At just 25 years old, Mantate Queeneth Mlotshwa, from Zimbabwe, wears many hats. She is a business owner, an author, a blogger and a project leader for the Arts 4 Change organization at Magamba Network. Mantate is also a 2018 alumna of the Southern Africa Regional Leadership Center. In April 2021, Mantate represented Zimbabwe and YALI Alumni on a panel discussion for U.S. Secretary of State Blinken’s virtual visit to Africa. This passionate advocate combines her love of media and creative arts with her desire to challenge the status quo in Zimbabwe while promoting democratic governance and advocating for the rights of women and youth.
Mantate was raised by her maternal grandmother in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Her grandmother encouraged her to question anything that undermined her dignity, joy and growth. She fell in love with reading, using the stories from books to learn about communities outside her own. Her passion for books transformed into a passion for advocacy. Inspired by lively debates in school, she published fictional stories for her classmates on her blog, highlighting critical issues most people in her community avoided.
She notes that in Zimbabwe, storytelling is almost always advocacy. “In the work I do, I speak on issues that affect people every day. Honest storytelling is important because it’s an extension of respect for the people that I am speaking on behalf of. It also shows that one does not undermine the truth of people’s experiences.” Her blogs illuminate people’s struggles with child marriages, lack of access to quality water, health and education, and youth injustices.
Mantate continues to amplify voices within her community through her role as the project lead for the Arts 4 Change organization. Arts 4 Change is a youth-led and -focused program that combines creative activism, popular culture and digital media as a means of initiating dialogue around accountability, inspiring youth-led grassroots movements, and supporting advocacy on critical governance issues. The program is made of two projects — Voice2Rep and Film Fellowship. Both programs search for undiscovered music and visual artists who support greater representation, participation and accountability in the arts. The competition finds, supports and connects socially conscious and engaged artists who integrate their communities’ social justice issues into their work. In these programs, youth artists document issues within Zimbabwe, opening a path for communities to spark dialogue and change.
As a member of The Resistance Bureau, a platform that spotlights issues surrounding democracy, human rights and the struggle for freedom of the press, Mantate mobilizes and interviews leading activists, civil society representatives, lawyers, journalists and political leaders to highlight how they solve issues plaguing Africa. “I have learned so much about African and global politics, media and other critical issues. This has really shaped the way I look at my activism and encouraged me to appreciate the people that are risking their lives for justice.”
She reminds her audience to listen to community-specific issues. “Sometimes we go into communities thinking we are bringing solutions, yet those aren’t the solutions that will address the main challenges people face. It’s a reminder each day of what meaningful participation and engagement look like.”
Mantate advises all YALI Network members to use their platforms to amplify the experiences of people who otherwise might not have their voices heard. “Start a free blog, a vlog, podcast, anything. Always know that when you tell stories that people can relate to, you give them the power to confront their own experiences and build a support system that cultivates their hope in something better than today. That hope keeps people alive.”
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The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.