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Pockets Of Excellence

In these uncertain times, the youth continue to fly the South African flag high. Tiisetso Tlelima profiles young people making their mark in the world.

South African youth face a myriad of challenges such as education inequality, lack of technology and high unemployment rates. But despite these challenges, young people are pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and making positive strides in the world. We take a look at three such young people.

Shadia Akter, 17-year-old matriculant

Young scientist Shadia Akter was awarded a silver medal at the 2021 Buca International Music, Science, Engineering Energy Fair in Turkey for developing an app that helps schools screen large numbers of learners for COVID-19. She was competing against 166 projects from 26 countries. “It was an outstanding experience and so unexpected, I enjoyed myself even though it was online because of COVID,” says an enthusiastic Akter.

Akter came up with the idea to build the app when she realised that her school – New Orleans Secondary School in Paarl – which has a student population of about 1 000, took over an hour every morning before classes to screen learners for COVID-19. She sought to find a more efficient way of screening students so that learners could still have enough education time. The app, which works through software called Honeycode, has a spreadsheet that allows teachers, parents and learners to capture information on a registration form and answer a COVID-19 questionnaire. Once learners have completed the questionnaire, the app tells them if they’re well enough to enter the school grounds.

Akter hopes to study towards a degree in the sciences one day. “I want to create things that improve South Africa and help my fellow people by making life easier,” she says.

Sera Farista, 18-year-old
Intersectional environmental activist

Sera Farista is a member of an intersectional youth-led organisation called The Collective Movement, which believes in achieving climate change through social justice. The movement aims to achieve this through education and using social media to make climate literacy more accessible to people. “My interest in climate justice began when I was doing research for a school project and realised how climate change was affecting South Africans and becoming a pressing issue for our generation,” explains Farista. “I now identify as an intersectional activist because I realised that climate change interlinks with racism and gender-based violence, meaning that solutions to this problem must be intersectional.”

Out of all the actions and protests that The Collective Movement has been involved in, being featured on an episode of Generation Change on Al Jazeera is one of its biggest achievements – their message was spread to over 100 different countries. However, Farista adds that even the small things like someone saying they learnt something new from the awareness campaigns is always an achievement.

But like any movement, they’ve had their fair share of challenges. Farista cites apathy and hypocrisy among politicians as something they have to push against. “We are constantly being ignored, but it’s important to keep fighting and never give up no matter how many times we get shot down,” says Farista.

Teboho “Tebza” Diphehlo
29-year-old Pantsula dancer, choreographer and teacher

Teboho Diphehlo from Naledi, Soweto, started doing Pantsula dance as a young boy in primary school. In 2005, he enrolled for training for professsional dancing at a local dance organisation. Since then, he has been performing all over Soweto. In 2018, he won the RedBull Dance Your Style competition, which saw him represent South Africa on a global stage at the World Final held in Paris the following year. “I was so proud of myself because I got to promote Pantsula dance and culture and spread it to the world,” says Diphehlo.

Even though he didn’t win in Paris, the experience opened many doors for him. He now teaches Pantsula dance, both locally and to a host of international countries, including Sweden, France and Germany. “There’s a big international market for Pantsula dance with people coming from all over the world to learn the dance, but I mostly hold my classes online via Zoom,” explains Diphehlo.

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