Karabo Mokgonyana is a lawyer and development practitioner at Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub, a womxn- and youth-led organisation that provides young women with mentorship and skills development. She prides herself on defying the systematic exclusion of young black women in spaces that continue to say, “we are doing you a favour by having you here”.
After completing her BCom and LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mokgonyana gained extensive experience coordinating human rights programmes with institutions and organisations that include the UN, AU, Webber Wentzel, Change.org and CIVICUS, among others. Mokgonyana was an AU African Youth Ambassador for Peace and a Youth Advisory Panellist for the UN Population Fund.
In most of the spaces Mokgonyana works in, she is either the youngest person, the only black person or the only woman.
“The industries I am in are not very transformed. There are still many narratives around young people being subjected to tokenism and black women being undermined by virtue of identity,” she says.
Through this experience, she has come to understand the reality of the sentiment, “you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have”.
Despite age, gender and race being markers of unfair discrimination and barriers to access and opportunity, Mokgonyana has been able to cement her worth in international and domestic development and legal institutions by bringing substance, untapped narratives and resilience.
For her, excellence has become the best deterrent to racism and sexism in her life, and she says she will continue to fight to dismantle such an unfair reality for those who come after her.
“Some of the successes I have experienced have been about the amount of impact that the work that I do has had on the lives of those I serve,” she says. “I have been recognised through several awards and by also mentoring the next generation of black female activists.”
Mokgonyana would like to see more young people taking a stand against unethical and poor leadership, and actively participating in governance and accountability.
“The fact that our voices are not effectively represented in the creation of solutions intended to help us to progress is highly problematic — pushing for representation is important to me. We need to understand our power as young people and how we can shape the governance in this country.”
Driven by the existence of social injustice and the lack of socioeconomic freedom, Mokgonyana says: “Being a young black woman means that I walk through communities that experience poverty, sexual and gender-based violence, racism, huge levels of economic disempowerment, the harsh effects of corruption and other social issues. This is a huge reason to wake up every day and push the work that I do.”
“I hope to give marginalised identities the hope and courage to push beyond boundaries and seek justice, accountability and transformation using their own voices and power.”
Her advice to young women in South Africa is to “invest in your growth, believe in your dreams and allow excellence to be reflected in your work despite systematic exclusions”.