Collin Mduduzi Shongwe

Advocacy specialist, South African Human Rights Commission

Collin Shongwe grew up in the rural township of Nhlazatshe in Mpumalanga, a community without access to water and electricity, and where the closest high school is 7km away. Access to water was 3km away, and each day he would wake up in the very early hours of the morning to fetch some before school.

These tough conditions were difficult for many of the young people in the area. Only a few made it to high school and for most who did, matric was the end of the road. But Shongwe was driven and determined to make it as far as he could go. “Growing up, we hardly had role models in our community. This was the reason why most young people did not see the importance of education. I thought to myself, ‘if as a community we go on like this, we will most definitely be failing those coming after us’. With no role models in the community, young people have no future to look forward to.”

Fast-forward to 12 years after his matriculation, and 29-year-old Shongwe stands out as a role model for young people everywhere. Not only is he an advocacy specialist for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), but he’s also completing his master’s degree in law at the University of Johannesburg. He already holds an LLB and a national diploma in legal assistance. He also had a stint working for the public protector of South Africa, where he did work “aimed at empowering the general public on remedies available to them to hold those in power accountable”.
Through his work at the SAHRC, he has assisted in the development of educational material to educate communities about their human rights and the Constitution, including a fact-sheet produced in all 11 official languages, simplifying Section 26 of the Constitution: the right to have access to adequate housing.

Shongwe is optimistic about the future of South Africa, and has great faith in the Constitution. His message to young people is clear: “I cannot stress enough the importance of education. In school, I used to ask for old newspapers from my teachers and read them on my way home.

— Aaisha Dadi Patel