Is there anything more beautiful than a breath of fresh air? A walk by the beach? A hike in the beautiful mountains of South Africa? There really isn’t anything better than Mother Nature. Our next Inspiring Tomorrow candidate is thankful to nature as it brought her a lot of piece growing up.

Vibrancy and passion are words that summarise Nomfundo Mkhaba. She describes herself as “a mother, a sister, a human rights activist and professional.”

Nomfundo grew up during the apartheid era. Certain circumstances during that time made her fall in love with nature. “We grew up during the apartheid times, where we were home during the day and in the bushes at night due to political fights over tribal establishments. But this is when I fell in love with nature, the peace and healing it gave despite the turmoil.”

Nomfundo was born in Magabheni, which was a developing rural area back then. Her childhood forced her to be anti-social, she was in a lot of spaces that she would struggle to fit in; life at home was even harder.

“I grew up surrounded by four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. Mum was a single parent and dad left when I was five years old. My big brother was very protective and took good care of us in my mother’s absence as she had to work multiple jobs to get us working,”

Nomfundo and her family moved to Umkomaas in 1994, which is on the south coast of KwaZulu Natal (KZN). Unfortunately for Nomfundo and her family, her mother passed away in her matric year. That didn’t stop Nomfundo though, as she finished her education to follow her passion.

“I loved to study, my passion was physiotherapy and I was all set, in grade 11 applied in various universities but mum passed on in January 2006 that was my matric year. My results dropped dramatically as a result. I studied psychology in professional context at a private college and later as a result of not getting a job in the field, I went on to study a Bachelor of Education degree in the intermediate and senior phase. I have five years’ experience teaching both in the rural and urban areas.”

Even though her childhood wasn’t ideal, Nomfundo found comfort in nature because of the calmness it brought her; walks on the beach helped deal with the grief of losing her mother. “Nature heals. By viewing scenes of nature you become calm and at peace. Through the soil we get food; it forms part of the life cycle as it wombs trees and flowers.”

She recently resigned from an NGO that was working with schools, as she says her passion “for environmental sustainability took over.”

Since leaving teaching, Nomfundo is now involved in waste management. She gained a lot of her experience through socialising and networking in civil society spaces and also from personal experience with nature itself. She describes how she started:

“I have an OCD and moving out of home, the area I moved into lacked waste management knowledge, lack of capacity to prepare the community for waste management challenges and awareness. I found a gap to model behaviour change to get people to take accountability for their own actions because as much as it’s done by other people, it indirectly affects me too and the price we pay is climate challenges.”

When Nomfundo started collecting waste she did it on her own as she just saw a problem that she wanted to fix, but she has since grown from that and co-founded a non-profit company (NPC) called Waste for Change.

“I started collecting on my own last year in December but I have been collecting it with my colleagues Nhlakanipho Mngadi and Precious Mazibuko, this year around March. We have co-founded an NPC called Waste for Change. The NPC was registered last year in 2019 and I was 32 years old at the time. We collect and classify recyclables into different categories and we sell it to recycling companies.”

Collecting waste is not only benefitting Nomfundo personally but her community has benefitted as well,

“Through our financial gains we were able to identify the environmental dimensions to be waste leakage and social dimensions to be incentives and education. The community has received it well, collecting recyclables and being rewarded for their waste, we’ve been even able to work with people that are considered to amapara.”

What is inspiring about Nomfundo is that she saw a problem in her community and took the responsibility to change that problem. Her vision for the future is not only educating people more about waste management but also training them about waste collection, classifying and recovery.

Nomfundo Mkhaba is the perfect example of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,”

There are a lot of things going wrong in the world and we need more people like Nomfundo, who take the direction of their destiny into their own hands. Every day strive to do good in your own space and environment, and if you need motivation, remember Nomfundo Mkhaba.


Read about Sihle Tshabalala, an ex-offender who escaped isolation here

Tell us: What problem do you want to fix about your community and how you plan to fix it?