Profile: Siphelele Chirwa
Content Partner: Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation

My name is Siphelele. I am 29 years old. I live in Langa, the oldest township on the Cape Flats. I have lived in this area for 11years. I was born in SOWETO in a place called Chiawelo. I grew up in a typical township house with my Grandma and Grandpa and lots of cousins, uncles and aunts. The whole house- hold relied on a small salary from my granddad who was working as a driver at that time.

With the little that we had to live on I was taught the beauty of poverty. Some people view poverty as something that’s all bad, but in poverty I learned about being a social activist without knowing it. I learned to share. Seeing a small pot of mielie pap feed so many, and with the love that was shared among us, we didn’t feel hungry at all.

When I was a teenager I was taught to read the newspaper by my grandpa. Every day we would discuss the different issues that came up in the paper. I started learning about the government, the constitution, democracy, my rights, woman rights and that word ‘poverty’ again.

Every time I would read about the good, the bad and ugly about my country my granddad would ask me for my opinions and if it was a challenge. He would ask me how I would solve it. Without knowing it, my granddad was grooming me for who I am today – a social activist.

I started the first eco club in my high school. I talked about recycling and saving water. I was a student representative. After a big family loss I moved to the Western Cape with a dream to get a better education, yet nothing bore fruit.

I was young and joined the big population of young people full of dreams but with nowhere to go and no employment. I had so much energy to give to my country so I decided to put my energy to a good cause. I joined an environmental youth club that helped me to be a part of a bigger NGO (ENVIROMANTAL JUSTICE FORUM). This is where I served my community by being an advocate and facilitator for change.

I worked with different CBO’s and other organizations. I even sat in parliament from time to time. I worked on the children’s summit on sustainable development. I was still working and speaking about the same issues that I got from a daily newspaper that my granddad asked me to read.

Today I work for a different NGO called Educo Africa where I am course leader. I run a wilderness programme for people. I love what I do as it helps me work in nature and with people. Most of all it helps me to do what I love most, to serve.

Nature has a lot to teach us. Being part of the activate programme helped me to meet other inspirational young people, who have, if not the same, similar dreams about the country. It has opened up networks for me. A big realization for me was that I am not the only one. A small pocket of young people are doing their best and causing a ripple effect for change.


Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation is a national network of young people committed to social transformation. United across race and class, they will develop the perspectives and skills of innovation needed to tackle some of South Africa’s most challenging social issues.
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