Nangamso Koza’s greatest goal is to help the youth and her community grow. That is why she founded the Inqubela Foundation, dedicated to providing leadership and literacy access to her community. Her Inqubela Foundation is committed to ensuring schools in developing communities are run effectively and become leading centers of academic excellence and leadership development.
Nangamso comes from a family that values education. Thanks to her mother’s example, she has seen the positive effect education can have on a family, a community and those who use their education to empower their community. Koza says, “That’s what education is about … giving hope where there is no hope and … giving people a reason to dream beyond their current socioeconomic challenges.”
Nangamso acknowledges that even though great improvement has been made in her community, there are still challenges young people, especially women, have to face to receive an education in rural communities. “We have cases … where girls are still being forced into early child, early marriages that … they didn’t consent to … you see the damage that was done, and … you see how far they could be had they been given the opportunity to be a child, to be a normal child.”
When asked how she measures success personally and for the Inqubela Foundation, Koza responded, “Like any, well, all the teachers will tell you that when their kids pass, that’s success. I think for me, it’s, it’s looking at, at where they come from, the kids, that is, and looking and watching them grow into young, passionate, conscious people.”
Hear all about Nangamso’s work in the Eastern Cape in this edition of the YALI Voices podcast.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: NANGAMSO KOZA
NANGAMSO: I was born in Hewu, it’s a rural community in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Hewu is a beautiful community, very rural community, that, is made up of about 25 villages, two townships and one small town. We can call it a town now. We’ve got ATMs now and, and shops we can buy nice things from. It’s a community that prides itself on agriculture and education.
We’ve got so many people who come from Hewu who’ve achieved so much in terms of education, agricultural development, and, and we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the province. Our young people are unemployed. Our young people are unemployable because they lack the necessary skills to be employed anywhere.
So we, we, we have a crisis on our hands. We’ve got a crisis, and once again, it goes back to the education that we give our kids because we can’t be shocked when we have such a high level of unemployable young people, yet the very same education that is meant to capacitate them such that they’re self-reliant fails to do that. But we, we, we are a community in trouble, but we are a community that loves itself and its people, and, and slowly, slowly we’ll get there. We’ll get there.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.
Today’s YALI Voices podcast is with Nangamso Koza. The 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow hails from Hewu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. The daughter and granddaughter of educators, she came to respect the power of education and its ability to transform people and communities.
In this podcast, she talks about her rising awareness of the imbalance in South Africa’s education system and how that inspired her to create the Inqubela Foundation. She shares how her work is based on the principles of leadership, literacy, responsibility and mentorship, and how being an active and engaged YALI Network member enables the partnerships that can change lives.
NANGAMSO: I was raised by a single parent, a grade one teacher for over 35 years. It was me, her, my elder sister and my elder brother, So I grew up in a home where I watched, um, a single parent trying to make ends meet, raising three kids on her own, but yet the love that she raised us with, the unconditional love, would feed us even when there was no food to eat. And I grew up appreciating education because Mama comes from a family of educated people, people who appreciate what education does for a family, for a community, and people who use that education to plow back and empower the community. So I come from, from such a background.
She, Mama, led by example. She didn’t, she didn’t really tell you as much what to do, what you ought to do as a human being, but she would lead by example. We saw her giving, I mean, history classes as a grade one teacher, and because she had gone to a grade, um, had grade 12, or then standard 10 symbols, Mama now ended up falling in love with history, and she would give history classes at home and we would see these high school students coming in to take history classes, and we’d see how she would help out the illiterate older people in the community to come and help them read letters, help them write letters. And we would see as well the amount of time and energy and effort she put in preparing her teaching and learning materials for the kids in her class. She showed up for her kids, and she never called her class, like, their kids or other people’s kids. She called them bantwana bam, my kids, you know. Bantwana bam, that is “my kids” in Xhosa, my mother tongue, so that’s how she referred to them. And you could see how she carried their dreams in her hands and how much she respected the time and effort that their parents are putting in in preparing them to get them to school.
I think it’s when I was probably in standard two in the same school as she was teaching, and I could see how she was valued by the parents because she was a respected teacher, and I’d see how when the parents are coming and we’re supposed to be going back home, I’m in her class waiting for her. Let’s go and take a taxi and go home.
And their parents coming to see Miss Mpondwana to come and talk about something, to come and thank her about something. And then you listen to people, how they speak about her and, and the manner in which they relate to her. And then you realize that it’s not just about her coming to school and teach. It’s about her going the extra mile and, and serving our people with dignity and serving them with respect and not viewing even the most illiterate people as people who shouldn’t be partaking in their children’s education.
So how, how, I saw how she was serving our people, and I saw how her service was changing people’s lives, and that’s what education is about, how it was changing people’s lives and giving hope where there is no hope and, and, and giving people a reason to dream beyond their current socioeconomic challenges. So, for me, I think that that was the first realization of what education is and how it could actually change a society, especially for a country like South Africa, looking back at where we come from.
NANGAMSO: Things have changed for girls in South Africa post-1994, such that it’s not so difficult for them now to get an education. Everybody’s aware, their parents or their guardians, irrespective of where they are and where they come from, that children have got a constitutional right to basic education, so every child must be at school.
However, in the most rural communities, the, the most conservative communities, um, communities where you’ll find, most especially in the former Transkei, you still have communities that believe that a girl’s place is in the kitchen, such that we have cases that are being tackled by our government and various, um, civic organizations, where girls are still being forced into early child, early marriages that, that they didn’t consent to. A minor can never consent to a marriage. So you still have those cases which are traumatic when you hear about it, and even when you interact with people who come from such forced marriages, you, you see the damage that was done, and, and you see how far they could be had they been given the opportunity to be a child, to be a normal child.
But, however, as I said, because now there are more civic organizations stepping in and, at times, holding those parents accountable, as far as taking them to court to say, “You should not be marrying off your girls at such a young age. So if you’re not going to protect her, we will protect her.” And they are moved to places of safety. But things have changed. There’s a great improvement in terms of access.
NANGAMSO: I saw the need, being somebody who comes from schools that have nothing. I come, I’m a product of schools where science chemicals had to be imagined because we had no science labs. And I come from a background where my, my grandfather was a principal for about 45 years. So was my grandmother, um, uncles and aunts. I come from a family of teachers, and I saw how they threw themselves into the service of providing education for our people.
And then it was during the times we, parents had to decide whether to send their kids to school or their kids must go and work so that the little penny they bring home at least brings some light to their families. And I saw the role that they played then, and I was motivated by that. And I think my consciousness, my awareness and understanding that part of the problems that we have in South Africa is because of the Bantu education system that was imposed on our people that ensured that we produce a generation of people whose intellectual capabilities were not fully, you know, exposed or were not fully taken advantage of by the system.
And so I was aware of what was going on, and, and, and I think that the interest of also working with children, especially with stories, the power of stories, what a story can do to change a child’s life, I was also inspired by that. And starting Inqubela, I needed something that was going to be a legal entity and something that was going to be a tool that other young people can use as well to give back to their own families because it’s not about me.
Inqubela Foundation is, uh, a noncharitable trust that I established with my last 200 rands in Bloemfontein. And so what we do is our core business is leadership and literacy development, and we are committed to ensuring that our schools, public schools in developing communities, are run effectively and that they are developed into leading centers of academic excellence and leadership development.
So where there’s no leadership, you’ll never get academic excellence. And leadership development, it, it covers all the stakeholders within a schooling community, starting from the school governing body that is in charge of, of, of governing that school, to the school management team that, that manages the school, to the learner leadership, to the teacher leadership, and so we believe that once those people are fully capacitated in understanding what their roles are, and, and, and, and mentored and supported, then they’ll be able to execute their jobs.
And we believe that there must be intergenerational leadership development and engagement, which is something that’s always been a part of our culture as black people, as Africans. That we used to have those, we call them Andibano, those gatherings, whether it’s under a tree or it’s next to a kraal, where people talk and have conversations and where knowledge was transferred from one generation to the next, so we believe in that, and hence, um, one of our strong points has always been to break those barriers where elders say, “You can’t have a 13-year-old grade nine learner telling me what to do. I’ve been an SGB member before they were born.” But then we come in and say, “But that grade nine learner knows exactly what their needs are. As the learners, they know where they are going and they know how they want to get there, so your role is to provide them with wisdom and guidance to get there.” So we believe in that. So, so for me to have this opportunity to be able to create the platform that has changed so many people’s lives, that has brought so much light into different families, it remains by far one of my greatest honors.
NANGAMSO: I’ve always been a very talkative, um, young person. Even in high school, I got in, I got into all sorts of trouble because I couldn’t stop talking. So I was, I knew from a very young age that you need networks, you need, you need relationships to get somewhere.
And one of those relationships was the former vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, um, Professor Jonathan Jansen, whom I, I, I, I acknowledge greatly for the role he’s played to, to, to enable me to be who I am today. Because he saw the potential in me always wanting to, to go and volunteer in schools and offer history classes, English classes, life orientation classes. I always wanted to be around kids because I saw their need, that there are teachers who are overworked, underpaid.
They serve in schools that are under-resourced. And these are teachers who are expected to teach a million subjects a day, so they’re tired. So what they will do is they will teach what they’re supposed to do, and then they move on to the next class.
So that’s when I came in with a couple of friends, back in Bloemfontein, and we would go and visit these schools, one school in particular, Tsoseletso High School, remains one of my favorite schools ever, and we would have this tutorial, so where it started. The tutorials then, and then I thought maybe we could formalize this so that we can be able to attract funders, attract donors, um, because they need a legal entity for them to be able to, to provide any form of funding, so that’s the way it started.
NANGAMSO: At the Inqubela Foundation, we believe in engagement — engage, engage, engage — because when you engage, you avoid imposing solutions that you would think would work for a particular community. So we engage a lot. You find out how that school operates, the community that it operates in. There’s the traditional leadership, there’s the political leadership. Who governs the school? Who manages the school? And you even go and find out how the school was established, because you’d find out that the school is built by parents. It’s their pride and joy.
So you need to understand first. We believe in engaging, and then when we engage in, the, the, the tools that we use are identity. Identity’s important — African identity, African heritage, African history — because when we know who we are and we know where we come from, it’s easier for us to determine where we’re going. And most of, part of the problem of having young people, especially, who are assimilated into being who they think they should be, it’s because we never embrace who we ought to be.
For instance, if you talk about a leadership development program, and then you would quote, of which you must, the incredible work that’s being done by people who are not from Africa, but when you mention King Morena Moshoeshoe of the Basotho, people who don’t even know, but when you speak about wisdom, that is the one, one great leader. You cannot even not miss Morena Moshoeshoe because you speak of wisdom and you learn about his story, his, what he did for his people. That’s where you start.
So we believe in that a lot, in making sure that the African kids that we are engaging walk out of our engagements knowing more about who they are, their communities, our continent and, most importantly, that there’s an urgency that’s been activated within them, that this is our country, this is our land, this is our continent, and nobody’s going to fix it but us, and you start within yourself, you go to your family, you go to your classroom, you go to your school, and that’s where it’s going to lead us somewhere.
An example of a particular program that Inqubela Foundation has implemented is Intsika YeSizwe Fellowship. What Intsika YeSizwe Fellowship does is it offers high school students a one-of-a-kind leadership development program. It’s a two-year, intense, top leadership program where we offer them, for instance, subjects like community engagement in civic leadership, international relations, African history, African philosophy and economic development, and those are subjects that you will never find anywhere in a high school program in our country, but we offer them that.
And I remember when people, even teachers at times, would say, “This is a bit too much for the learners. They’re young, they’re 13, they’re 14.” And we insisted, and we said, if we, as the Agenda 2063 by the African Union says that, you know, you have to prepare them at such a young age, but if we want these kids to lead our continent in 2063 and beyond, we have to engage them now so that they know that when, when, when the conversation about land in South Africa is coming up, that people, people saying they want the land back, what does that mean? What is the — who owns the land? What are the people are going to do with the land? Why was the land taken away from them? So already the land question covers African history, African philosophy, courage development, economic development.
So that was the aim, that you want to have young people growing up understanding what is really going on, and if somebody says that I want to have an internship with the World Bank, what is the World Bank? How was it established? You have to know that as young as 15. And as a South African growing up in a rural community, when South Africa’s got links with the World Bank, with the IMF, what does that mean for you as a 15-year-old? So that is about it. And, and we started with 30 young people, and we’re proud to say at least 20 of them are at university now. And, and we’ve gone from having conversations with 13- and 14-year-olds to having conversations with people who, who are already serving their communities.
Because even with — all of them, actually, when they got to varsity, they didn’t sit down. They started tutorials. They started joining community engagement programs. So that agency that was activated at a young age, 13 and 14, and they highlight that as by far, one of the, the, the, the, the key life-changing moments in their lives that enabled them to, to, to channel, um, their direction.
So we’re very proud of that, and we wish, um, we could have, you know, resources, meaning far more human capital, that we could, we could reach out to more communities.
VOICEOVER: For Nangamso, accountability is key to the success of the work she and her team are doing through the foundation. Accountability from elected officials, parents, teachers and students. If your child is not learning, why? If schoolbooks are not available, why? Just as important is preparing students for life at university and beyond. To that end, the foundation recruits successful young professionals from the same schools and communities to serve as mentors. She explains further what it takes to pull this together.
NANGAMSO: It’s not so difficult these days to, to put up a structure like this because of the various multimedia communication channels that we have. So, for instance, for us, we tap into the young professionals who cannot physically be at home, yet they are willing to divide their time and, and, and, and put resources in place in terms of buying data and airtime to contact the young people. so we, we communicate what we have, and then people can choose how to get involved. So others choose to step in as mentors to the young people in high schools. Others choose in to offer a particular lesson on something. If somebody’s a lawyer, then they could say that listen, um, can I offer an, you know, legal, uh, session, just going to delve into what the legal fraternity is and how young people can get into it, what courses can they study, what can they do with those degrees. So we’ve got young people that offer a variety of information and resources in that form, and, and, and they don’t even expect to get paid a cent. Well, well, we’ll never be able to afford them, but so that’s our pull, and that’s where we really do not spend any cent on.
They come in, and they donate their time. They donate the refreshments. They donate everything. And so that, for us, is something, and, and that’s how we’ve been able to stand on our feet, is because young people believe that there’s a need for such an engagement and, most importantly, I think how we, we, we open up as well to them. They feel like they own it. They feel like it’s their home as well. They could just come in, grab a key, and they could just go and do what the community needs.
We, we, we work with the government, the Department of Education, and we go through them, and who have been very open any single day. They’ve been very open. And because we feel that’s the best way to engage the schools, that it’s done formally. The government understands that we’re coming in as a partner, and, and then we’re able now to touch into the various stakeholders that the school has.
But the bigger dream, of course, is to be able to have operating centers within communities where children even after school, there’s after-school programs. There’s weekend programs. There’s summer programs. There’s winter programs. But, of course, that also needs a lot of planning. It needs a lot of, it needs a financial muscle to be able to pull that through, but it’s definitely what we’re working on, towards now. It’s quite exciting.
Funny enough, it took the Mandela Washington Fellowship to be taken seriously, even though they knew, especially in the Queenstown district, even though they knew because there had been, they were receiving feedback from the schools that we had identified and started working with, we only got into a partnership two years after we had started working with them, and it was because, um, now I had formed part of the Mandela Fellowship, and I think for them it was, it made sense to them that we could get such a huge recognition.
That means that the work is valid and that people are seeing change. And so that opened a lot of doors for us, the Mandela Fellowship, because everybody was appreciating that someone who comes from such a rural community could be chosen to form part of such a prestigious, um, opportunity. So from then onwards, it became easier. What helped me as well is, is being born of, of, of, of a family with such a huge legacy. People respected my grandfather. They respected Mama.
So it was easier to, to walk into schools and make presentations, and when they found out that, that, who my grandfather was and who my mom was, and also would find out the work that I’ve been doing before, So it made it easier for me. So I had privilege, I was privileged when I stepped into those schools, and, and regardless of, of how the interactions with government would have gone, I would have made, I would have, I would have signed those schools as partners because of the privilege that I stepped in with.
NANGAMSO: We have served at least close to 35 schools now? And I don’t know the exact number of learners that we have served, but the learners who are our products, who have now set up an alumni office, are busy working on their data, and where we’re going? We are going to build a school. We are going to build a school that is going to offer a one-of-a-kind education system. We want our kids to, to graduate from high school knowing what the world is like, such that a university qualification for them would just be an added advantage. Otherwise, everything else, they would have been taught and they would have learnt in our school.
So we’re going to build a school that, that affirms a black child’s existence, a black child’s importance, a black child’s history, their heritage, from how we wear our hair to what our school uniform will look like to the, how classrooms are designed to the pedagogy that we use to engage them in the classrooms and the content, and, and, and we’re gonna build a school that produces the next generation of leaders who are not going to be apologetic about being African, who are not going to be apologetic about what needs to be done to get our communities, our countries, our continent forward, and we’re gonna build a school that is going to be a center of the restoration of the dignity of our people, such that it doesn’t stand there as, as an ivory tower, that even the most illiterate people could come in and get whatever lessons they need in terms of literacy development, IT skills, so it will be a school that is also a community engagement center that is never closed, that is open to everybody, and where people feel like whatever I need in terms of information and resources and networks, that is a home for me.
So definitely in the next five years, that is the goal, that is the aim. We’re throwing everything we have in it, and, and we’ve got nothing else to lose. I work with people who are busy like I am, um, because we, unfortunately, can’t afford to be paying anyone’s salaries. So people have to go and work, and they have to go and make ends meet, and we are not trust fund babies. We’ve got communities, and we’ve got families to take care of, so people work and they volunteer their services. So I’ve got somebody assisting in terms of looking into the, the legal background of everything we do. Somebody’s assisting with communications. Somebody’s assisting with content development and, and management, and there’s somebody assisting with stakeholder management. That is, your relationships with the various stakeholders we engage. And those are young people who do not want to be seen, paraded, praised. For them, this is their service to their people, and it’s something that’s between them and whomever they serve and call God, and we just truly appreciate. And those are people who also support financially. If there needs to be a program at a particular school, we have people who don’t shy away from donating refreshments, donating transport fees, donating all of that, and, and it’s we exist because we have a group of young black people who come from the communities where we are serving that are saying: “We never experienced any of this growing up. We never had these opportunities. But if we can provide the very little that can make a difference, and then, and then, then we’re going to do that.”
NANGAMSO: How do I measure success? Like any, well, all the teachers will tell you that when their kids pass, that’s success. I think, for me, it’s, it’s looking at, at where they come from, the kids that is, and looking and watching them grow into young, passionate, conscious people. And, and, and you’re seeing how their lives are changing, and, and, and you see how their families’ lives are changing, so that for me, that for me is always enough. But it was also seeing how the schools are adapting to change, and, and, and you’re seeing how a system that was dysfunctional and not effective turns around now to being a conducive environment for quality teaching and learning. That’s also a huge measure of the work we’re doing. And also seeing how even the people that serve as mentors, how their lives are impacted by all of this. Because somebody would say, “I joined in just to be a mentor because I wanted to do something, anything, but now this interaction with these young people is changing my life. It’s changing my life direction.”
So that’s been a huge measure. But also as well, it’s looking into how the, slowly but surely, the, the network of stakeholders that we engage with and the quality of the work, how people receive the quality of the work that we are producing, so that, that’s always a measure of, of our services.
And I know a lot of people wish, pray, do all sorts of things to, to, to be in that position, so I’m very grateful. I feel very honored, hence I, I throw myself into it because I know that to, to have this opportunity to do what, what, what, what’s in my heart, and to get paid for it, that’s amazing. And I hope that, through Inqubela Foundation as well, I will be able to, to, to have people that say that same thing as well, that I wouldn’t want to do anything but this. And Inqubela has given me that opportunity to do that, and slowly but surely we’ll get there.
VOICEOVER: As we come to the end of our podcast, Nangamso shares her thoughts on participating in YALIServes, being a part of the YALI Network, and what the YALI Network Online Courses have meant to her own personal development and success.
NANGAMSO: YALIServes is by far one of, of the most important networks that I’ve found myself in because you have a group of people who want to do change, who want to do good, who want to impact communities, but at times they don’t have the strength nor the knowledge of how to organize themselves to get to those communities, and then comes in YALIServes, where it says, we will help you connect to each other, we will help you connect to, to get to those communities you want to serve or help you connect with the people with whom you can serve with.
And then that’s how you get people to change people’s lives. And whilst they’re serving and providing whatever services, um, volunteering — their skills, their knowledge, their time — but they’re also changing their lives as well, because any volunteer will tell you: The minute you come back, you’re never the same. Each and every time when you come back from serving in any community, your life has been impacted, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s one of those initiatives that must be supported, and we must get a lot of people involved, people need to know it exists, and people need to know that you can tap into a support system, that you don’t have to be doing all these things alone. There are a lot of people who want to help, who want to serve, and all they need is information of how to get there.
My advice to the YALI Network is to partner, partnerships. We can’t do it alone. Somewhere, somehow, amongst the thousands of us on these networks, is thinking about the same thing for either the same community or a community similar to the one you wish to serve and share ideas, partner, share ideas, share resources. As, as, as Africans, we believe it takes a village to raise a child, so you can’t do it alone. But you’ve got over, you’ve got thousands of people, thousands of people with skills, with knowledge, networks that you can tap to and to be able to serve your community and your people.
I have used the YALI Network Online Courses and have done at least about three, if I remember correctly, on civic engagement, civic leadership, and I quite enjoyed them. I found them practical. I found them to be practical because when you, when you start an organization like I did, at times, you miss out on the small little pieces that you need to master first so that you can get all the systems functioning properly. And what I’ve picked up from, from those courses that I did was, was the necessary information and the necessary to-do list that one must master first before you can get your organization to function properly, so it’s been greatly helpful.
There’s great value. There’s great value in being a member of the YALI Network because you form part of the most selfless, dedicated, knowledgeable, smart and very ambitious young people I’ve ever encountered in my life. And there’s great value because just the name itself, the prestige, opens so many doors for you. But then, then comes the responsibility of protecting that integrity and ensuring that you’re doing what’s supposed to be done. And, and no way, I’ve never been part of a, of a network where there’s so many skills and, and, and, and so many people with, with so many contacts to do anything, anywhere, anytime. It’s magic. So there’s great value. It’s total — it’s changed my life entirely of how I view things in terms of business and, and, and personal.
It has extended my connections beyond South Africa. I’ve got a family at Howard University. I’ve got family all over the continent that I never knew existed prior to, to, to the Mandela Fellowship. And, most importantly, it’s, it’s expanded how I view things now, of how I view things and how I, I should navigate, you know, my journey, be it as a leader of Inqubela and personally, so things are never the same.
VOICEOVER: Thank you, Nangamso. We wish you much success with the Inqubela Foundation and your work in the Eastern Cape.
Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast.
Join the YALI Network at yali.state.gov and be a part of something bigger!
Our theme music is “E Go Happen,” by Grace Jerry and produced by the Presidential Precinct.
The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State, and is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government.