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Healing first: how Tumelo Moreri is helping young Africans become leaders

Published 16 March 2020

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There have been many moments where Tumelo Moreri has wondered if she’s crazy for choosing the path she’s currently on. Something in her does appear to be hardwired to go against the grain: after graduating and then working in Botswana’s capital city Gaborone for a few years, she returned to her home village, an unusual move for a young person in their early career. Today she lives in her childhood home in the village of Molepolole, the home of the Bakwena people.

“When I look at my younger self, I was always carving my own path,” she says. “As a child I could aspire to something even though it wasn’t in my life – I could imagine it for myself, despite circumstances. I would tell myself that it is possible.” Perhaps this is one of the things that set leaders apart: the ability to see beyond present conditions and constraints and act anyway.

The seed for Afrika Ithute came from Tumelo taking a wrong turn in her own career path and pursuing actuarial science. She set out to conquer the corporate world, only to realise that prestige and money alone were not actually aligned with the truth of her being. Having made this mistake, the idea for a career guidance platform to help high school students find their purpose was born in 2011. The idea lay dormant while she was completing her studies, “giving it time to incubate and become what it wanted to be,” she says.

The idea evolved when she began researching it in earnest in 2014, during her studies in South Africa and her time in residence as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar. Tumelo tapped into her identity as an African, and realised the need for leadership development on the continent. She also became interested in approaching personal and career development through African indigenous knowledge and spiritual principles – ideas which had their roots in the work of author and activist Mmatshilo Motsei, and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. What started out as a career guidance idea gained a focus on African identity and leadership for Africa, and a distinctive approach that begins with self-development.

“Once you remember who you are and return to yourself, you begin to embody your power. It becomes inevitable that you will become a leader in your community. Self-leadership is the foundation and prerequisite for leadership. Once we are at home in ourselves, leading others comes naturally, and we can lead in a very wholehearted and genuine way,” Tumelo explains, occasionally peppering in a “neh?” to make sure the point is understood. Afrika Ithute thus invites young people to become leaders not by learning new things, but by remembering who they are through a process of reconciliation and healing of their identities.

This approach has echoes of the Mandela Rhodes experience, a testament to how deeply Tumelo’s year in residence and ongoing relationship with the MRF have influenced her. She describes her year in residence as a rebirth, and it was the profoundly personal nature of the process that led her to commit to recreating the Mandela Rhodes space for young people in Botswana.

Since its launch in 2016, Afrika Ithute has offered leadership development for over 70 young people in its secondary and tertiary programmes. The feedback from students is that the programme is life-changing. Tumelo’s story is a reminder that leadership is intrinsically linked to purpose, and of the sometimes-crazy journey it takes to live, as she puts it, in the truth of one’s being.

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