by Mpho Sehlapelo
Zulaikha Patel is a FORCE! She is inspiring in so many ways. Her vocal activism started at a young age, she has done so much and just turned 16. She has already been listed as BBCs 100 Most Influential Women 2016, andTime Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. She was also recognized by CNNAfrica in October 2016 in the feature #AfricanGirlsRock. She received the Mbokodo Award in 2016 and is also ambassador of Kidz of Biko.
How Would You Describe Yourself?
I would describe myself as loud, unapologetic, outspoken, fearless, a pan-Africanist, and a feminist!
High School – consumer studies, history and geography
Black history and global issues
I live by the statement “Conquer the world African girl, she is king! Power to she!”
I would like to study political science, history, anthropology, African literature in university. I aspire to be the first female youth president as I feel that Africa is on the Western world’s dinner plate, Africa is rich but Africans are poor, and the thing about our society is that those that have ideas have no power and those that have power have no ideas.
Africa is not progressing because the majority population that is black youth is not in leadership, and has no power yet has endless ideas. We have a generation that led powerful revolutions and radical ideas like “fees must fall” but they have no power. Every generation has its own freedom to win; freedom is a constant struggle. Our is to radically transform Africa, and that can only happen if we have youth in leadership, we need a youngCabinet. We need a young, woke, black members of parliament, we need a young, black, woke President!
I also aspire to become Miss South Africa as I feel the time the title is bigger than winning a beauty pageant, I feel it is about empowering and uplifting the spirit of the girl whose spirit has been broken by society’s norms and western standards. I feel it is about empowering the girl who has been body shamed simply because she is not a size 28. It is about empowering the black girl whose hair is too kinky to tie a ponytail. It is about empowering the girl whose voice is too mad for society. It is about empowering girls of the LGBTI community, it is about empowering girls whose voices are constantly being broken down by patriarchy and it is about empowering the girl with no self-confidence, the girl who is depressed. It is about empowering all women.
What kind of change would you like to make in the world?
The kind of change I would like to make in the world is a pro-black, pan-African, feminist, radical notion. I dream that one day a black woman will not be defined by what they wear, women will not be objectified and will not be defined by how domesticated they are but rather by the content of their character. I dream that one day black women will not be at the bottom of economic, social and political statuses. I dream that one day that black women will be understood, that black women will have power. I dream that the youth of Africa will push Africa forward into a radical, economically free society. That is the kind of impact I want to make. I want to make my dream into a reality.
What made you stand up to wear your hair natural at school?
What made me stand up to wearing my hair natural is that I had changed schools a number of times because of racism in schools, I had changed 3 schools due to racism over my hair. I felt that as an African girl the time has come for me to defend my identity, its gone on for too long, that African girls are not allowed to express themselves just as they are because asking me to change my hair is asking me to erase my roots, it’s asking me to erase the Africa within me, it’s asking me to erase my blackness basically. And I felt that I couldn’t keep running anymore and I had to fight. I wasn’t doing this just for me, I was doing it for every other black girl whose character has been belittled, whose identity has been taken from her. So I believed that I had to fight for my identity and fight for Africa.
What did this experience teach you about yourself?
Growing up, I wasn’t as outspoken and unapologetic and fearless as I am now, that experience taught me to be brave and to stand up for what I believe in regardless of who is standing with me, because the most powerful thing is believing in yourself, it’s self-love. Self-love is the greatest revolution you can wage as a black girl, self- love is the best love , it has taught me to love my skin inside and out and to love every aspect and fibre about my being. It has taught me to speak out against injustices and it has opened my eyes about our society that we don’t live in a free society. It has taught me that the struggle continues and we have to fight, the baton has been given to the youth and it is our to fight for our freedom. The previous generation fought for democracy and fought for a basic constitution and their fight was for political rights, to express themselves politically and now our fight is to radically transform and develop Africa and to defend that democracy. Because if democracy doesn’t work for everybody, if it doesn’t empower and uplift oppressed masses; then it is not a true democracy. As the youth it is our fight to transformAfrica, not just to physically transform it, but also to transform Africa mentally and empower conscious thinking. We are not free without mental liberation, liberation is a process that begins in the mind. Freedom is psychological freedom, in terms of black consciousness, which means the realization of self-determination. As Africans we need to be determined, we need to think beyond chains of colonialism, we need to think beyond the western world’s ideas and norms. We need to think in an afrocentric way and empower afrocentric norms amongst us.
You were recently campaigning for justice for the 6 year old that was raped…
I was campaigning because I am questioning where is democracy for children, Africa’s future is being taken from us, children are the future. It evoked a lot of emotions of anger within me that we live in such a patriarchal society, controlled by white supremacy, our society was built on the compromise of black people, black women especially. Women’s bodies are disregarded. I felt like shouting that my body is not a crime scene! I was campaigning under the notion that “men are trash” not in the sense of attacking individuals but to say the system of patriarchy is trash and we need to change this system. It was emotional to see that our society disregards rape; rape is a very de-humanizing crime. That 6 year old’s life will never be the same again and that perpetrator is being defended. I really, really had to fight for my womanhood, fight for democracy for women and children.
Advice to girls on activism at schools and communities…
Aluta continua – the struggle continues! It is not yet uhuru, we still have a long way to go. Womandla! Power to SHE! Female is the future. We, as young women have to change Africa, it is within us. We developed Africa, we birthed Africa, it’s in us to change and give life to a new society inAfrica.
The revolution is still unfolding and it is young, black and beautiful and most definitely female. Young women need to use their voices; it has gone on for too long that we have been silenced. The more they try to silence us the louder we should scream and make a noise about injustices we are facing, we should standup for ourselves, it is time we make an impact and I strongly believe that without women we have no future.
Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing on your own, it is the most powerful thing you can ever do, believe in yourself!
What about how you were raised makes you an activist?
I was raised in a very, very, very political home. My father always mentored me about politics. As a child growing up I new a lot about political parties, politicians, politics in general. My mother always taught me to be independent as a young girl. She basically created the mad, wild, radical feminist I am. She always empowered that as a girl I should never limit myself, I should never think less of myself, I should always be independent and that being a girl should never define what I can and cannot do. Being a girl is actually powerful and she taught me the power in being a girl.