“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world … Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” — Eleanor Roosevelt





Khanyisa Mapipa, 32, is a human rights attorney and activist in the Health Rights Programme at SECTION27. Her job is to facilitate access to healthcare services. Her focus areas include oncology, reproductive justice, migrant health and emergency medical services. “I use the law to protect, promote and advance access to healthcare services. This sometimes includes working alongside the government to find solutions by making submissions that inform policies and draft legislation,” she says. Khanyisa conducts workshops on sexual reproductive health rights in communities in the Eastern Cape, conducts investigations into the treatment of women seeking abortions and institutes legal proceedings on behalf of women who have been arbitrarily denied access to safe and lawful abortion services. She has worked to eliminate the radiation oncology backlog in the public healthcare sector in Gauteng. Khanyisa, who is pursuing her LLM in Human Rights through the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, volunteers for the youth-run non-profit organisation Fun Learning for Youth. She is a Mandela Washington Fellow and an alumnus of the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students at the University of Washington in the US. “A major part of my job is to mobilise communities around an issue and to capacitate them in the form of rights-based education, protest action and/or community dialogues to find solutions,” she says.

  • BCom, law, Rhodes University
  • LLB, Rhodes University
  • LLM (pending), University of Pretoria

2021 Mandela Washington Fellow.

Despite her lack of formal education, my grandmother raised me and my siblings to excel. After every award ceremony, she would quote the title of a book that she read in “form 4” which was titled “Ndingafundanga nje, ndizokubafunisa abantwana bam“. Translated: Despite my lack of education, my children will be educated. I am the epitome of her broken generational curse.

There is not enough money in the world that can buy your purpose. Lean into your passion for people, everything else will work itself out in the end.

I would like to see equitable access to healthcare services and other basic rights, such as the right to education. I dream of a system run by people who feel called to serve, who take their hippocratic oath seriously, and who are incorruptible. Headed by a government that understands the entangled nature of the right to access healthcare and the right to life. A system that does not discriminate on the basis of gender or nationality and one that is reliable to the most indigent members of our society at their most desperate times. One way to achieve this would be through the establishment of universal healthcare coverage and ensuring that the systems in place in the current NHI bill are strengthened to allow for better accountability, more transparency and equitable and non-discriminatory access to healthcare.

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