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Our African continent currently has a lot going on. In South Africa right now, we are experiencing loadshedding, Nigerians recently lost access to Twitter, and Zimbabwe is grappling with the challenges of dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic. So much is happening!
In the midst of all these various challenges, there are young fiery activists working hard to make changes in their communities. Some of them have taken their activism to the world. As we reflect on the heroic boldness of the June 16 generation, I got in touch with young Africans that have made positive changes in their communities through activism. They afforded me their time, shared their thoughts and also told me a bit more about the work they do, and how they are disrupting generational systems. 

Elizabeth Talatu Williams, 25 – Nigeria

Elizabeth Talatu Williams is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Impact and Development Initiative. She is passionate about advancing sexual reproductive health of young people. 

Q. What does the term ‘Activist’ mean to you?

An activist is a disruptor of systems that violate the fundamental human rights of an individual. An activist is a mobilizer who brings people together to advocate for a common cause. I am an activist.

Q. Why did you choose to pursue the advancement of sexual reproductive health of young people?

My cousin, Cauna got pregnant at the age of 15 and as a result had to drop out of Secondary School and get married to the man who got her pregnant. This was the beginning of my journey as a sexual reproductive health and rights advocate. At the age of 17, I decided to work with Action Health Incorporated, a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria that works to advance the health and wellbeing of young people, as a youth program assistant.

Q. What are some of the challenges you faced and recent victories you celebrated?

Nigeria is a very cultural and religious society, where conversations surrounding sex are seen as a taboo. It is believed that information regarding sexual reproductive health when provided to young people will make them promiscuous and promote their engagement in sexual activities. This is a myth that prohibits young people from accessing this life-saving information and is also a contributing factor to parent’s disapproval.

Despite these challenges, progress has certainly been made. Some of my achievements include contributing to the development of the first ever comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for out-of-school young people in Nigeria, development and review of the Lagos State Youth Policy and its strategic implementation framework. 

Q. You were also a panelist at the International Centre for Research and Women (ICRW). How has this experience impacted the work that you do?

This experience was a catalyst for growth in my chosen field of advocacy. It opened doors of opportunities, granted me access to world leaders and decision makers, widened my network, equipped me with soft and technical skills, and strengthened my advocacy from the grassroots to international platforms.

Q. It is International Pride month. In your programme of advancing sexual reproductive health, is the LGBTQIA+ community included? 

We have programmes for young people in the LGBTQIA+ community. As a ‘Leaving No Nigerian Behind’ (LeNNiB) Champion, I led a project focused on key population (Men Sleeping with Men and Lesbians). We reached 150 adolescents and young people with HIV prevention information and testing services. Although, the law criminalises same sex marriage, the human rights clearly state that everyone has a right to healthcare regardless of sexual orientation. Human rights apply to everyone and we should respect these rights.

Amonge Sinxoto, 20 – South Africa

Amonge Sinxoto is founder of Blackboard Africa. She advocates for youth leadership on the African continent and the involvement of young people in key development programmes. She is currently studying towards a BA in International Relations and Political Studies. 

Q. We are in Youth month, what does the term ‘activism’ mean to you?

I believe that being an activist starts with the notion of standing up against what one thinks is unjust and unfair. It is undeniably vital to take physical action on things you want to change, even on a micro-scale. Activism is not only a key ingredient in bringing about change, Activism is change.

Q. Some people are of the opinion that COVID relief grants cause a dependency attitude, how do you address these issues in your programmes? 

Our program, Pass The Baton, is really about fostering an entrepreneurial mindset amongst youth. This program looks at getting learners to think critically about the services, goods and opportunities that are there for them to create a sense of livelihood. We work to help them know how to ideate, create and validate any kind of enterprise that they might seek to launch. We also look to have corporate professionals, entrepreneurs, trailblazers and the likes, present and engage with the learners to provide further support and insight.

Q. There is a difference between inspiring change on social media, and doing work on the ground. What kind of work have you been doing on the ground? 

Besides delivering the programs, we have also integrated food parcels for our beneficiaries and their families with the delivery of the program to alleviate some of the strain caused by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Q. Has there been support from government or do you collaborate with other organisations to make change? 

We have relied heavily on collaborations, donations as well support from private sector businesses like SAP, who have really stepped up in terms of supporting young social entrepreneurs. We are still exploring opportunities to get government support.

Sanele Xaba, 26 – South Africa

Sanele Xaba is South Africa’s first International Male Model with Albinism, Actor, Speaker, Writer and Founder of the Rolled Sleeves Outreach Project and Partner of Dutch NGO “Inside the Same”. He has been in the modelling industry for 10 years. He is from Durban but based in Cape Town and seasonally spends time in Europe.

Q. How do you react to the criticism you face in modelling rooted on the fact that you are a black man, living with albinism?

If I paid attention to what people say about me, I probably would’ve been in a mental institution by now. I’m more interested in learning about myself more than what other people have to say about me.

Q. Ever since you started modelling has there been changes with regards to how the ‘decision-makers’ receive people with albinism?

Well, in the beginning it did feel like a trend, but I guess as we continued to make noise about the importance of diversity, people opened their eyes and became aware in the fashion industry.

Q. What are some of the challenges people living with albinism still face today?

I would say it’s the stereotypes and myths. This has resulted in children with albinism in many parts of rural Africa being abandoned and ill-treated. I believe the media plays a big role in this, be it negative or positive. We should have more progressive conversations on changing the narrative of how people with albinism are portrayed in media and in society.

Q. You are a voice for many voiceless people living with albinism. Do you feel any pressure?

Not really, I try my best to do my work with mastery and be the best version of myself as I constantly evolve. Simply being me is what brought me to where I am now.

Q. Sometimes people speak up on social media and it ends there. What work still needs to be done on the ground? Especially by the authorities (government).

Speaking up on social media does matter. It’s not the best way to fight back, but it’s way better than doing nothing, We need more action. I’d say providing schools and communities in rural areas with education about albinism would be a great start.

Angeline Makore, 31 – Zimbabwe

Angeline Makore is an activist from Zimbabwe who campaigns for the health and well-being of women and girls. She believes that everyone’s rights are equal and they should be treated equally. Makore stands firmly against child marriage. 

Q. When you decided to stand against child marriage, were you not scared of the powers that be?

Growing up and seeing the consequences of early forced child marriages happening in the communities and families around me, made me want to put my foot forward and do something about it. Of course when you start advocating for change, there will always be negative forces coming from all angles. However, despite all that, in my ending child marriages programmes, I try to engage people like religious leaders and other community duty bearers to impart knowledge and forge partnerships in eliminating early forced child marriages.

Q. Your non-governmental organisation, SPARK R.E.A.D, uses art to educate young girls about their rights. Why did you decide to use this method?

This method is very critical in our work because the results are always as instant and long lasting, since the information gained is usually embedded in the minds of the targeted audience. We use edutainment in our program implementation because young people are energetic.

Q. Does the Zimbabwean government support your projects?

In terms of funding, I have not received funding before from the Government, however they do roll out occasional funding to youth organizations.

Q. What are the biggest challenges at the moment and the ‘wins’ that you are most proud of?

The biggest challenges in the work that I do is trying to change toxic perspectives and beliefs. My biggest wins are managing to change parents’ decision, who were going to marry off their daughters, in exchange for food parcels. 

Q. What is the ideal country that you would like to live in? 

I would like to live in a country where the rights of women and girls are respected and they are holistically empowered to reach their fullest potential.

Noxolo Simelane, 28 – South Africa

Noxolo Simelane was the chairperson of LQBTQIA+ group at the University of Johannesburg. She led the conversation about getting unisex bathrooms at UJ Soweto Campus, until they were implemented. She studied  towards a BA in Public Management and Governance.

Q. What was the reason behind lobbying for unisex bathrooms at UJ?

The reason for us as the LGBTQIA+ Society for lobbying the gender-neutral bathrooms was to bring inclusivity within the institution and it was another way of creating safe zones for everyone.

Q. Was there backlash? If so, how did you deal with it?

Resistance was the overt repercussion which we faced in our endeavors of implementing the safe zone bathroom, which were meant to be LGBTQIA+ inclusive bathrooms. However due to our experience of condemnation and general societal hate speech, we had already anticipated the forthcoming offence, commentary and rather opted to educate, and choose passive resistance to avoid having the institution antagonizing us or blaming us for the inhumanity, and aggravation the homophobic groups were bringing onto campus.

Q. When this was implemented, it was a victory for the LGBTQIA+ community. What else still needs to be done?

We as the LGBTQIA+ community perceived it to be a victory. It was a small step towards our desired inclusive societal norm goals. It was still a milestone worth celebrating as it illustrated that the UJ institute was supporting, concerned and listening to our grievances. Though there may still be a lot more which we wish to achieve, taking into account that the gender-neutral bathrooms were only implemented in Soweto Campus.

Q. What does the term Activist mean to you?

I believe an activist may be conceptualised as a civil servant that advocates for those who are either too afraid to speak out or find themselves in a situation where they cannot speak for themselves. Thus, ultimately an activist is an individual that can bring about change irrespective of the magnitude of the controversy, through pro-active support of strong actions such as in public protests and resilience in the face of societal resistance and condemnation.

The Future Is In Good Hands

It is inspiring to know that there are young people all over the continent fighting for the rights of others, and those who are trying to upskill the younger generation. The future of this continent already looks bright as these young people continue to take up space.