Chevening Scholars enjoy a very active online community. Once selected for the scholarship, the secretariat invites recipients to post on social media with a designated hashtag. For me, and many scholars, this was the first way of meeting scholars from other countries. One of the first persons I connected with, on Instagram, was Londeka Mahlanza. Londeka is from Durban, South Africa, and is pursuing an MSc in Nature Society and Environmental Governance at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford.
Londeka and I met in person at the Chevening Orientation event in October 2016. I was honoured when she gifted me a beautiful necklace from her home country. I wear it with pride. As a Jamaican, my history tells me that my ancestors are from the continent of Africa. I may have roots in South Africa; and since being here, many persons have asked me if I am from that country or remarked that I look South African. Well, my roots could very well be in Ghana or Nigeria. Who knows! I will find out soon enough. What I do know is that Londeka is one of the warmest personalities I have ever met. Her Instagram posts are beautiful. And guess what? We share the same birthday; June 22!
I am excited to have you meet her through my blog series, #ScholarProfiles, which showcases some of the outstanding people I meet on my Chevening Journey. See what she has to say about South Africa, and her encouragement to young women. Everyone, meet Londeka!
Hey Londeka! Tell me about yourself.
I’m the eldest of four girls, which I commonly attribute to building up my ambitious character. On a professional level, I am passionate about social and environmental justice and finding ways to make government policy work in favour of this interest. I enjoy meeting new people, outdoor activities and partaking in experiences that can expand my worldview.
Why did you choose your field of study; Nature Society & Environmental Governance?
I’m looking into an environmental career in the public sector, particularly in water governance. After working with water focussed social movements, I learned that many of the issues that are faced in this sector are management and governance related. I chose this programme so that I can position my knowledge of environmental issues from the viewpoint of government actors as well. The diversity the programme offers also teaches us new ways of understanding the relationship between nature and society and where solutions to decision-making processes can be sought.
Let’s talk about South Africa
Tell me a stereotype that generally comes up when you tell people where you’re from?
“Ah! Nelson Mandela” or my other favourite “2010 Soccer World Cup?”.
What’s the local language in your country?
One of the things that make South Africa particularly special is that we have 11 official languages. isiZulu is the language with the highest number of speakers. While English is widely spoken and is the main media and political language, it is only the fifth home language.
What’s the culture like in your country, is it diverse enough would you say?
Absolutely! Our culture is as diverse as the languages we speak. Our home languages are typically a representative of our cultural groupings, for e.g. isiZulu speakers would identify with the Zulu culture. South Africa is also diverse because of the merger of different cultures that have come to make up what we typically referred to as our ‘rainbow nation’.
What’s the most popular food, music and dance?
Food: Phuthu and Maas; Pap; Braaivleis; and Chakalaka.
Music: ‘Kwaito’ and ‘House’ music are sure to get any South African on the dance floor.
Tell me two things you would like others who haven’t visited your country to know about the country and its people.
The internet and the media can scare you to death about almost any country on the continent [Africa], but that’s because not enough of what makes our continent and South Africa so beautiful and dynamic gets mentioned in the mainstream. I would tell anyone to #GoToSouthAfrica. You will fall in love with the warmth and beauty of not just the culture, climate, but the people too.
If I should visit your country what’s one place you would tell me to visit and why?
Picking just one is almost impossible. From the Kruger National Park, to Table Mountain, to one of the best beaches in the world, to the sites of historical importance like Robben Island and a vibrant Vilakazi Street in Soweto – South Africa simply has so much for you to do and see!
Our tourism industry caters to every desire, whether it’s a relaxed vacation that you are after or an adventure and spotting of our ‘BIG FIVE’ animals at one of our national parks. Perhaps the best City to get a full scope of the beauty and adventure that South Africa has to offer is Cape Town. History, leisure and great food all wrapped in one.
How has your Chevening Journey been, so far?
My Chevening Journey is one of the most significant chapters of my life thus far. While I’m still ‘in the thick of it’, I can already confess to having learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. I think they are very few experiences that can give you that opportunity whilst simultaneously giving you the chance to explore a new culture and receive a world-class higher education.
What encouragement would you give to young people, and especially young women?
I think as young women we are living in a special time where many doors are being opened and ceilings being broken for us by fellow women. There is still, of course, so much to fight for but I mention this because we need to take courage in the fact that we can be all that we dream of. Grab opportunities as they come and support each other on your way to the top.
Thanks for sharing, Londeka! I have every confidence that you will make an indelible mark on your country and the world. A woman in science and with a passion for governance? Yes! I salute you.