Alawyer by profession, Pheladi Gwangwa grew up in a village in Limpopo and is today the station manager of Talk Radio 702.
She says: “I’m only where I am today because somebody spotted my talent and put in the effort to nurture me. I want to do the same for others.”
This is why she is a patron of Future of the African Daughter (Fotad), which teaches girls maths, science, and leadership and social skills.
The organisation was launched by Gqibelo Dandala in 2007 as an aftercare programme.
It concentrates on children between 12 and 19, when young women’s lives can easily be derailed.
How did you get involved?
I was there right from the beginning as an onlooker and a friend, but became an active patron about five years ago.
That was when I started to see the positive impact the organisation was making on girls’ lives and on society.
In an interview about why you went into broadcasting, you said: ‘For me, the most important thing is to promote freedom of speech.’ Is this desire to give voice to everyone part of your motivation?
Yes, so many voices in society are silenced.
The African girl child’s voice is the one whose silence is the most deafening.
You worked hard to get where you are today. What in your life made you understand the importance of knowledge and education?
My mother. She worked so hard to get me to where I am today.
At one point, while paying for my varsity fees, she had one worn-out handbag yet she never made me feel guilty.
From that, I learnt the value of hard work and determination.
Fotad says its mission is ‘to create a community of brilliant, independent and self-assured young women who will be meaningful participants in the South African economy’. That’s a tall order in a country like ours, where gender-based violence is rife. How do you make it a reality every day?
By working at it one girl at a time.
It is the starfish philosophy.
We encourage our girls to work in their communities and to be the change that they want to see.
With Women’s Month behind us again, do you think the kind of focused media attention we have during this time makes a real difference to how we treat our African daughters?
The challenge for us is to take this focus and sharpen it in the weeks and months ahead.
Changing a society or influencing its outlook is a mammoth task, but we must not lose hope because of the enormity of the task.
Who stands out for you as a beacon of what Fotad tries to achieve?
It has been great to see our girls progressing to university with great results, because that is what we expect of them on the programme.
In her speech at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in 2011, US First Lady Michelle Obama mentioned Fotad as an example of an organisation that is making a real difference. For you, what’s the greatest legacy of the programme?
First of all, showing the girls that somebody cares about them and is willing to invest in their future.
You don’t have to make a big difference to start anything – you can start small and grow incrementally.
This programme started with us lamenting the dearth of black women in corporate South Africa.
Now the programme has blossomed.
South Africans want to lend a helping hand, but don’t know how or where to spend their resources.
What is your advice for would-be philanthropists?
It’s not always about money.
Your time, energy and intellectual capital can also make a huge difference.
Also, start small – even if it is mentoring or sponsoring just one girl in our programme.
» This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust
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