Editor’s note: Nolu Kwayimani is on a mission to spread the word about the links between environmental, social and political issues — in her native South Africa and worldwide. To do so, she left her current home in rural Matatiele first for the Berkeley campus of the University of California, and then for the Presidential Summit at the White House — which included a meeting with President Obama.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders, Kwayimani was one of the 1,000 — out of 50,000 — applicants chosen to participate in the president’s flagship Young African Leaders Initiative program, which brings together bright minds from sub-Saharan Africa. We sat down with Kwayimani to discuss her ambitious plans for her fellowship once she returns to South Africa.
Question: For you, environmental, social and political issues in South Africa are inextricably linked. Can you explain?
Answer: From an environmental perspective, some of the issues that we have in South Africa right now are the obvious ones: drought, land degradation, symptoms of climate change. But there are also the social issues that link to the environmental issues, namely: We don’t have many women in the conservation sector. I can’t say why, exactly, but there haven’t been many women making decisions concerning the environment in the past, perhaps because many women have been occupied with other things like domestic work and traditional marital duties. It seems like science and technology have been seen as jobs for men for quite a long time in southern Africa. People have never taken science or conservation seriously as a career for women because we grew up being told that the better job for women is either nursing or teaching. It has been a new concept, and people are starting to advocate for broader options for women, understanding that in order for us to advocate for conservation we must be aware of the societal issues that seem to be more crucial to the people we meet, such as the state of their livelihoods.