.”

Describing himself as empathetic and curious, Pooley says he realises that past advantage counts less every day. “How much you know, or what you own is becoming irrelevant. How present you are and how fast you’re learning are the contemporary value levers. Thankfully this advantages talented young people, even if they are currently unemployed.” — Simphiwe Rens

Lesego Tlhwale (32)

Lesego Tlhwale (32)

Media advocacy officer: Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Author James Humes’s words capture what Lesego Tlhwale has achieved in her life thus far: remarkable leadership through the art of communication.

This journalism graduate, who is reading towards a qualification in Communication Science, is the media advocacy officer at the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat). This role allows Tlhwale to use communication and media to raise awareness about the human rights of sex workers and advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. She is unapologetic in her activism for the issues of women, especially black queer women.

“South Africa is a country with many problems. However, the one thing that I would change is the level of femicide happening in the country. We cannot live in a country where women and children are killed at an alarming rate. I want our government to take the issues seriously, and put in place resources to curb the violence,” says Tlhwale.

Her commitment towards communication for social change was nurtured during her tenure as a journalist working for Behind the Mask — a human rights media nonprofit — which documented human rights violations against the LGBTIQ community in Africa. Tlhwale’s reporting focused on LGBTIQ stories, through which she spoke out against homophobia.

A major motivation for her to continue doing the work she does stems from witnessing people who go through life being abused, violated and discriminated against, rising above all the hostility and standing up for their rights, even though the circumstances are not in their favour. “I’m talking about black, queer women who live in townships, and have to deal with homophobes and toxic masculinity. Those who had to bury their friends and lovers who were raped and killed because of expressing who they are,” says Tlhwale.

She has been selected to participate in the civil leadership track at the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. “The selection to the Mandela Washington fellowship is by far my biggest achievement and I hope to use the connection and knowledge which I will gain to improve my level of activism and push me to do more to change the realities of black, queer women in South Africa.” — Simphiwe Rens

Lesego Ndala (29)

Lesego Ndala (29)

Monitoring and evaluation specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments

Lesego Ndala is the Beyoncé of social impact. From as far back as he can remember, he has always been a person who wanted to do more with his time. After spending his gap year in the UK, he enrolled for a BA in International Relations and Politics at Wits. It was here that he gravitated towards volunteering as a pastime.

“When I was a student I found myself working on a volunteering project in Bushbuckridge that had failed dismally. That project exposed me to the consequences of failed development and I wanted to know what a successful development project looks like.”

To date, Ndala has worked on social impact projects with the Wits Volunteer Programme, the Ikamva Youth Volunteering programme, Enke! Make your Mark, and more recently, Tshikululu Social Investments.

Cumulatively, this exposed him to a variety of leadership approaches, taught him monitoring and evaluation frameworks, and most importantly, reiterated the fact that he is exactly where he needs to be. He is now a monitoring and evaluation specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments, which involves developing monitoring and evaluation frameworks for clients in the renewable energy, health and education sectors.

“Social impact matters to me because of the reality of social injustice that we all experience each day; people are losing out on opportunities to learn more and build themselves because they do not have the knowledge and the adaptive literacies to take part in various activities.”

Despite this, he is excited about the transformative potential of his visibility and representation as a black man in the monitoring and evaluation space. “This is the youngest you will ever be, and even if it is hard, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. If you put in the work, you will succeed. Nobody plans to be a role model, but if you can be a role model for others, do so.” — Nomonde Ndwalaza

Lwazi Mtshiyo (35)

Lwazi Mtshiyo (35)

Senior political organiser, Ndifuna Ukwazi

Human rights lawyer, researcher and community activist Lwazi Mtshiyo hails from the small village of Corana near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. Perhaps that’s where his love of rural South Africa and other rural parts of the world he has had the privilege of visiting comes from.

With eight years of experience in civil society and public interest litigation representing marginalised communities on issues such as housing and land, basic services, the right to protest and informal traders’ rights, Mtshiyo has been active in South Africa’s social justice scene.

While he worked for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, Mtshiyo was involved in key constitutional cases such as the Dladla case on the right to housing for the evicted. In the Marikana case, Mtshiyo was also one of the legal representatives for the families of the victims of the Marikana massacre in civil claims against the state.

The Fees Must Fall movement was a struggle close to his heart and he supported it wholeheartedly. When Mtshiyo and his sisters were at university they experienced the same challenges with fees. Mtshiyo provided legal representation to arrested students during the protests in Johannesburg. “Fees Must Fall was clear indication that we have a very strong youth that will lead this country to greater things,” Mtshiyo says.

Today, Mtshiyo is a senior political organiser for Cape Town-based land and housing rights organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi. Mtshiyo’s understanding of the land question also comes from the work he previously did with shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo in KwaZulu Natal — for whom he has the greatest respect.

With the recent debates around land expropriation going around, Mtshiyo has his hands full. He says the long struggle fighting for land and housing rights has been disappointing and taxing.

“When we embarked on the current democratic dispensation none of us ever imagined that our black people would engage in such tussles with government on the fulfilment of its basic constitutional obligations. Housing and land are basic needs that human beings need to lead a decent and meaningful life.” — Shaazia Ebrahim

Malebo Sephodi (34)

“My work has always been about trying to fight for social justice,” says activist and writer Malebo Sephodi. Her fierceness, proclivity to stand up for what she believes in and grace have earned her the title of “Lioness”, but she describes herself as an African feminist because she says she is steeped in her identity as an African woman.

Among her many pursuits, Sephodi runs a safe space for black women, where they can just be, called Lady Leader. The name is a play on words: “lady” comes from a certain behaviour imposed on women to follow decorum and “leader” is a title ladies were never meant to hold.

Lady Leader hosts a group of women — academics, community workers and entrepreneurs — who Sephodi mentors to become their best selves. It is a space for activists to take care of themselves, to be at peace and to cultivate joy. It has evolved over time, and was called Soul Ova until 2013.

Sephodi started Soul Ova in 2005 in response to gender-based violence. This was partly to deal with her own demons, and partly because she wanted to help those who had survived it. Soul Ova was a counselling organisation and support group that worked with shelters, dealing with cases of abuse nationwide. In an attempt to understand why men abused women, Sephodi tried to incorporate men into her counselling. She worked on a project at the Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre to address the issue of violent masculinities in South Africa and held mentorship groups for boys.

In 2017 Sephodi published her book Miss Behave. It examines issues of power through the lens of a black woman in South Africa grappling with intersectionality, patriarchy, race, class, sexuality and gender — with gender being one of the most important elements in the book. “When we are conditioned to think gender is binary, we become quite prejudiced to anyone that does not conform to what our ideas of gender are,” Sephodi says. This births all kinds of prejudice, including sexism and homophobia.

Sephodi says the most important thing about her book is its accessibility: the way it explains political issues and concepts, particularly feminism, in accessible language. Sephodi says this is significant, because academic language often excludes and alienates certain groups of people.

The book challenges society’s deep-seated beliefs about what it means to be an obedient woman. It’s a reflection on Sephodi’s journey in misbehaviour that renounces the societal expectations imposed upon black women. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Michael Marchant (29)

Michael Marchant (29)

Researcher: Investigations and Advocacy, Open Secrets

The private sector’s complicity in human rights violations often go unaccounted for in the broader discourse of corruption and human rights. “It is the possibility to challenge this impunity, and make life a little more uncomfortable for the powerful, that I love about our work,” says Michael Marchant.

As a researcher at Open Secrets, a nonprofit that promotes private sector accountability for economic crimes and human rights violations in Southern Africa, Marchant is interested in how power and politics is organised and the impact this has on the world.

Powerful corporations, as much as governments, should be criticised and held accountable for corruption and failures at the expense of human rights, Marchant says.

He was the lead researcher for the book Apartheid Guns and Money, which he says was an eye-opening process. The book helps dispel the myth that apartheid South Africa was an isolated pariah state, revealing that it was enmeshed in powerful, conservative global networks that supported the regime with money and weapons, even while publicly criticising it.

Apartheid Guns and Money shuts down the argument that corruption arrived in South Africa with democracy — the racist subtext that corruption is a problem of black government — revealing the scale of corruption of the apartheid government. It shows that to really understand corruption and economic crime, we need to uncover the networks of the powerful that profit from injustice. Marchant hopes South Africans can use this book as as a basis to pursue accountability for apartheid’s accomplices.

Active in the Right2Know Campaign, Marchant believes information is a crucial basis for power. “It is no surprise that governments acting contrary to the interests of their people seek so actively to control information and to limit transparency,” he says. This is why access to information remains an important struggle in the context of our democracy.

Marchant is studying toward an LLB degree. In the future, he hopes to continue to work on investigations and cases that break new ground in bringing corporations and private actors complicit in human rights violations to book. — Shaazia Ebrahim

Pamela Mondliwa (32)

Pamela Mondliwa (32)

Senior researcher, Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development and Acacia Economics

A second-year microeconomics course sparked senior economist Pamela Mondliwa’s interest in economics. Today she works as a senior economist at the Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED) at the University of Johannesburg and is a member of premier David Makhura’s Economic Advisory Panel.

“Economics provides a lens to reflect on the world and understand the different incentives that drive various outcomes,” she says, “It is an important tool that can be used to drive policies that will result in better outcomes.”
Between 2009 and 2013 Mondliwa worked as an economist for the Competition Commission in its policy and research division. She dealt with complex mergers, cartels and abuse of dominance cases.

Competition authorities guard against firms colluding or abusing their market positions to charge prices above competitive levels and/or engage in conduct that excludes rivals. This impacts the ordinary person on the ground, as anti-competitive conduct can lead to high prices for consumers, less choice and poorer products and services.

“I love this work because the authorities are working to level the playing field,” she says. Besides this, Mondliwa was also part of the team that designed the “Fast Track Settlement Programme” which led to the commission settling the construction cartel cases, including the bid-rigging of the 2010 world cup stadia.

Mondliwa is committed to a restructuring of the economy to allow for economic transformation and creating an inclusive economic system. Competition policy is a critical part of efforts to change the structure of the economy.
Addressing entrenched economic power and creating opportunities in the face of barriers to entry requires a much wider package of measures. Her research for the CCRED is about understanding these measures.

Mondliwa is currently focusing on questions related to South Africa’s structural change and industrial development. South Africa has de-industrialised prematurely and this poses a number of challenges for creating employment and increasing incomes. She hopes to continue to contribute to the discussions on what it will take to re-industrialise so the economy can be more inclusive. Over time she would like to transition to implementation of interventions that can bring about change for the economy.

“I have always been driven to make a difference,” Mondliwa says. “My journey is evidence that opportunities can change one’s path, and I would like to contribute to ensuring that opportunities are available to all South Africans.” — Shaazia Ebrahim