Mzwakhe Mzamo Vilane

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Summary: Mzwakhe Mzamo Vilane is a young activist who advocates for sexual reproductive health and comprehensive sexuality education among high-school students in Atteridgeville, a poor neighbourhood southwest of Pretoria, South Africa. In 2018. Vilane uses his own resources to help learners from under-resourced families who were facing abuse and challenged the local clinic about its discriminatory practices. Some key public officials are not happy with his advocacy.

Profile: Mzwakhe Mzamo Vilane traces his history of activism from when he worked with Love Life, fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination among young people in South Africa.

“I started youth advocacy in 2014 with Love Life,” he remembers. “My activities included campaigns on SRHR (Sexual Reproduction Health Rights) and training young people on social accountability. I worked with UNFPA, UNICEF, and AMREF on this project.”

As a result of his leadership skills and commitment to the promotion of health for all, Vilane held several leadership positions. One of these was as a steering committee member of a Cape Town health organization—Partners in Sexual Health and Siyakwazi Youth Network.

Among his duties, Vilane fought injustice and discrimination faced by young people in accessing health care; he drove advocacy campaigns that focused on ensuring full implementation of health laws In public hospitals and clinics. He also represented the Youth Accountability Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, where he helped to hold policy makers accountable for ensuring that the rights of young people were recognized at the national level.

In 2018, Vilane formed the Girls and Boys Empowerment Movement in his community. His objective was to create a safe space for reproductive health education and a platform to fight substance abuse and gender-based violence among young people.

“Currently,” he says, “I have 126 learners that I mentor. Every year since 2021 I had between 120-150 learners in the club. The peer support group is strictly for learners in schools. I also inculcate the culture of reading, creative writing, and storytelling. I am a learner support agent. As a peer educator, I facilitate in local schools on topics such as reproductive health education. I engage in thought-provoking conversations with pupils, discuss various contemporary socioeconomic issues, and share facts about the condition of young people in the country. My work extends as far as after-school activities, where I hold other sessions where we confront the traumas they experienced but never talked about.”

Vilane believes in being an agent of socioeconomic transformation: “This platform has immensely impacted the lives of learners that affiliated to the club. This is where they express themselves, build themselves, and learn moral principles, values, and ethos of life. Moreover, I initiated a book club with the Saulsville Library based in Atteridgeville, Pretoria. Now it has over 50 learners,” says Vilane.

Vilane is confident that his peer support club has made an impact—on himself as well as others: “To finally witness young people taking an initiative to peruse books, learn essential skills, and being open to be taught about morals, values, and principles of life is a great inspiration.”

Vilane has become a beacon of hope and an inspiration “to over 80 learners, or 100 if I include those that I have crossed paths with at youth camps, conferences, and seminars. All these young people had different results after . . . my trainings, sessions, and interventions.” Vilane observes that “The peer club has learners who abused substances; today they've changed. I had learners who were bullies and others [who] were bullied; today they speak out and they become champions of anti-bullying in their schools.”

When Vilane noticed that some young people faced injustice in local clinics when they had to access adolescent services, he blew the whistle, reporting the situation to relevant bodies. As a result, many of the injustices were ameliorated.

Vilane’s work has not been easy. He uses his resources and money to help learners in depressing conditions, for example, by providing shelter to a child who was facing abuse from his parents. Also, challenging public officials in South Africa has often led to bloody consequences. In August 2021, Babita Deokaran, an accountant, was murdered after raising an alarm about the abuse of Covid-19 funds by the Gauteng Provincial Department of Health, implicating some key public officials.

But Mzwakhe Mzamo Vilane is not afraid. He believes that “In order for us to coexist in harmony and peace, we must know ourselves and endeavor to live by morals and principles. We should leave a legacy, not a vacancy.”