The YaLa Miracle

Nobantu Modise — By Nobantu from South Africa

From November 2nd to November 5th 2017, 70 participants and alumni from the Aileen Getty School of Citizen Journalism travelled to Jordan together to partake in a weekend of learning, dialogue, and fun. This is Nobantu’s experience: 

There was a wise king who lived a millennia ago and was revered the world over. Among his treasured written works was a particularly poignant reflection on life, in which he said that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to reap a harvest.

I will be the first to admit that I have been fairly spoiled as far as my time for experiencing the miraculous is concerned. I was born in political exile to a family of anti-apartheid activists, thereby inheriting a very rich and unique legacy. A miracle of its own. I grew up in a democratising South Africa, making strides to forgive and reconcile, as opposed to degenerating into the brutal civil war the world anticipated. A total miracle. I had the great fortune of going to brilliant schools and accessing opportunities which my toasted caramel skin would never have accessed pre-1994. Miraculous. Nelson Mandela was my President…epic!

As it would be,  November 2- 5 was my time to experience an unforgettable miracle which stretched beyond my republic into the arms of a borderless, loving family known as YaLa Young Leaders. Under a banner of progressive thinking, what the world would most likely deem an “unlikely set of fellows” converged into a well facilitated series of exchange and…well…fun! 70 bright young minds came from Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Kurdistan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, to Amman, Jordan for Yala’s Alumni Citizen Journalism Conference. The program and set of lecturers were especially arranged to refine our skills in journalism, public speaking, writing and peace activism. More than anything, I wish we had an extra week, at the very least, to explore varying contentious issues related to peace building and peace activism, because it is a vast and delicate set of topics that cannot be rushed, whether approached from a Middle Eastern or African perspective.

Reflecting on my time in the Spring 2017 cohort, as well as in my time at this conference, I highly appreciate that YaLa has restructured, coloured, and animated a poorly cast image of a very special region. All I was exposed to before was the calculated assertions of academia and the impersonal generalizations of mainstream media. Now I have had the honour of being exposed to sets of narratives that few have done justice to. Having met my peers and counterparts, I see no difference between us. Whether South African or Middle Eastern, we have our set of introverts and extroverts. We are dancers, philosophers, mathematicians, business people, and the hilarious one or two who just shaved off 10 years from their biological age. *Wink* But ultimately, we are just people. People willing to care. People willing to do. People willing to navigate our way through landmines of trauma, religious sensitivities, and…well…you have to apply for the programme to find out the rest.

As fulfilling as it is to simply bask in the beauty of this miracle known as YaLa, and its network of astute young leaders, I cannot help but ask, “What are the odds?”

What are the odds that I would jet off from the southern-most tip of Africa to see young Israelis and Palestinians learning together, being vulnerable with each other…then bonding over Bamba? What are the odds that this unlikely collection of nationalities would be excitedly buzzing around a resort, simulating news rooms and generating content dissecting critical topics? What are the odds that from societies stubbornly set on continuing divisive tugs of war that there is a resilient, like-minded set of young people stirring a current to initiate change? What are the odds that most of us arrived not knowing a single soul but left a changed person? I expected to learn, but what are the odds that I would meet so many kindred spirits? What, indeed, are the odds?

Having grown up in the miracle of a democratising state has not, in any way, made me immune to recognising and cherishing a special miracle when I see one. More than anything, I see more clearly a time where my heart swells to replicate the miraculous. I see a time where a change-maker is no longer a lone wolf, howling into unforgiving winds, but part of a bold, eager pack – rabid to redefine what should be deemed acceptable. I see a time when inspiration and action are colliding to re-shape the world that we live in.

More than anything I see a season to exclaim: “Yalla…let’s go!”


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My Electricity Situation: A Journey Through my Mind, Life, and Reality

Picture1 (1) — By Gugulethu from Zimbabwe

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

There is nothing that can explain the euphoria that overcomes me every time I board a bus and I’m headed to that one place I call home – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In the purée of my thoughts I’m often engulfed with the numerous activities that I will undertake once I get there ranging from reconnecting with old friends, seeing my family, and having to devour all of my holy grail foods. More times than not these thoughts are watered down by the sudden realization of the harsh realities of the socio-economic injustices in my country, which is often clouded by my aloofness.

The first thought of these inequalities that make my stomach churn is the numerous involuntary candle light dinners that I would have to succumb to, not because my family is too romantic but because the dire electricity blackouts are the order of the day; it has become the norm. As I sit on the bus my mind often flashes back to a time when I was studying towards my O Level exams. I always dub that time as one of the hardest and most intrinsic parts of my existence. Our country was experiencing our greatest economic recession partly caused by sanctions imposed by the West, and when the West sneezed, it meant that the minorities like us would catch the cold.

I vividly remember how I would get home and find that there is a blackout and I would have to aid my grandparents in gathering pieces of firewood if they did not have enough money to purchase it. This would lead to making a fire; in unfortunate times it would either be raining or icy cold. All of this had to be done on a daily basis and I would still have to study with a candle in my most critical high school phase. I like to reiterate how I could have done better, could have got better marks in my O Level if I had a conducive environment to study in. One may argue through an old adage and even quote Beyoncé that when life gives you lemons make lemonade, but the government officials and policy makers have no idea the psychological turmoil which is felt mostly by young people brought about by the lack of electricity.

As a black person living in a third world country, one is expected to accept the status quo, be comfortable with it, and view it as the norm. Flash forward to Zimbabwe’s current electricity situation, the juxtaposition in the economical inequalities in comparison with my current country of residence, South Africa: the difference is quite alarming. Starting off with South Africa, the load-shedding is relative to where one stays.The rich and the middle class rarely empathize with those that live in informal settlements, who don’t experience blackouts because there is no electricity to begin with. What makes the plight of those living in informal settlements saddening is the fact that they live right in the heart of the urban areas where they can make a physical comparison to the wealthy, where a road separates beaming lights from smoke and dust.

Bringing it closer to home, in Zimbabwe, the supply of electricity is still critical, as ‘load shedding’ is used on a routine basis. It still puzzles me to this day that the only way the government can regulate the power generation capacity to meet the demand is to cut electricity for taxpayers and citizens at large for long periods of hours, even days. Instead of seeking aid from international organizations and external funding sources to step in and sponsor alternative, clean, sustainable, and renewable energy solutions like solar energy. Solar energy has fewer carbon emissions and in the process curbs the increase of global warming and climate change. Still, solar energy hasn’t been deeply exploited in Zimbabwe.

People that stay in the rural areas suffer the most as 19% of the total rural population have access due to the prohibitive costs of extending national electricity grids. In addition, no new developments have been made in the country’s generation sector since the commissioning of the Hwange Coal Plant in 1988, meaning all coal fired stations in Zimbabwe are in need of major upgrades. They have numerous and frequent production stops, or to say the least are not producing at all which is one of the key contributors to the longevity of blackouts. Therefore, this has been affecting the economic performances of food industries, hospitals, banks, businesses and households.

Nobody knows when the stability of various industries in Zimbabwe will prevail but I would propose conferences with solutions that have an aim of boosting international awareness and attracting potential funding sources. These dire circumstances have contributed to a lot of brain drain and young people fleeing to other countries for greener pastures. With in-depth analysis some of these solutions would be undertaken in areas like my hometown Bulawayo and the Eastern Highlands which could benefit from the installation of wind turbines as they have the highest wind speeds. With due course, we should ditch the use of coal (which is one of the major energy suppliers in the country) which has the most waste problems of all energy sources like sulphuric, radioactive elements, excess ash and nitrogen oxides amongst others.

On the note of complexities or inconsistencies of electricity supply, I have missed out on a lot of opportunities as a budding journalist and copywriter. I have to be constantly on the global web researching, have my camera handy to document any news that might spring up, have a place to jot down notes and ideas when my creative muse is on my side. We have had to throw away perishable foods when there were long power cuts, which is always a strain financially, and contributes to excess solid waste being emitted.

One of the utmost complexities of the aforementioned juxtaposition of ensuring adequate and consistent electricity supply in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Africa at large is having inept government officials that over-promise in elections and underdeliver post elections. A majority of African political leaders are unscrupulous, lack accountability, and only when the day comes when they empathize, gain insights and foresights, and put people first instead of their reputation and pockets, Africa will steer towards the right direction.

I envision a time when African policy makers having a grasp of understanding that electricity is part of infrastructural development, making it pivotal to economic development. I have premonitions of a time when there would be enough advocacy to show the need that people who live in rural areas of Gwanda in Zimbabwe and informal settlements in Kya Sands in South Africa experience.

Advocacy and profiling of the statistics of relatives of the man who died due to a power cut in Mpilo Hospital in Zimbabwe. Lest we forget an entire family that died when they inhaled carbon monoxide from sleeping with a primer stove in their house in Marondera. To the man who was given a hefty fine for bridging electric wires because it’s just TOO expensive. And lastly, I live to see a day where crime is not perpetrated more on our women, who are raped, abused, and killed because they were 2 minutes away from the light.

I envision a time when I take my next trip to Zimbabwe with a radiant smile. As I leave South Africa with hope. As I put my earphones in to listen to Drake’s album, I want to sincerely sing along and say indeed ‘WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE’ — in Africa.

It Seemed Like a Dream Job…


— By Akhona from South Africa

Farm Juliets is what the big town dwellers refer to us a given that a lot of us come from a small town with nothing but a church and school for entertainment. If we are lucky, we can see an already out of the box office movie sometimes. I guess we have a certain unappealing swag about us that only the city folk can identify with, but one thing for certain is that once the city bug has bitten someone, that person never wants to go back to the folklife. Whatever it was….

My name is Akhona Zibonti and I was born and raised on the outskirts of the Indian Ocean in a rural town called Port St. John’s. From a very young age I have always felt that I didn’t belong in PSJ (as we fondly refer to it). I have always felt the slight suffocation with the idea of spending more than a few seconds in the town. I guess one can say I was never really in love with my hometown from the very beginning because I am ashamed to say that I have never fully gave myself time to know and explore the much interesting parts about the town.

I think Joburg caught my eyes from a very young age. I remember I had always dreamt of coming to Joburg and my day dreams where always situated in Jozi… I felt that the city understood my personal desire for bigger and better things. For a while I believed Joburg understood me better than anyone. If I recall correctly 2002 was the year I told myself I was not going to spend another precious moment in PSJ, sadly it was also a year I was grieving my grandfather. A tall salt and pepper proud, gentle yet strict old man with a look that could stop the universe and a kind soul that could make one want to get closer to God.

So I had made a plan, which never materialized though. I guess I felt there was no point in staying in a place where some of the people who made me feel safe were no longer residing there. It might look as though it was an outcry of a grieving soul but for a split second Joburg made me feel like I was living in Never Never Land and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for a long time. My naïve soul believed everything and everyone in Joburg was good.

Fast-forward to 10 years later and life has shown me a thing or two. I have always known and felt that my calling was helping people. When I was introduced to Khanya College I felt that I had found my purpose. Khanya is situated at end of Inner City Johannesburg in a building called the Freedom house. This organization falls under the Khanya umbrella which fights for different social-oriented causes. When you first see the building you get the idea; an inner city’s dilapidated situation with crimes, buildings without running water or electricity but always full of occupants, from toddlers to adults. Khanya is situated in Prichard Street diagonally opposite to where prostitutes operate. It always catches me off guard when I enter the building with a polite guard and a functioning elevator. The elevator is even serviced when it needs to be!  The organization prides itself of having a large area for the press as well as a full-functional kitchen. Their programs attract people who don’t trust the Inner City given all the good deeds that they have done over the years.

Khanya is draped with many good deeds. As a former worker, I can only tell you of the psychological damage one faces from the hands of Maria whose narcissist ways ensure that you are isolated when she showers her wrath on you with degrading words. I felt as though this was a form of oppression and made me question my abilities that constantly would come up in conversation …

I remember Thuli, another coworker, would always say to me “Don’t let her break you, because she wants you to break and make you beg for your job.” Thato, Nokuthaba also felt her constant torture and after years passed all I had left was Palesa. The place with its uplifting ideologies suppresses its workers while overworking…. At one point she had said to me about how she had to beg the Director and other in charge for me to get the job and that I should be grateful to her to have this job. To be honest I was petrified of losing my volunteer position.

Even though I was promised a larger salary than the one I was getting, I never questioned nor did I want to disrupt the status quo. It is sad that a number of South African or non South Africans live under constant fear everyday. When it was time for me to open another chapter in my life, I left without a heartbreak or bitterness towards her, because I finally learned that throughout the time I worked myself to a zombie and this will not change a thing. Regardless of what I would do, she was a narcissist who always thought she was superior to me. In retrospect, I had realized that I should always steer clear of self-doubt and stop it in its tracks. What is left now is figuring out: what is next?


Confronting Patriarchy – The Root Cause of Gender Inequality

— by Zanele from South Africa

The higher I climbed the public service leadership ladder, the more I experienced the gruesome realization that I was close to achieving my professional development objectives, yet too far from accomplishing my career goals. The barriers that hinder success for a young black woman are far from over. In South Africa, if you’re a young, black, educated, urban, middle-class woman, you are considered as part of the so called “privileged” generation. Little know that the journey to such a false truth as  “black privilege” is a wounding bitter thorn to a delayed success. Such ideologies are often used to reinforce the barriers to opportunities for people of color, which remain high and for women of color, even higher.

I would attend various international, regional and national meetings of all kinds; conferences, seminars or symposiums, and I would be the youngest female professional in the whole lot, the only female at most. The majority, the most represented gender, would be men. Always. Men who would approach me seeking answers dubbed by their curiosity to understand how I got to be in “their space”. In most cases, I felt forced to explain myself countlessly, having to mention my qualifications, experience and the journey that led me to be in the same “space” as my male counter parts… However, one day, I decided to stop. I decided to stop explaining myself. This enabled me to understand the underlying socially institutionalized concept of gender inequality.

Today, majority of companies in various sectors and corporate industries are largely dominated by men. This has been due to many centuries of imposed patriarchy, ingrained in the social, economic and political systems which define how our societies currently inefficiently operate, lacking acknowledgement of the various effects of gender inequality. Essentially in all societies and sectors, Men earn more than women, patriarchy has resulted in staggering power imbalances amongst men and women and this has resulted in evident income and power disparities.

When men hold positions of leadership, they hold decision–making power. As leaders, they are the ones with the authority to determine the limitations to socioeconomic, cultural and political liberation of women and girls. Therefore, to achieve gender equality, women have to strive towards confronting patriarchy in all its forms, throughout all levels of society. Men too have to reach the realization that women are key contributors to economic development, social cohesion and cultural transformation.

Women and men have to work collectively to call for gender equality measures to be reflected in policies and systems, both on a national & global level. Both genders have to partner in solidarity as feminists, to diminish gender biases but most importantly to confront and to dissolve patriarchy, patrilocality*, and patrilineality**. Through this, young people, irrespective of gender, race, social class, education, or lifestyle will have opportunities to freely make meaningful contributions to uplifting communities and making the world a better place for all, without having to explain about how they get to be where they are at.

As young women in the 21st century, we have a vital role to play in confronting patriarchy by persistently challenging the status quo, being pioneers and whistle blowers, calling for gender equality in all its dimensions. To the girl going to school despite cultural barriers challenging her to do otherwise, to the educated and strongly qualified young woman working hard and striving to build her career in a male dominated environment, to the woman who owns her own tangible and intangible assets whilst being a wife to her husband and a mother to her children – I say, rise. Rise, confront the root causes of gender equality and walk towards building futures for your generation and the next. It begins with us.

*patrilocality is when the residence of a couple (especially of the newly married) is with the husband’s family or tribe

** patrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage; it generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well