Reading Clubs- a powerful tool for addressing illiteracy

In the community of Majomela in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, more than 400 children gather every day with their parents to read, write, draw and play. The children, aged between two and fifteen years, are motivated and inspired by the love of their volunteer teachers who work with them in the Reading Clubs. This community initiative started in April 2013, as a result of the passion of one young man who realised that freedom of expression is hard to attain if you are not literate.

Gcinumuzi Radebe (25), the founder of Nongoma Reading Clubs, wakes up every day filled with enthusiasm to change the course of Majomela history with one reading session at a time. Together with 16 other youth volunteers, Radebe runs 12 reading clubs in their community, helping children learn to enjoy and be confident in reading. In a recent interview with ACTIVATE!, Radebe said, “We want them to have fun while they read, create and tell their own beautiful stories.” 

Majomela is situated in rural Nongoma, with very little infrastructure.  The Reading Clubs take place at the homes of the volunteers. Weekday workshops start at 15h00 and end at 17h00. Children enjoy these workshops with their parents and volunteer teachers, whom the children relate to as brothers and sisters, since they are from the same community. At the homes of the volunteer teachers, the children are free from worries of harsh criticism and the corporal punishment they sometimes encounter at school. In these Reading Clubs they are never made to feel inferior, pressured to conform, or in danger of failing or being labelled as failures.

Zama Ngcobo (12), in Grade 7 at Sizumphakathi Primary and a member of a Nongoma Reading Club, said, “We are very happy that teachers in our club listen to us when we read, and that they also sing and play with us. It makes me even happier when our parents are here, we read to them, and they look happy too.”

The schools benefiting from the project are Sizumphakathi and Fefe Primaries, as well as Mthombowesizwe High, all located within the Majomela community. Throughout the year, the schools invite the Nongoma Reading Clubs to run reading sessions. They are thankful to the clubs for the support, as they see that participating learners improve, both in their reading ability and in their love of reading.

Sinegugu Ngcobo (28), a volunteer teacher, loves the opportunity the program gives her to teach children to read in both isiZulu and English. “Many at Majomela cannot freely express themselves in English, even matriculants. I am glad that these children are learning to be multilingual from their childhood.” Ngcobo completed matric in 2004, and has been unemployed since then. Since joining the reading club, she has developed a passion for teaching. “I would be glad to get a bursary to study teaching. I want to adopt this fun style of teaching and learning that I have learnt from our club.”

The Majomela community is working together to improve the standard of their children’s education. This spirit is at the heart of Radebe’s work. “Everyone can make a difference. It doesn’t mean that you need to have money, you can use your talents, skills and knowledge to drive the change you want for your community” Radebe emphasised.

The work of Majomela would not have been effective without the support from Nal’ibali, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign which sparks children’s potential through storytelling and reading. Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) provides the reading clubs with story books and other stationery resources.  Through sustained mentoring and collaboration with communities, reading clubs, literacy organizations and volunteers of all ages along with a vibrant media campaign, Nal’ibali is striving to root a culture of literacy into the fabric of everyday life in South Africa.

 “We are thankful for the support we get from Nal’ibali, but I believe our work would be more effective if we had more books, equipment, and our own local library. We urge and welcome any support from organizations and government departments with same vision of a literate nation.” Radebe said.

Radebe heard about Nal’ibali after he joined the Activate! Network. Through Activate! he also learnt that he cannot do things alone but he needs to build relationships with other people –both within his community and anywhere in the world.

With materials developed and provided by Nal’ibali, and with skills and inspiration from ACTIVATE!, Radebe has turned his passion for literacy into a successful programme, bringing the joy of reading to hundreds of families in rural KwaZulu-Natal. His achievement has also motivated young people from his community to pursue further studies to become educators and is a beacon of hope for young leaders across South Africa, inspiring them to reach for the stars and turn their dreams for a better future into reality. 


What’s your passion? Rural development. There are two countries in South Africa, an urban country and a rural country. Lots has been done in urban areas and now we need economic development rurally.

What change are you keen to drive? The bad economic status in rural areas.

How are you driving change?

  • ‘Youth with Vision’: creating an economic hub for rural people through an existing community centre that was built by government 15 years ago but has never properly functioned.
  • An economic development project with multi-stakeholders on some family land that we have just won back after lodging a landclaim in 1998.

How has ACTIVATE! supported you so far in driving this change? They helped me know myself and be strategic in what I need to do. It has connected me to a network, which is very powerful for anyone wanting to be a leader.

What do you think is the priority in setting the agenda for our country over the next five years? Education and entrepreneurship.Education widens one’s mind, and entrepreneurship can help create jobs. Youth need to do away with the government entitlement syndrome and be proactive.

How do you motivate yourself? I have a mindset of: While I still have my energy, let me do it now. I like to be out there and making things happen so I find things to do.

Final comment? Being an Activator means there’s no room for complacency, for moaning; you just need to make things happen. I come from a royal family and my vision for my family, especially with this piece of land, is that they will be able to comprehend the magnitude of work that comes with their responsibility.


Activators Unathi Jacobs and Lelethu Godongwana are using art to unite their community as part of the ‘Outspoken Youth Initiative’, a collective of 18 artists from Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Philippi who are driving change through music, dance and visual art.

The group first came together in 2008 to create awareness around issues affecting the community. They started by holding anti-crime park jams at the Vincent Ntunja Basketball Court at the Gugulethu Sports Complex.

‘Instead of using our influence to get girls, etc, we wanted to use our power for good,’ said Godongwana. ‘As musicians, many of the songs we write are inspired by a burning issue with the aim of raising awareness, but we also want people to act on that awareness. The park jams were created to help provide this other half.’

The park jams received a huge response with more than 500 people showing up to support and participate in the festivities. The concerts became so popular that the event made the news last year when they hosted a huge Youth Day concert on June 16 which focused on uplifting the youth and collecting food to donate for Mandela Day the following month.

‘When we saw the impact that art can have on a community, we realized we can spread the support further,’ said Unathi. 

With gangsterism and violence on the increase in Gugulethu, the collective made a bold move and used their influence to arrange street dialogues and invite rival gangs to participate.  

‘Under the banner Artists Against Crime, we organized for gangs to come together on neutral ground – with the police and other stakeholders present – and talk about relevant issues such as drugs, revenge and traditional healers, which is a huge topic in our area.’ ‘This is where our training from ACTIVATE! was put into action,’ added Lelethu.

While the first dialogues were a huge success, the third ended in violence after the SAPS left early. The group then decided to shift their focus to youth who are already interested in changing their lives.

‘We work with boys who want to leave the gang life and try to show them what else is out there by taking them to theatre shows and into the mountains to explore other things,’ said Unathi.  

Last year the group added prison visits to their portfolio when they performed for prisoners at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre (previously Victor Verster Prison) located between Paarl and Franschhoek in the Western Cape. 

‘We were looking for something to do for Mandela Day and decided to visit the prison. Prisoners hardly get visitors unless organized by the Department of Correctional Services so we went and performed music, dance, poetry and motivational talks,’ she said.

This month, the group made the trek to KwaZulu Natal to perform at schools in Kokstad in collaboration with the organisation Life After Bars – a NGO working to change the mindset of community members toward offenders after they have been released from prison. The group initially planned to perform at Kokstad prison as well, but were unable to secure final approval for this.

‘It’s inspiring seeing prisoners who want to change their story and are working hard to make something of themselves after they get out. Our aim is to inspire them and let them know that when they are released, we have not turned our backs on them,’ said Lelethu.

Another project under the Outspoken Youth Initiative umbrella is a literacy project for primary school children run by Lelethu which he started in Khayelitsha earlier this year and hopes to implement in Gugulethu as well.

‘Literacy is not just about reading the words,’ he says. ‘It is about composing the message, understanding text and forming opinions.’

The literary project introduces students to a book and between chapters, learners write down what they understand from the text in an exercise book allocated to them.

Lelethu says that the aim of the project is not just to teach kids to read and understand better, but to have a knock on effect at home where parents may not be literate.

‘We see lots of problems with older people who don’t understand legal issues around land and housing for example because they don’t understand the language. So we thought we can educate the kids and in that way influence their parents and grandparents at home as well.

The Outspoken Youth Initiative formalized their organization last year when they registered as an NGO and are currently trying to secure a premises to create a resource centre for the youth and community.

‘The important thing is to create a space where they feel safe,’ said Lelethu.

For more information about the Youth Outspoken Initiative or to book them for an event, you can contact Unathi Jacobs on 074 382 7431 or


If you would like to join the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network, visit to apply. Applications close 31 October 2014. 


I have always been amazed by the colours of Africa and especially South Africa. The diversity of our country is something I have never gotten used to and still marvel about.

As we celebrate our 19th Heritage Day, I can’t help reflecting on pre-1994 when the colours of our South African flag were divided and our country was in systematic chaos under a system called Apartheid designed to dehumanise and set apart one colour from the other. I am glad on some level that we went through that so that we can reflect and learn from our mistakes.

Heritage Day is a special day in my heart as it marks a day when we can come together and celebrate our differences. I offer a grand salute to the heroes such as, amongst others, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Desmond Tutu who fought for liberation and invited all South Africans under one roof called ‘Reconciliation’.

Reconciliation is dependent on truth and it is true that we live with a tribal identity and mentality, ie: Xhosa, Zulu, Coloured or Sotho. And while this means that we function and survive better within a collective setting, it also means that if you are not one if us, you are not important and deserve less. Crimes against humanity such as Apartheid and Xenophobia were born out of tribal mentalities like this.

Because of these mentalities, we claim ownership of things which are not ours to begin with. In the context of South Africa, we claim ownership of our land and jobs we don’t have yet, and are ready to murder our brothers and sisters from other countries who are seeking refuge for it. Somewhere along the way, we have lost our human identity and stopped exercising our abilities to be truthful, responsible, loving, sharing and merciful citizens.

The problem lies with our values and attitudes. Instead of claiming ownership over land and jobs, we need to claim back our African values, the most important of which is one our late hero, Nelson Mandela, made account for: UBUNTU – you are because we are.

We are all different and will never be the same, which is why we need to find a way to live together harmoniously. Diversity is something very precious, a sacred gift to be cherished. Instead of fighting because of our differences, we need to embrace our diversity and not let our own cultural, tribal and other traditional practices or the colour of our skins form barriers that limit us from reaching out to each other.

Here is a quote from a movie I watched a couple of days ago, Noah’s Ark. “Let`s make sure the choices we make will lay a foundation for the future we ultimately want to live in”.

My message to you this Heritage Day is to look beyond our tribal identities, mentalities and individual attitudes and toward seeking a human identity.

Take some time to listen to the sounds and look at the sights around you. The beating of a drum, the stomping of dancing feet, the colours of traditional clothing worn by every nation. Look at the make-up on everyone’s faces as each pattern tells a different story. Maybe then we can learn to appreciate each other.

South Africa is a rich country in terms of culture and tradition and the world looks to us for inspiration. Let us build a model country which the global community will draw from. Let us look beyond the vials of our own brokenness and desires, take the hand of a foreign brother and sister – and by foreign, I don’t just mean from another country but a neighbour or fellow citizen you regard as a stranger – and walk away from discrimination and towards a world of curiosity.


Dancing towards sunset

BY: Sandile Mntungwa 


The African Drum is never too loud,

It sounds like this and it sounds like that,

Our versatile nation rejoices to songs of a fading night

The songs of Hope and to the beat of love,

Holding hands dancing towards our sunset


Lavender, toned, black, white smooth creamy skins like the marula drink

Rubbing each other side on side,

Moving to the Rhythm of the beating drum

Fires blazing, chants of feet not a distance from each other

Chaa cha chaa, step step to the African beat

Different sounds uniting for one meaningful song

Young and old, none regarded as a stranger

Dancing towards a sunset


A Coloured tambourine filters watery yawning bird sound

Singing goodbye to the day awaiting for the new

A new heritage, stage of an African beat

Crooked root of an African child,

Dry lips that of the Sahara desert, whispering noises of unity

We dancing toward sunset


Rivers gushing, winds blowing, rain falling

Dancing towards our sunset.


We know great leaders. Leaders who are unashamedly passionate about their particular causes. But most importantly, it is important to know other young leaders, like you and me. Our thoughtfulness, integrity, and ambition, speaks volumes to those we serve.

Some time ago, I had a fascinating discussion with an influential business leader around the role of youth as active citizens in South Africa. To my dismay, the individual explicitly expressed that the only active citizenry he has heard of by youth was tyre-burning, frustration, and impatience – a sign of not being able to articulate concerns through appropriate channels. It seems as though young people choose to express their frustration with the myriad of societal issues they face by means of violence, he said.

Uncomfortably shifting in my seat, I responded and said that there were hundreds, if not millions, of young men and women who have shown exceptional efforts towards the betterment of not only our communities and country, and also on an international scale. My best defence in this challenging conversation was the success stories of young people I have crossed paths with during my time with ACTIVATE!

As I anticipated, the conversation  shifted to one young, radical politician and how he was  perceived to be representative of all young people who advocate for our causes, disregarding the countless other exemplary youth leaders whom we should more often be celebrating and acknowledge.

Reflecting on this conversation, I recognise why the narrative is being perpetuated and why there is this struggle to shift perceptions about youth in South Africa. I do, however, strongly feel that we need to push harder to reshape this narrative to one that is more positive, to a thinking that has a more honest reflection of young leaders demonstrating success in our country’s development. 

With the countless examples of unethical leadership in both Government and Business in our country, it is not difficult to assume that youth have and will continue to inherit mediocre standards of leadership. In South Africa, it is not uncommon to have leaders who have engaged in fraudulent activities, corruption and nepotism;  leaders who headline our media platforms with scandals and fail to perform to the standards we expect them to, and yet they continue with the important responsibility of ruling our country, companies (sometimes both, in overlap!) and even our communities. While this type of leadership is being normalised and preoccupies our attention, it leaves little room for the success, impact and legacies that others are trying to achieve.

Looking back at the 2014 election campaigns, political leaders regurgitated the importance of young people in our growing democracy, and made promises about what they would do, if given power, but fail to perform against their own targets. The Youth is told repeatedly how many jobs will be created for them. This year’s State of the Nation Address mentioned very little about the progress on youth issues.  The education crisis continues to be one of the biggest disappointments for young people. The role of civil society organisations and advocacy movements has shifted to be that of ‘cleaners’ and providing services those elected were meant to do.

Great leaders seem to be somewhat mythical. We look to and quote Ashley Kriel, Robert Sobukwe and Nelson Mandela as if we can only aspire to their greatness and that we would never be able to fill their shoes. We ought to identify within ourselves as those great leaders have and also start looking to each other as Activators for inspiration.

More importantly, we need to celebrate our success as young leaders more, so that we may remain unashamed and uncompromising in our purpose and what we believe in. There are committed, ethical young individuals within ACTIVATE! who are active and are steadfast in all the issues we are passionate about. They do so with conviction, and integrity – something some of our current leaders lack.

If I could redo the conversation which sparked this piece of writing, I would only slightly rephrase my response to ask the individual what he is doing as an active citizen to enhance the situation for young people. I would again continue to celebrate and acknowledge the success of young South African leaders like Asanda Vumazonke who works with disadvantaged rural youth, mentoring them through their entire tertiary education. A woman like Pumeza Mdingi who works in one of South Africa’s most impoverished communities educating young people around HIV/Aids, and Mhlanganisi Madlongolwana who is recognised as a young African leader for his work with youth. I would cite  the whole network of more than 1000 other youths who are successful in their attempts, not only to shift the negative discourse around youth, but who are doing so with conviction, ambition and integrity.

Juzaida Swain is an Activator and Programme Officer: Strategy and Fundraising at the The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.


If you would like to join the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network, visit to apply. Applications close 31 October 2014.


“I definitely got more than I bargained for”, this is Thabang Mabuza’s first remark when we sat down to chat about how he spent his one day as CEO of South African Airways (SAA) Technical.

Thabang is a young entrepreneur, an Activator and CEO of Ulwazi Resource Consulting, an events company that hosts career events for school pupils, tertiary students and out-of-school youth.

His biggest event so far has been the Ekurhuleni Career Expo which is held annually and took place on 17 September this year at the Ekurhuleni College, Gauteng.

The aim of the expo, explains Thabang, is to facilitate conversation between corporate companies and young people.

‘It’s not an exhibition, it’s a conversation,’ he says.

The festival is two-pronged: it provides career information to school pupils as well as connects out-of-school youth with potential employers.

‘This year, we ran a placement programme within the expo where unemployed youth could submit their CVs and companies could interview potential candidates on the spot.’

Thabang also organises and manages ACTIVATE!’s Lion’s Den – an event where Activators can pitch project ideas to potential funders and/or partners for possible funding as part of ACTIVATE!’s SWITCH entrepreneur incubator programme. This is where he first met Musa Zwane, CEO of SAA Technical. 

‘I never had the chance to go to university and have always challenged the status quo that you need a degree to go into a corporate boardroom and sell value,’ said Thabang.

After numerous conversations with Mr Musa Zwane, the idea was formed for Thabang to take the reins for 24 hours and experience being CEO of SAA Technical for a day.

‘It was an amazing experience and more than just seeing how a huge corporation works,’ said Thabang. ‘It gave me the opportunity to navigate and access relevant people – people who have a budget and that I can present proposals to.’

Thabang was also granted a valuable one-on-one session with the CEO who shared some great leadership tools that he uses to keep the company running smoothly, one of which was “be persistent yet patient”.’

‘If it’s not done now, the energy goes away, so always follow up on every lead but be patient,’ explains Thabang. ‘My journey to becoming CEO for a day didn’t start with one email, it was born out of a relationship which took three months to build.’

Another useful tool he learnt was the A-R-C leadership formula.

‘This basically means that for every action, there is a reaction and you always have a choice about how you respond to that reaction,’ he explained.

Thabang’s experience as CEO for a day left him very excited about his future.

‘The way forward for me now is CEO of Microsoft and ACTIVATE!,’ he declared boldly.

His company, Ulwazi Resource Consulting, also has a lot to look forward to in the near future as SAA Technical has agreed to provide an aircraft at the next Expo in October 2014 for young people to explore and will sponsor a branded trailer for Thabang to host mobile expos.

His parting advice to students and fellow Activators who want to get ahead in life is to make valuable connections.

‘Instead of drafting sponsorship letters, offer to job shadow for a day,’ he said. ‘That way, you get introduced to influential people who will remember you. Whether you’ve had the opportunity to study or not, through connections and mentorship you can have the opportunity to navigate spaces of interest either in business or for work.’


If you would like to join the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network, visit to apply. Applications close 31 October 2014.