Zulaikha Patel. Picture: Instagram

Kailash Satyarthi once said “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future.”

It's a fitting quote as South Africa celebrated Youth Day on June 16. But it also puts into context how young people, who were once the backbone of democracy and politics, are once again taking their place on the world stage.

So in honour of Youth Month, we've profiled five young activists who are making waves across the continent.

Zulaikha Patel

Age: 16

At age 13, Patel took up the fight against Pretoria Girls High School's policy regarding black girls' hair. She led a demonstration that eventually changed school policy, but also an inquiry into allegations of racism at the school. Her story spread across social media and the world as she became the face of #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh movement. 

During an interview with DRUM, she unapologetically said: “I'm an activist for anti-racism and anti-sexism. It’s important for people to stand up for what they believe in, and that's what I'm doing.” Another feather added to her activism cap was being named one of four South African women who made it onto the BBC’s 100 Women List 2016.


Nosipho Bele

Age: 28

The founder of Mentor Me to Success, which provides schoolchildren with support from university students, Bele grew up in Durban and completed a degree in theatre and performance at UCT. 

In 2015, she was recognised for her efforts by becoming one of the first South African recipients of the Queen’s Young Leader Award. “To be presented with an award by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in recognition of my work is such an incredible honour. It was also really inspiring to see all the other young leaders receive their awards,” she said after receiving the accolade.

Queen Elizabeth and Nosipho Bele share a laugh at Buckingham Palace. Picture: ANA Pics

She is now one of the youngest lecturers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Sanele Junior Xaba

Age: 23

Having modelled for Adidas and GQ, Xaba has come a long way after being the victim of bullying in Durban. As South Africa's first international male model with albinism, he is using his platform for raising awareness around albinism, and fighting for diversity in the modelling industry. 

Last year he posed naked on the cover of Polish design magazine Label and later had Dutch photographer Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk photograph him in a depiction of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

With more than 34K Instagram followers, Xaba is very aware of his influence, and stated during a 2017 interview with The Guardian: “Now that I've realised I can use my looks to raise awareness and to challenge the perceptions and stereotypes about the condition, I've started to take a lot more pride in my own albinism.”

Farai Mubaiwa

Age: 22

Also a recipient of the prestigious Queen’s Young Leader Award (QYL), but in 2017, Mubaiwa has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure her NGO, Africa Matters, is the vehicle used “to change the African narrative by providing spaces for critical engagement amongst Africans”.

Picture: Instagram

Hosting workshops, summits and leadership programmes around the country, she enlightens SA’s youth about important social issues. While studying at the University of Stellenbosch, she campaigned to create awareness around rape culture on campus and teamed up with academics to write a book on the issue.

Shaeera Kalla

Age: Under 30

Known as the student who led the Fees Must Fall movement, Kalla was educated in Pretoria and became involved in politics from a young age. Fitting then that she made the natural progression to SRC leader at the University of Witwatersrand in 2015. 

Former Wits SRC president Shaeera Kalla. Photo: Motlabana Monnakgotla, ANA Pics

“The strategic thinking that informed the shutdown was to physically and symbolically show the inaccessibility and exclusionary nature of our higher education institutions,” she said during an interview with South African History Online.

At the height of the movement, she was shot 13 times in the back by the police who were trying to quell protest action on campus. Now a social activist, Kalla is working with a group of young professionals to deal with social and developmental issues.