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Zandile Mkwanazi

CEO and founder
BSc honours in computational and applied mathematics
University of the Witwatersrand

Zandile Mkwanazi is on a mission to empower 10 million women and girls with tech and coding skills by 2030. As the CEO and founder of GirlCode, she is focused on women, education and technology, and how the powerful combination of these three elements can transform and strengthen South Africa and Africa for the better.

“I am inspired by all women who are breaking the glass ceiling; women who refuse to sit back and let things happen to them,” she says.

The tech industry is still male-dominated, something that Mkwanazi is working hard to change. Putting her BSc honours degree in computational and applied mathematics from the University of the Witwatersrand to good use, Mkwanazi helps to provide historically disadvantaged women with skills in computer literacy, coding and design.

GirlCode’s mission is to create a network of women who can use these skills to create innovative and sustainable solutions where they reside — making a visible difference in the communities that they live in.

Mkwanazi wants to see more women taking up space in all aspects of life and business, from the private sector to the public sector. More specifically, she wants more women to actively be a part of the technology space. As there is almost no industry where technology is not involved, and she believes that if we don’t have women in the rooms where these technologies and innovations are being created, we are missing a critical perspective.
“The world will try to convince you that you are not worthy, that you do not belong in certain spaces, but I am here to tell you that they are wrong. Your thoughts and ideas are what is really needed in this world — you have just as much right as anyone else to occupy space wherever you feel you can make a contribution,” she says.

There have been many initiatives run by GirlCode, but one of the more notable ones is the GirlCoder Club. This is where GirlCode visits various high schools on a Saturday and teaches girls how to code. The driven, curious and ambitious students arrive and are able to hone their digital skills to set themselves apart. They are given direct access to women working in various IT companies to gain skills and ultimately be recruited by top tech companies.

The best piece of advice Mkwanazi ever received? “Do not be afraid to make tough decisions.”

As we all know, 2020 threw everyone a curveball and Mkwanazi realised that she had to make some difficult decisions to ensure her organisation survived.

“Change is inevitable — growth is optional. I have learnt that you must push yourself outside of your comfort zone to truly grow as an individual and a professional,”

she says.

Mkwanazi’s work has been recognised internationally and locally. In 2018, she received a social entrepreneur award from the premier of Gauteng, and in the same year, the Netherlands Embassy acknowledged her as one of South Africa’s Top 50 Inspiring Women.
“The thing that keeps me going is knowing that I am making a positive impact in my country and, most importantly, for many young girls out there, I remain passionate about changing the education landscape in South Africa.”

Author - Eva Murphy
Ofentse Pitse

Ofentse Pitse

Anchored Sound
Senior architectural technologist
University of the Witwatersrand

Ofentse Pitse is the first black South African woman to conduct her own all-black orchestra. The Tshwane resident says her family’s involvement in the church through the Salvation Army is what led to her playing her first instrument. This is what got the ball rolling and culminated in her starting her own orchestra.

Pitse began by playing the English horn, which piqued her interest in classical music. She has since experimented with other genres including church music and jazz.

What started out as a hobby became something of a passion project, and has since evolved into a quest for increased representation of young black people in classical and choral music.

Pitse’s all-black orchestra, Anchored Sound, consists of 20 choir members and a 45-strong instrumental ensemble. Pitse says she started with the choir and had the idea to add more instruments to complement their songs as they practised. The band expanded as she added more instruments, and today it includes musicians of all ages from Katlehong, Benoni, Tembisa, Soweto and Pretoria.

Pitse is a qualified architectural technologist, having graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, and says her main objective is to continue to contribute to raising the profile of black orchestra players in South Africa.

Her overarching goal for the orchestra is for it to help propel other young black performers to excellence while drawing attention to African composers. A performance of orchestrations by Anchored Sounds, led by Pitse, highlights classical standard arias such as Nessun Dorma, concertos like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, and contemporary compositions by African performers like Judith Sephuma and Sun-El Musician.

An achievement she’s incredibly proud of is being recognised as the keynote speaker at the Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Awards. The programme is designed to support women entrepreneurs and gives them a voice, encouraging future generations to be even more audacious in their dreams.

The award aligns with Pitse’s goals to help improve the inclusion, impact and visibility of young black women in various fields.

“To me, music and architecture are very closely linked, When I design, I think of harmony, spirit, structure and meaning. Music is about those same elements, whether it’s Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky or Mozart.”

Pitse says she wants to be involved in building a contemporary South African theatre space. This, she says, would be the result of her being able to marry her love of performance with her architectural knowledge, and help to create an inclusive space where more local stories can be told.

“I am also really hoping to expand Anchored Sound to include a kids orchestra because that would extend its reach and have an impact on generations to come.”

Neo Khanyile |
Easlyn Young

Easlyn Young

Chairperson of the First Youth Theatre Company and eThekwini Municipality Chair of the Portfolio Committee for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture (Ward 31)
First Youth Theatre Company
Diploma in primary school education, Diploma in marketing management, Diploma in PR, Diploma in Community Development. Trained in sports development at Olympic level, swimming instructor, swimming coach, adult education facilitator (NQF5)
Bechet Teachers Training College, Damelin College

When we women realise that we are the catalyst for unity — the bond of love and nurture that fosters growth and development — we will be the answer South Africa needs,” says Easlyn Young.

Young holds many titles. She is the chairperson of the First Youth Theatre Company, the eThekwini Municipality Chair of the Portfolio Committee for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, a community activist, a swimming coach and a mother.

As a student, Young was inspired by the sentiment of “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (I am because you are) while volunteering to help the residents of a retirement home purchase groceries, spring-clean their rooms and do their hair.

After receiving various diplomas in education and management, a career in community development — which, as Young describes, was in her youth known as a social justice intervention for the “have-nots” — became the most natural place for her to practise and express empathy and compassion, to raise awareness and to address injustices.

Through her involvement with the Black Consciousness Movement and the direct influence of leaders like Bantu Stephen Biko, Young found her calling working with vulnerable communities in need of a voice.

For Young, the best part of engaging in leadership is learning to listen.

“Listening,” she says, “affirms participants and teaches one more than one could ever imagine; a book of lessons unfolds as one listens.”

Leadership and community activism provide Young with a licence for creativity that stimulates thinking, dialogue and vision, and challenges her humility in accepting the opinions and ideas of others.

She explains: “No one is an island unto themselves just because [they] hold a leadership position. Leadership is the joy of having people around who will hold one’s hand and walk along through it all.”

For Young, the biggest difficulty that spans across her various careers is accepting that people will come and go. She has learned that by understanding and respecting the journeys of other leaders, facilitators and participants, egotistical interference can be avoided.

If she could achieve anything for South Africa today, it would be the enhancement of an assured identity among the coloured community and, by extension, the advancement of a non-racial society with authentic pride and patriotism.

Young believes that the leadership potential of women in South Africa is beyond measure. She implores: “Do not allow patriarchy to manipulate us into position seekers and status mongers. The ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome is our undoing. Do not sting other women, embrace them. This starts at home, and must be the representation of who we are in every sector of society.”

Grace Winkler |
Shoeshoe Qhu

Shoeshoe Qhu

Programming manager
Radio 702
BCom honours in strategic brand management
Vega School

Broadcast journalist and digital enthusiast Shoeshoe Qhu began her career in radio in 2004 as a volunteer field reporter for Cape Town-based community radio station Radio Zibonele. Almost two decades later, after working at Kaya FM and the SABC, among other places, she has settled into her role as programming manager at Radio 702, a commercial FM station based in Johannesburg.

Qhu loves telling stories through the radio. Growing up in rural Makuatlane in the Eastern Cape, radio was the only form of entertainment and connection to the greater world that her community had.

“My worldview was shaped by what I heard and what I could imagine. I didn’t immediately think I was going to be a broadcast journalist, but I was curious about people on the radio, and the power and influence they had with the stories they told,” she says.

One of Qhu’s proudest achievements is her work mentoring young journalists while working as station manager at Voice of Wits, a 24-hour campus radio station. Some of her mentees now work in the SABC newsroom and commercial broadcasters like EWN.

“I hope to inspire girls to believe that it is possible to become anything that they want to be — even with the fears and the obstacles. I stand on this side with a stretched arm, ready to mentor and train more young women,”

she says.

Qhu offers training to journalists and radio broadcasters through the Wits Radio Academy, National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (Nemisa) and Primedia.

“I am an advocate for media freedom and play an active role in engaging industries and the media on the subject through interviews and as a board member of the Freedom of Expression Institute,” says Qhu, who also serves on the Black Management Forum Sandton manco. “I am actively looking to play a role in transformation in our country. This anchors me as a black woman living in South Africa.”

One of Qhu’s goals is to run an up-skilling programme for 20 young people — 10 from a township, 10 from a rural area — with multimedia and basic coding skills, as well as digital tools to assist them with starting up a content hub to publish their unique stories online.

“I would run the programme once every year and scale it with time and funding availability,” she says.

Qhu lives by the Sesotho idiom, “Khomo ha lina motloha pele” — cows do not have a first-mover advantage. It doesn’t matter who starts first.

“This has helped me deal with the pressures of life and the need to see instant results. So in all I do, I put in my best and trust the process,” she says.

Looking to the future, Qhu wishes to elevate oral storytelling traditions to the levels of literary works that are recognised by the likes of the Booker Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. “There is a need to bridge the gap using emerging technologies and new media platforms — often with very little barriers to entry — to empower ordinary South Africans to tell and document their stories,” she says.

Alexander Brand |