Zukiswa Allah, 41, grew up in New Brighton township in Gqeberha and began community work immediately after leaving school. She collected disabled children and taught them craft skills. This led her to working with Artworks for Youth, which brought literacy to the children of Joe Slovo township in Gqeberha.
Zukiswa linked teenagers with artists from the city and ran a support group for teenagers called Sisters’ Keepers. She then worked with Narrative 4 South Africa, which builds communities through dialogues and story exchanges.
Zukiswa felt that talk only was not enough, so she opened Sakhuvelwano Community Centre in 2020. The project started by cleaning up an unused dump in a section of Joe Slovo called Nkandla. The six containers there were turned into the township’s first library. Then the Trash to Treasure project was initiated, where locals bring trash and are given grocery vouchers. The trash was then sold or upscaled.
This was followed by an early childhood development and an aftercare centre. Zukiswa also saw the need for children to be taught computer skills and started a coding club. In 2022, a skills development programme was started. So far 50 people have learnt how to weld build and sew with about 20% of them have started their own businesses.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
The best advice I have ever been given is that I should look within me for answers and be a self-reliant woman. This does not mean I do not seek help.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
When I started working with Narrative 4 South Africa, I knew it would be my chance to empower fellow black women. Two of the children I mentored came to work with me at the centre. Thulethu does most of the admin work and is the backbone of the recycle centre while another young lady, Lamla, is the backbone of our aftercare classes, teaching children coding and science. These two are the most visible but there are other women being uplifted. A young lady from a home that was child-headed could not get a job and I was able to have her trained in early childhood development. She now works at our early childhood development centre. My staff consists of single parents who are now able to take care of their children. This is not to mention the skills development training we offer the young women of the community of Nkandla in Joe Slovo township in sewing and welding, which enables them to acquire skills that can generate income for them.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
The thing I would change is equal access to not just education but information. This would level the many past injustices of our country. The equal access to information would be leveraged with equal access to opportunities.