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ZAZI Profile: Malaika wa Azania

ZAZI Profile: Malaika wa Azania

Malaika Wa Azania is a very busy young woman. At 21, she has already rechristened herself, is expecting her first book, writes for publications that include the Mail & Guardian, The Thinker and DestinyConnect. To top it all off she is also a SADC youth ambassador for the African Union's Youth Charter.

Born Malaika Mahlatsi, she refuses to be defined by convention and renamed herself Malaika Wa Azania because she identifies herself first as an African rather than South African. Her journey is decked with awe-inspiring moments and ought to be applauded in a generation that blames the system for every failure; she has chosen to be part of the solution.

"I am an independent thinker who refuses to subscribe to popular view or conform," she says with a chuckle. "I am an Afrikan daughter of the Azanian soil. I subscribe to the philosophy of pan-Afrikanism and the ideology of Socialism. Afrika is my beginning and it is my ending."

A seemingly normal childhood playing in the dusty streets of Zone 8 Meadowlands in Soweto, Malaika spawned an opinionated and confident young woman. Malaika credits her activist parents who've dedicated their working lives to fighting social injustice. Added to this, she says her passion for reading provided an insight into the world that went beyond her tender years.

"I used to visit my mother a lot at her workplace in Braamfontein, and would immerse myself in the organisational literature that lay strewn all across her office. The stories that I read there - from child labour stories in Pakistan, to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo - birthed in me a passion for civil society and government work, and I have not looked back since then," Malaika says.

Her childhood dream has evolved over the years from wanting to be the first female president of South Africa to wanting to be an agricultural scientist and later Minister of Rural Development and agrarian Reform. The constant for her is a position that allows her to influence strategic decisions that determine the direction of the country.

"I genuinely believe in the possibility of a different Afrika, one where human development is a priority to policy makers. Policy makers tend to focus on the more concrete aspects of development, such as infrastructure and the economy. But human development is more critical, and it is when we channel our energies on this aspect that we will see genuine change in the continent," she says.

In the meantime she is getting herself an education. She is currently studying Statistics and Environmental Economics with UNISA and is the outgoing Secretary General of the African Youth Coalition (AYC), an affiliate of the Pan African Youth Union and an umbrella body of civil society youth organisations on the continent. She is director of her company Pen and Azanian Revolution.

For a young person, she has a lot of very firm opinions that can only enrich Africa's discourse.

"The subordination of women, the utter disregard and abuse of the girl child, is something that begs for critical analysis and for change. My ideal Afrika would be one where women are not exploited and abused, where women can occupy the same positions of power as men, based on their capacity and skills. It is an Afrika where the girl child is given the same education as a boy child and above all, an Afrika that respects its women."

"Critical to this is change in gender relations. The girl child is taught to be a mother, a wife, a nurturer. Hardly is the girl child encouraged to be a dreamer, a visionary, an individual."

Malaika says her awakening came quite early when she read the story of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy who was murdered for his political work against child labour.

"My ZAZI Moment happened in 2003," she says. "I was 13 years old, in grade 7. I knew after reading that story that I would be an activist for youth rights. That is precisely what I have become.

In a country where rape and abuse of women is an everyday occurrence Malaika has very clear views on how young girls should conduct themselves and what role they play in society.

"My advice to the girl child is one: Define yourself! One of the most tragic things about Afrikan society is the over-emphasis on the subordinate role of the girl child," she says. "I advise girls define themselves first as individuals, as women of substance".