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The three young Mandelas

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments


To celebrate Mandela Day in July 2019, 100 young South Africans were chosen for their remarkable drive to succeed in their personal lives.

These young heroes make a difference to the lives of others and embody the true spirit of Madiba. They are passionate about inspiring all South Africans. The News24 100 Young Mandelas of the Future were chosen by media group News241 from a large number of nominations received, to remind South Africans that the characteristics which former president Nelson Mandela embodied – compassion, creativity, leadership, vision and resilience – are still thriving today. These young South Africans epitomise strength of will: despite being faced with their own personal challenges and struggles, they are still able to embody Madiba’s spirit of community and humanity, or ubuntu. Kearsney College is extremely proud that for a relatively small school, three of the 100 achievers – Mpumelelo Mhlongo (25), Zain Bana (24) and Phoka Mchunu (19) – were educated at the college, located in Botha’s Hill in KwaZulu-Natal. ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ says Kearsney headmaster, Elwyn van den Aardweg. ‘In each of their cases, there have been significant adults in the home environment, school and elsewhere who have contributed to their character formation. These young men have embodied Kearsney’s motto by seizing the opportunities that have presented themselves and focusing their efforts on making the world a better place, especially for marginalised communities.’

Mpumelelo Mhlongo

An exceptionally talented all-rounder and leader, Mpumelelo Mhlongo’s recognition as a Young Mandela is a result of his lobbying the International Paralympic Committee to revise their classification rules, and to separate blade runners and jumpers from people with lower limb deficiencies. He was also included on the 2019 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list. Mhlongo was born with a congenital disorder that left his right foot severely deformed and the chance of amputation strong, with the development of his fingers also affected. Dedication and determination ensured that, two weeks after presenting his chemical engineering PhD proposal for converting recycled plastic to diesel, the T44 Paralympian2 was setting world records on international athletic tracks. Mhlongo became the South African T44 champion in the 100m, 200m, long jump and high jump categories at the 2015 National Championships for the Physically Disabled, breaking the All African records for the latter two. He competed at the 2016 Paralympic Games in two events, as well as four events at the 2015 and 2017 World Championships, and is currently training hard for the upcoming World Championships and 2020 Paralympic Games. Mhlongo speaks six languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, French and Portuguese – and earned a coveted place on the Dean’s List for academic excellence at the University of Cape Town, where he was also a three-time Sportsperson of the Year. As an indication of his talent, leadership and popularity whilst at Kearsney, he was awarded the trophy for ‘perseverance, displaying courage in overcoming difficulties, scholastic achievement, success in sport and leadership’. The all-rounder was head prefect in his boarding house, as well as head of the acclaimed Kearsney Choir when it won gold at the 2012 World Choir Games. His athletic training at the highest international level, whilst completing his PhD, is being undertaken in tandem with raising awareness for those with disabilities, as well as seeking to improve the healthcare space in South Africa. ‘My current goal is to create a presence for those living with disabilities, through my Road to Tokyo campaign. It has become the reason I wake up every morning to train and have found a new breath of life to pursue my passion in sports.’ Mhlongo says those who shape the future and change the present ‘are always considered to be radical thinkers, crazy believers who live in the ideal of a utopia. If the youth take on the responsibility of changing the course of where South Africa is predicted to be headed, through passion, logic and a value of suffering, I am more than certain of the success we will see.’ Together with his Kearsney peer Zain Bana, also a Young Mandela, Mhlongo is working on making a lasting mark in the healthcare space in Africa, aiming to have as many people who have access to cellphones to have access to good healthcare. Together, they are striving to bridge the gap between public and private healthcare, ensuring that patient-centred technology is accessible to all.

Zain Bana

Bana co-founded the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Black Young and Gifted (BYG), and is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives through leading a variety of business- and project-based interactions. He was instrumental in the NGO receiving R1 million in funding from the Gautrain Management Agency. BYG is an initiative operating within the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering. BYG is driven by students and alumni to encourage young students of colour to consider postgraduate studies and careers in academia. Currently, only 10% of civil engineering undergraduates pursue master’s degrees, and even fewer PhDs. Out of this small group, very few are South African students of colour. It is hoped that this pilot programme will eventually be extended to other departments. During Bana’s tenure as chair of the Engineering and Built Environment students’ faculty council, a student in distress fund was set up to assist students in need of emergency funding for accommodation, food and stationery. He says his strong sense of community and helping those in need was nurtured by his parents, his Muslim values and from exposure to doing community service whilst at school.

Phoka Mchunu

Phoka Mchunu, last year’s head prefect at Kearsney, founded the peer-to-peer Generation We initiative during his matric year. Taking to heart Madiba’s comment that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, Mchunu established a small but dynamic group of KwaZulu-Natal high school pupils from different and diverse backgrounds, across seven independent and government schools, who strived to inspire and empower one another through sharing their stories. Mchunu is delighted that his baton has been picked up by a group of this year’s matriculants. The initiative has been developed further with their plans to establish a library for school children in the rural Valley of 1 000 Hills. ‘We, the youth of South Africa, need to find a common thread that binds us together, which will assist in identifying our role in building a united and prosperous country,’ he says. ‘The youth of our country is hungry to make a change, and all we need is the chance. The potential of South Africa is unbelievable, but the only way to reach it is if the youth are invited not only to witness discussions, but to be actively involved in them.’ Mchunu said his sense of community began at Kearsney. ‘It became clear to me that the life we lived and were exposed to at school was drastically different from where I come from and which the majority of our country experiences. ‘The opportunities offered to me came from someone believing in me. Therefore, my drive is to create opportunities for others. It’s my duty to pay it forward.’ The sense of ubuntu, or ‘I am because we are’, embodied by these three young leaders, reinforces the message that in a country often overwhelmed by daily struggles against crime, corruption, unemployment and abuse, there is always a reason to believe in our nation. We need not lose hope Adriaan Basson, News24􀀀editor-in-chief, who established the 100 Young Mandelas of the Future initiative, said it is designed to remind South Africans that the characteristics which Madiba embodied are still thriving today. ‘Their stories are the reason why we dare not lose hope in South Africa. They should inspire us to be brave and courageous as we take the road ahead,’ he says.

Sue Miles owns Working Words and handles media coverage for Kearsney College.


1. See: 100-young-mandelas-of-the-future-are-open-enter-today-20190524

2. See:

Category: Spring 2019

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