Being a woman in a patriarchal society has its pitfalls, but Malaika Mahlasti says this should not stop women from assuming their rightful place in the world.
Malaika Mahlatsi’s best-selling book, Memories of a Born-Free (2014), begins with a powerful letter to the ANC, in which the author details the contradictions of growing up in a democratic South Africa still reeling from its apartheid past.
Mahlatsi insists that it is necessary to recognise that, although those born after 1994 may be politically free, they are never truly free until they can realise economic freedom.
Despite her strong sociopolitical convictions, Mahlatsi prides herself on being “teachable”, something that keeps her in a permanent state of intellectual evolution.
“The ability to be teachable is immensely powerful in a world where dogma is viewed as progressive, despite the immeasurable damage that it is doing to the ideational space.”
Mahlatsi’s work in academia, she says, is rooted in pan-Africanist-feminist geography, which recognises the interconnectedness of black lives and spatiality. Against this backdrop, she hopes to use her role as a government official to “ensure that human settlements for black people are deliberately developed to seek and realise spatial justice”.
She also aims to use her education to improve the lives of her family and community. Education, she says, is a tool that should be used to render a service not only to improve the living standards of people but also to help “us to become more humane”.
It was President Cyril Ramaphosa who convinced Soweto-born Mahlatsi to remain in public service, despite the years of frustrations she experienced in the sector.
“I found the culture uninspiring. Instead of leaving for something better when the opportunity presented itself, I stayed on, but became despondent to a point of unproductivity,” she explains about her previous role in national government.
As a senior speechwriter for the executive mayor in the City of Ekurhuleni, Mahlatsi says she now feels fulfilled in her role, because she can communicate the aspirations of the people of the city. Mahlatsi is a qualified geographer and researcher and she says she can pour these passions into her current role “since so much of the work at the local government level is focused on spatial development”.
She is the former African Union African Youth Charter ambassador for the SADC region and a former youth representative in the SADC Food and Nutrition Security Committee. She also served as the secretary-general of the African Youth Coalition, established in 2013 by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in South Africa.