Powerful, confident and a role model to women, are a few of the many admirable characteristics of Mamolefe Shakira Sehume. Sehume, the daughter of anti-apartheid activists and community workers, Babsy Sehume, and the late Thabo Sehume is the founder of Ntsho Ya Tshwane, a social enterprise focussed on creating a thread and a network among change makers and platforms for local economic development.

She has established the annual Puno Community Development Awards and is a co-director of Nyota Collections which also focuses on local economic development programme’s. She is currently in her final year of studies, studying towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Development through UNISA and will be part of the line-up of speakers at the Muslimah Today conference taking place this weekend. The Weekly Gazette had the pleasure of speaking to Sehume in a one-on-one interview, to find out what she is all about:

TWG: Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up and what was your background like? MSS: I am the second child in the Sehume family, born to Thabo and Babsy Sehume. My siblings are Tlhabanello, Onkgopotse, Pule and Oratile. I was born in Tshwane, formerly known as Pretoria. I am a mother of four beautiful souls, Rahma, Najma, Harith and Ihsan. I grew up in a family that preached awareness, consciousness, servitude and love, against all odds. As a result I know no other way of approaching life, which I am grateful for. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents’ homes and ours, served as community homes, just as many others in the townships did back then. Doors were always open and people welcome. This taught us a lot about a sense of community and the importance thereof.

TWG: A the daughter of anti-apartheid activists and community workers, did your parents societal involvement cause you to want to follow in their footsteps?
MSS: Absolutely! It was not as clear back then but as I grew up it felt like the inevitable. I see what they did for and with the community, as a seed planted in us, their children and on
a broader scale, the community. Serving
your fellow beings selflessly was made to look so attractive no matter how dire the situation was then. As we grow and that seed further germinates, it looks even more appealing and feels incumbent on us who have been touched by that servitude to do the same in our lifetime.

TWG: You are the founder of Ntsho Ya Tshwane, a social enterprise. What is the focus of this organisation and why did you develop it?
MSS: Ntsho Ya Tshwane (NYT) has its heart wrapped around local economic development and beyond curriculum education / skills. What does this mean? We are in the business of educating and training our generation beyond what is tabulated as curriculum and creating platforms for diversified skills. Born and raised in the western township of Tshwane called Atteridgeville, I got to breathe in and live in the midst of all sorts of social and economic challenges, one linked to the other. However, what hit my core the most was the need for rural areas and townships to have their own economic existence and sustainability, using what they have, among others, their diversified skills. This is linked to educating our people and children beyond what is taught to them in class through programs, camps, themed markets etc. Our intention is to be a vessel in restoring purpose, confidence and pride where itís deemed to be lost through our programs.

TWG: Why do you work so closely with economic development programmes? Is this where your heart has always lied, why?
MSS: When we look at nations that have established and maintained what they initiated, we cannot be shy to mention and acknowledge that the economics of wealth have played a huge role in making them formidable today. Nations have mastered how to create and circulate wealth among themselves, not because they segregate but because it is necessary to enable and sustain other required social necessities, which are known better by them and can be dealt with better by them through their wealth. When we talk of sustainable development, not short-term solutions, the economy of a people forms a very vital part of it and to a very deep extent, enables the social and environmental legs thereof. Hence, I’ve decided to be a part of the building puzzles towards the solution through NYT.

TWG: As a student, studying towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Community Development, how do you plan on using your degree in your work?
MSS: It’s actually quite funny that half the time the hows and whats and whys I never know in advance or as a result of planning but rather, I realise when I’m in the middle of something the reasons, the approaches, the strategies, the impacts etc. I mean for starters, I didn’t know how and when I would use my teaching years, which were a result of being financially excluded at WITS while studying for a BCOM Accounting Sciences, which then later benefited me through employment at Exxaro Resources, which is a large mining supplier of coal to Eskom. There, it felt like I was doing a company tour because I started in the finance department, then moved to corporate affairs and ultimately ended up at the department of sustainability: environment. Now all that diversity, of such a great company! I never understood the significance of that journey and all that diversity until now, as the experience is paired with my studies. My intention is to be part of meaningful developmental and sustainable change, using what Iíve learnt through academics, work experience and passion. Where all relevant all stakeholders become an active part of the Development Imbizo/Lekhotlha tree, as we jointly come up with relevant solutions to our ills. Long-term goal is to write books that will be used as learning tools for Effective Community Development and have workshops related to that for and with other change agents.

TWG:You are a strong woman. Who or what do you owe this to? Why?
MSS: To be honest, I’ve never seen myself as a strong woman but just a woman with a purposes, who doesn’t rest when she’s tired but rather, when she’s done. God is my anchor and pillar in this crazy rat race called life. I’m a product of many, similar to a potjie kos pot with a lot of hands in it. The strength, love and undying support of my mother and late father, grandparents, my brothers and sisters, my children, friends, my former managers and employer, the community within which I grew up, all have a hand in this potjie. If strength, resilience, love, selflessness surrounds your life, that becomes a layer of one’s skin. I salute and thank all of them.

TWG: What challenges have you faced as a woman in society, specifically in your field of work?
MSS: To be honest, thus far I have received support even from avenues and people I never thought I’d get that from. The main challenge is when I’d liaise with people and when we meet they realise that I’m this tiny little thing and Muslim. Unfortunately people have their own, sometimes wrong perceptions about certain groups of people and they think that certain tasks might be too big for small-structured people like me but that’s not really on a large scale. For instance, recently I went to a meeting and we were asked about our childhood aspirations, that which somewhat still burns in us and I mentioned that I wanted to be the president. I could just smell the disbelief and questions from some of the audience. To be honest though, I enjoy that because it feels good when people expect the least from you and you deliver more than expected. That works for me. Challenges drive me.

TWG: What advice do you have for other girls / women who want to be as involved as you are in their communities but face stereotypes and gender-challenges?
MSS: If one is passionate about this fieldwork, I believe that’s a seed planted by the creator. He has given that to you because he has created you and knows your capabilities and what you can offer. Believe and submit to his will and ‘vote of confidence’ in you, believe in your capabilities, even if you may not know them yet (half the time it’s work-in-progress, learn as we go). Always remember that you can offer what someone else is not equipped with. We are all puzzles of a Picasso, you are one of those puzzles. Second thing is to surround yourself with formidable support from like-minded and positive people, those who believe in movement. Going at it alone might be possible but doing it jointly may be better. The old African adage goes, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. No matter the challenges, never stop but rather re-strategise. Be relevant, considerate and respectful in your servitude. Virtues in serving others tend to be a boomerang. Purpose knows no gender. If you face challenges, remember that pearls of wisdom are born hurdles. Always remember why you are doing what you are doing. Iím always reminded of what is said about a motionless car, dogs sit in its shade and even pee on. It but once the car starts moving, the dogs bark.

Mamolefe, we would love to get to know you, personally, please complete the following sentences:

TWG: I would do anything for…
MSS: I would do anything for God, Jannah (Heaven), my family (which includes friends), progress of our people, laughter and a good cup of tea.

TWG:I enjoy …
MSS: I enjoy food, reading, showing my love to those that I love, a good conversation over a cup of tea, serving others, making people laugh and feel like they belong, time with my family and friends.

TWG: When I was little I wanted to be a …
MSS: When I was little I wanted to be a author and President of South Africa.

TWG: I could eat… everyday, all day…
MSS: I could eat food made by my daughters everyday, all day (I don’t mind being their guinea pig)

TWG: I love being a woman because…
MSS: I love being a woman because being a woman means being a mathematician, accountant and an honorary doctor without an institution qualification. Whatever is given to us, we multiply. Where things or situations don’t balance, we do that with ease. We love easily. We nurture. We build. We fight. We bring peace. We forgive. We are glues. We
are community builders. We are artists. We
are just us, awesome.

TWG: The legacy I leave behind will be…
MSS: The legacy I leave behind will be servitude that reflects love for self, love for Allah and love for our people.

TWG: My biggest fear…
MSS: My biggest fear is being turned away from the doors of Jannah (Heaven), not being a good mother, my heart being hardened by life challenges, being void of love, being hopeless and not having a purpose in life.

TWG: My greatest memory is…
MSS: My greatest memory is seeing and being part of a family and community that knew how to still believe, dance, sing, love, live, serve, be happy and just be against all odds.

TWG: If I could turn back the clock, I would…
MSS: If I could turn back the clock, I would
go back to Wits and enjoy the university years at Sunnyside residence and tell my father I love him more.

TWG: My future goals are…
MSS: My future goals are to see PUNO achieve its objective and roots spread further than where we started, writing a couple of books, being married and happy, dying with integrity and being given my book of deeds in my right hand and called into Jannah (Heaven).

If you have not yet registered for the Muslimah Today conference, you still have time. This year’s conference will take place at the Al-Ansaar Hall at 189 West Road on the 26th and 27th of August. A total registration fee of R350 (which includes meals, tea and a goodie bag) is charged per delegate and pre-booking is essential. WhatsApp 083 271 4500 or email info@ilmsa.co.za to register.