08/03/2018 12:40 SAST | Updated 08/03/2018 13:58 SAST

5 Mbokodos Dedicated To Transforming The Lives Of Africans

This International Women's Day, we hail some South African heroines.

This International Women's Day, we shine the spotlight on five women who have dedicated their lives to the transformation of Africans, especially in the most rural and remote parts of the continent.

1. Dr Lulu Gwagwa – spatial equity advocate

Born in rural Umzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Gwagwa is a town and regional planner who has been practising in the field for more 30 years. She's an accomplished business leader and philanthropist, with spatial equity the driving force behind her philanthropic work. In the 90s, she served on the Commission for the Delineation and Demarcation of Provincial Boundaries, which decided on the country's current provinces.

Gwagwa also founded the Mhakazi Trust about 20 years ago to empower young people, especially from rural areas — many of whom have since graduated from tertiary institutions. "Education, education, education. But education is much more than just academic books. It is about opening yourself up to learning in general," she says. Four times a year, she also hosts a "Girls' Lunch", at which she engages young African women on issues facing them in modern society.

"Read widely. Travelling broadens your mind, and it is not as expensive as we think. Build and sustain your networks. Get involved in your community, and in empowering others. But most importantly, invest in knowing yourself," she says.

Africa Communications Group

2. Michelle Adelman - food security activist

Adelman wants to see Africa become a food-secure continent that wipes out malnutrition. She advocates for programmes that provide early childhood education programmes and safe spaces for children after school.

"Food security is a major global concern, the consequences of which are most acutely felt in Africa and other emerging markets. I believe that technology-led, sustainable agriculture is a critical growth sector for Africa's transformation," she says.

Her firm, Accite, focuses on agriculture and food technology projects fitting that description that spur economic diversification and employment of youth and women.

Adelman is also a firm believer in employing women, in particular, if a long-term social impact is to be made in the continent.

3. Fayelle Ouane - entrepreneurship activist

The 35-year-old is the co-founder of Suguba, a platform that fosters regional integration to develop robust entrepreneurial ecosystems in West Africa. She believes young entrepreneurs deserve a seat at the economic table.

In the next decade, Ouane hopes to see an Africa being valued for what it can teach the rest of the world, instead of being referred to as a "charity case".

"Having such a large proportion of youth idle in countries that have the population pyramid of a typical African country can be likened to having a car with a gas tank that is leaking," she says.

"I would encourage the youth to not wait to be given opportunities, but rather to demand them and help create them themselves," she said.

4. Salma Seetaroo - internet access advocate

Seetaroo is working to grow fibre optics to reach the most disadvantaged through education and health access in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With her team, she is currently connecting universities with high speed internet so that Africa's students have the same digital opportunities as their western counterparts.

In Zimbabwe, Seetaroo is involved in the running of gold mines, which have contributed to the eradication of unemployment in the country.

The 40-year-old believes in treating Africa as a purchasing power, and her advice to the youth of Africa is to become go-getters. "Be entrepreneurs – we are not burdened with incumbent infrastructure and we can jump ahead in terms of economic development – with new technology and internet access – look at businesses in China, Europe and tailor them to Africa," she said.


5. Eloine Barry - public health evangelist

The 37-year-old and her team have dedicated themselves to working on public-health campaigns against malaria and ebola, and promoting vaccination — using the media to create awareness and help drive much-needed changes in Africa.

She believes the media has the power to disseminate messages effectively, so that accurate representations are made about the continent, and this can be achieved by courageous and smart journalists who tell the story as they see it, and educate the public in a balanced, clear and transparent way.

"We believe they are the right actors who can change the world," she said.

This avid reader, yoga enthusiast and traveller believes African youth should not seek opportunities outside Africa. "Stay in your country, stop seeking greener pastures abroad, as you have everything right in front of your eyes. The African continent is the future, it is vibrant, it is varied, it offers so many opportunities that you will not find anywhere else."