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Neziswa Mlenzana

The Harvesting Woman

Neziswa Mlenzana, 34, is the secretary of Youth in Agriculture and Rural Development and a member of the South African Youth Council, which aims to empower young people in the Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo district.

Her vision is to see the province become a food basket — one in which youth and women participate in the agricultural value chain and gain access to markets. Through her activism for youth, she has strategic partnerships with the government, private sector and nonprofit organisations.

These created a space for the Green Vines Agricultural Primary Cooperative, founded by five young people. She enhances the growth of Green Vines by making use of digital technology. Neziswa is leading the cooperative towards a sustainable, environmentally friendly farming approach to produce organic food.

She is also a trainer and facilitator, and teaches aspiring farmers about worm farming, pastured poultry and horticulture. Neziswa holds a Bachelor of Commerce in economics and statistics from Nelson Mandela University, and has several certificates in agricultural development.

In 2022 she joined a nonprofit called The Movement in Africa, which established food gardens in two schools, Ngxanga SPS and Manqukwana SPS. The food from these gardens feeds the learners and older people in the community and teaches women and youth agro-ecology skills.

Neziswa won the Women Entrepreneurs award in the Youth Category, the 2023 National Youth Development Agency trailblazer award.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

That leadership means being flexible, and that inspires innovation.

Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?

I enrolled in an incubation programme for entrepreneurs where I was assigned a coach and a mentor. I constantly look out for online learning opportunities in personal and business development. We employed 13 women out of 20 participants in the Social Employment Fund programme we were running. We asked NYDA to train the youth — mostly women — in life skills and business management. We encouraged the 13 women to establish their own backyard gardens and assisted them with tools, seeds and technical skills.

If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?

Wi-Fi access in all rural communities.