Lesego Tlhwale (32)

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2018 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans

Civil Society

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 [being] 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

Twitter & Instagram: @lesegotlhwale