Democracy Works Academy 2021 Fellows Cohort

Unless we purposefully create avenues to develop the countries future leaders. By providing access to resources and opportunities to empower them. We simply leave the future to chance.

The Democracy Works Academy, a youth leadership, civic education, and dialogue program, seeks to intentionally upskill and support the countries promising leaders through a year-long fellowship program in partnership with the, In Transformation Initiative (ITI).

Meet this year’s Fellows. They have had to adjust and adapt in the decade of a pandemic that has forced society at large, to level up and reorganize.

They are vibrant, young, purpose and impact-driven. A promising reflection of what our country can become when it utilizes the innovation and youth of the custodians of a future being developed daily.

DWA Fellows Cohort 2021

Monique Hansen is a twenty-four-year-old from the Western Cape who holds a BA degree in Journalism from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She also boasts a rich experience in radio and credits this for her transition from being a “shy girl to an assertive young reporter”. She has been a part of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy foundation’s Youth@Work programme, and has freelanced for her community newspapers since 2017.  Advocacy for safer and gun-free communities are at the heart of Monique’s activism, a goal she believes can be impacted by her involvement in Gun Free South Africa.

Zackeen Ebraim Thomas is a twenty-four-year-old from the Western Cape who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape. He also work as a researcher for the institution in the Economic and Management Science Faculty. Zackeen identifies as a Queer Coloured and feels dutybound to advocate for love, peace, and kindness.

Celiwe Shivambu is a twenty-one-year-old from Gauteng who is currently pursuing an Honours degree in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand. A youth and climate change activist, Celiwe is interested in policymaking and diplomacy. She facilitates youth engagement with national climate policies, and also serves as a representative to the “We Are Tomorrow Global Partnership”. She has been part of  the Youth Climate Action Plan for the City Of Johannesburg and has represented South African youth at the World Circular Economy Forum + Climate which was hosted at the Hague in the Netherlands.

Palesa Mkhwanazi is a twenty-three-year-old from Gauteng that is passionate about tackling inequality and “changing the narrative of a black child”. With her pursuit of a career in clinical psychology, Palesa hopes to provide access to opportunities for teenagers that struggle with mental health issues and children with learning disabilities.

Susanna Deetlefs is a Human Rights advocate and Chevening alumna from Gauteng. She holds an MSc in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding from Durham University in the United Kingdom, and a MA in Security Studies from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Susanna has experience in research management, with her research interest focusing largely on gendered security, peacebuilding, and child soldiers.

Esethu Sotheni is a twenty-four-year-old Eastern Cape born graduate from the University of Fort Hare. He is passionate about youth and community development and becoming involved has been his approach for over a decade, therefore earning him experience with NGOs, international organizations & student formations. In the years that Esethu has been an advocate for development, he has represented South African youth on an international level and has also founded an organization called Shaping New Minds, an organization that advocates for access to quality education.

Hlenga Siyongwana is a twenty-three-year-old Eastern Cape born graduate from Nelson Mandela University. She holds an Honours degree in Political Science and has ambitions to pursue a Master’s degree in the field. During her years as a student, Hlenga has served in leadership positions for youth and student formations and has participated on multiple Model United Nations conferences.

Haroldene De Jager is a twenty-three-year-old from Kraaifontein who is currently employed by Teleperfomance as an engagement coordinator. As a community activist, her passion lies in development within rural communities. Haroldene firmly believes that it is up to young people to build on the development foundations laid by those who came before.

Luigia Nicholas is a Postgraduate Tax Law candidate at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. She currently holds a BCom degree in Business Management from the same institution and is a Steering Group Member at the International Collaboratory for Leadership in Universally Designed Education. Luigia also serves in the South African Union of Students and has received a SA 100 Shining Star award from Inside Education and a Rector’s award from Stellenbosch University for Excellence in Social Impact for her work in disability awareness.

Ona Matshaya identifies as a queer social activist from the Eastern Cape. Their interests are in improving access to and the quality of education for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds around the country, especially those from rural backgrounds. They hold an honours degree from the University of Fort Hare where they majored in Social work and has also served as school-based social worker. Other initiatives Ona has been a part of include the International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi, and a fellowship at the African Leadership Institute.

Aarya Bagwandin is a second year LLB student from KwaZulu-Natal. Through involvement with organizations like Amnesty International, Aarya has developed the skills to negotiate and collaborate with the outside community and teammates to reach mutually agreeable ends. She has also participated in Public Interest Moot Court held by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and reached the top 16 with her team.

Laercio Manyaka is an Eastern Cape based twenty-three-year-old law student at Nelson Mandela University. He is also a qualified sound technologist with experience in facilitating and has a passion for social justice and democracy advocacy. Initiatives that Laercio has been involved in include “Chuma Afrika”, an initiative aimed at broadening access to education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people in communities.

Lesego Letswalo is a Gauteng based LLB student with the University of South Africa and holds a BA degree from the University of the Witwatersrand where she majored in International Relations and Media Regulation. Her activism is community and youth-based, with the quest of realizing social justice for all.

Ntokozo Lunga is a youth activist and LLB student with the University of South Africa. He expresses his activism through student formations and movements, and policy input and advocacy. Identifying as a Pan-Africanist means that Ntokozo’s passion is centered around principles of Ubuntu and collective efforts for the upliftment of societies. Democratic principles are also at the heart of his activism, with the vision of an Africa that observes and upholds human rights.

Ntesang Makutu is a Northern Cape based student at the Sol Plaatje University where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree. The co-founder of the social initiative called “Eyethu pop-up Library” has a passion for reducing illiteracy in society, with a particular interest in primary school education. Ntesang boasts leadership skills acquired through her service as the first female President of the Student Representative Council at the Sol Plaatje University.

Nomusa Sibiya has worked in town planning with both the public and private sector and is currently employed by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality as a professional town planner. Initiatives that Nomusa has been a part of include the Apolitical Academy and the National Spatial Development Framework Young Planners Programme. She also has a passion for women leadership empowerment programmes and aspires to one day serve in local government.

Rixongile Mashele is a Limpopo born third-year BA student at the University of the Witwatersrand majoring in International Relations and Philosophy. Identifying as a black radical feminist, Rixongile aspires to be an academic who can one day contribute to the discourse on gender equality and how it can address some of the world’s socio-economic challenges.

Keagen Gertse is a social and political activist from the Western Cape. The founder of the Keagan Gertse Foundation is passionate about addressing human rights violations and the promotion of the rule of law in society. Other initiatives that Keagan has participated in include Activate Change Drivers and the South African Youth Economic Fund.

Innocent Ramare is a Political Sciences student at the University of Pretoria who identifies as a radical feminist. As a leader taking up space in society, Innocent aspires to not only be a voice for women but also all the disadvantaged members of her community. With faith and family being central in her life, she identifies these as sources of inspiration towards being a better person.

Vuyolwethu Ngcofe identifies as a queer activist who serves as a case coordinator at Nelson Mandela University. Vuyo founded a web series titled Remember “My Voice – a Queer memory box”.

Zamayirha is a multi-faceted and diverse multimedia reporter. She has a well-rounded skill set that includes first-rate communication and research abilities, content strategy, and development for different platforms. First internationally published at the age of 16, she has over 5 years of experience in Media and Journalism. Having worked in two newsrooms and two radio stations and two television productions. Her work is published and shared in several publications including City Press, News24, Huffington Post, Wits Vuvuzela, and Rapport. She has also been featured in Power FM’s, Power Perspective, as a resident news contributor.

Highlights of her career include coverage of Oprah Winfrey’s Nelson Mandela Century address, interviews with Tyler Perry, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Mosenke, Commissioner Terry Tselane, artivists Caiphius Semenya and Letta Mbulu.

She holds a (BA) degree in Psychology, Media studies, Statistics, and Sociology and an Honors degree in Media and Journalism all from the University of the Witwatersrand. She also has SETA accredited corporate communications and leadership certificate. As well as an Internationally accredited TEFL certificate.

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