Ntombizonke “Zonke” Mpotulo

LEAP School leader

“Growing up in the township to me is like growing up in a matchbox. You are only exposed to what you see there. Growing up I felt marginalised as a young woman, with no positive role modelling around. I longed for conversations with an elderly woman about understanding my own femininity.”

Life changed for Zonke Mpotulo when she began attending a LEAP school, one among a network of independent, no-fee schools in South Africa, catering for children in marginalised communities. For the first time, she was asked how she felt. She couldn’t answer the question because she was so used to thinking rather than feeling. Inspired, Mpotulo decided that she, too, wanted to show children in Langa that schools could be places of love. So, after matric, she completed a bachelor of education via Unisa, through LEAP’s Future Leaders Programme.

In 2012, Mpotulo took the giant step of leaving Cape Town to help set up LEAP’s sixth campus in Ga Rankuwa, Pretoria. Teams lead LEAP schools, not individuals, and Mpotulo was part of the school’s four-member leadership team. At first the community found it difficult to understand how a young woman could be a key member of a school’s leadership team. But this changed with time, as the school grew in numbers and reputation — it now has 129 learners.

Last year, Mpotulo also took on the role of Future Leader Programme manager at the Global Teachers Institute (GTI), a new organisation incubated from the LEAP schools that is creating a new model for training teachers in South Africa. The GTI provides a five-year internship, involving mentoring at schools for matriculants who want to become teachers. Under Mpotulo’s leadership, the programme has been activated at six schools across South Africa, with 50 teachers in training.

“I think my journey is useless to the young people if I am only talking about my successes and not my current struggles as a young woman in this country,” says Mpotulo. “Just as I was hungry for conversations with an elderly woman, I know there are young people who are also hungry to hear how I am defining my womanhood now and the struggles I still face. I want to continue that work and use education as a platform, so that women are talking to girls and men are talking to boys.” — Fatima Asmal


Twitter: @ntombizonke