Dare To Change and NalaFem
Twenty-year-old Zulaikha Patel started her activism at the age of 13, when she started a movement called Stop Racism at Pretoria High School for Girls, because the rules at her high school included that black girls had to straighten their natural curly hair.
Her stance sparked a countrywide movement. She told United Nations Human Rights: “I was being forced to assimilate to whiteness and … an image that I did not fit into. It [hair] was a tool being used to enforce oppression on me.” In 2021, Zulaikha published her debut book, My Coily Crowny Hair, which is helping girls to learn to love their natural hair and themselves.
She was a laureate of the 2022 Young Activists Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, which showcases young people who work for an inclusive and equal world. Besides now studying for an undergraduate LLB degree at the University of South Africa, Zulaikha started a nonprofit organisation called Dare to Change, to inspire “the youth to change the world around them.
The nonprofit is focused on three pillars: education, activism and literacy, with the latter the hope of setting up library corners at under-resourced schools in rural areas and townships.
I am currently studying for an undergraduate LLB degree at the University of South Africa
- Youngest on BBC 100 Women List, 2016
- Mbokodo Award, Women in Media category, 2016
- Avance Media 100 Most Influential Youth in South Africa, 2017
- Breaking Down Borders Inaugural Leadership Award, 2018
- New African 100 Most Influential Africans, 2019
- Published my debut book titled My Coily Crowny Hair, 2021
- Panache Women of Wonder Award, 2021
- Young Activists Summit laureate, 2022
I have many dear memories from my childhood with my late father; he was my hero. But one memory stands out for me. In grade three I was part of the English speech festival and I was so nervous but then I saw my dad smile at me from the audience. Later that afternoon I asked him why he smiled at me and he told me he believed in me more than anything, because I represent his dreams and aspirations. I’ve always kept that close to my heart, understanding that everything I do is not just for me but for those who came before me who walked so I could fly, who did not have the means to do what I do but ensured that I would.
You don’t need to justify your place, you are valid and so is your place here. You are capable of being great regardless of anything anyone says.
Five years from now in 2028, I would like to see a South Africa where young people and the tools to empower them — such as education, literacy and employment — are prioritised. It is a country with a decreased statistic of illiteracy among primary schoolchildren and lowered youth unemployment rates. I believe this can be achieved, but it would require more youth in decision-making positions in government because young people cannot have their futures determined without them.