Jabu Tugwana

It was inevitable that 29-year-old Jabu Tugwana was going to fight for social justice. Growing up in Johannesburg during the volatile 1980s, Tugwana watched and learned as her parents, both journalists, fought hard to bring justice to the lives of ordinary people.

As an international relations and diplomacy student, Tugwana wanted nothing more than an opportunity to change the world. She started her career in human rights at the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), after meeting her boss-to- be in a bookshop.

Her work as a human rights education officer puts her in touch with a range of people and unusual destinations. She was selected to be part of the MAC Aids Fund fellowship, a 12-month programme for emerging leaders in the area of HIV prevention. The fellowship involved training in New York and enabled her to implement a successful HIV prevention plan for juvenile detainees at Johannesburg Prison.

Although she says fighting for the rights of others is more abstract than being a lawyer or a world famous author (her other dream jobs) getting people to participate in appeals is a satisfying aspect of her job. Part of the challenge is realising that small gains are not necessarily the end of the struggle, which is often difficult to explain to someone seeking urgent action.

One of her proudest moments was co-ordinating the team that collected signatures on rural women’s access to healthcare during the U2 concert tour in South Africa. Her team secured more signatures than teams in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and North and South America combined.

Tugwana was named as one of Unicef’s 50 Heroes on its 50th anniversary. An eloquent speaker and passionate advocate for change, Tugwana, who represented Amnesty International at COP17, has also represented South Africa at human rights education conferences in London and Denmark.

— Amanda Strydom