Words and images by Thabisani Ncube

I’m grateful to the AIDS Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) for affording me the opportunity to further develop, strengthen and sustain my social and technical skills including life experiences through their ‘enabling staff development’ policy. From the 7th May to 1st June 1, I participated in the Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Learning Centre (RLC) for Southern Africa under the Civic Leadership Track. This is a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African Leaders between the ages of 18-35 from 15 Southern African countries to build their innate capacities and skills to:

  • Become critical thinkers
  • Solve complex multi-disciplinary problems
  • Foster entrepreneurial thinking
  • Foster innovative use of information, knowledge and opportunities
  • Encourage communication and multi-cultural collaboration
  • Create awareness of contemporary African issues

It was a beautiful experience to interact with 135 young African leaders across different backgrounds, motivations, walks of life, capacities and operational fields to share learning experience, ideas and actions to put Africa higher up the development agenda. I was excited for the space and to be in the space and contribute towards it. The space resonated with my work and enabled me to expand my network and understand more closely issues, stories of change and most effective strategies being employable across the civil society space in Southern Africa.

Southern Africa is comprised of several countries, as well as Island States of Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion, who although physically detached from the African landmass, are still part of it. The YALI opportunity provided essential knowledge sharing and networking space to pursue in relation to my work as the Sex Rights Africa Network Coordinator, as they fall under our Program Focus Countries. I was elated to be selected as part of the delegation of Cohort 13 Leaders to attend The 9th Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture on Friday 25th May, delivered by former Deputy President and current Executive Secretary for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the ZK Matthews Hall, at UNISA in Pretoria. The theme for this year’s lecture was “Gender Equality and Women Empowerment: A Necessary Paradigm Shift in Africa’s Quest for Development and Poverty Eradication.”

The major highlight of my YALI RLC Southern Africa experience was in leading my entire Civic Leadership track in buying into 2 of my ideas to: Provide a year’s supply of sanitary wear for girls at Nkosi’s Haven by fundraising from all 135 leaders and have a recognition award to Ms Gail Johnson founder and Executive Director of Nkosi’s Haven. Nkosi’s Haven was named after Nkosi Johnson, an AIDS activist who dedicated his short life to ensuring that mothers and their children are kept together under the belief that no mother should have to leave her child due to HIV diagnosis. We had visited the establishment to learn from them and proffer some ideas on how they can operate more efficiently, effectively and sustainably in a resource-constrained environment.

From the 2 visits we made to gather information about their operations and offer ideas to strengthen and sustain their work, I recognised that we would not really be sharing new information that they hadn’t already tried or interacted with – although useful. Our leaders needed to focus on an ‘action-level’ to realise an impact – this starts with small deeds that lead to big changes. The award was drafted into the programme for our graduation ceremony which also coincided with 1st June (International Children’s Day) – it is also the day that Nkosi Johnson died. We  organised a Candle Light memorial in memory of his brave contribution to the HIV landscape not only in South Africa but Africa and the world at large. The gestures I initiated received rave reviews and were much appreciated as a standard for upcoming YALI engagements.

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