Bulawayo-based activist Samkeliso Tshuma says young people need to be given access to platforms where they feel safe to speak about issues that affect them.
Tshuma (ST), The Girls Table executive director, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube that young people in Zimbabwe were often left out of important conversations by the mainstream media and this impacted on their well-being.
She spoke about the idea behind The Girls Table and how it is helping to shape narratives with input from young people.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Samkeliso Tshuma, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor. I am so happy that you have created the time to join me today.
ST: Thank you very much, Trevor. Thank you for inviting me. I have been following this platform and I am so honoured.
I ask myself: Do I even qualify to be here?
So thank you so much, I do not take this time for granted and I do not take your platform for granted, I honour it and I respect it. Thank you for asking me to do this.
TN: You deserve to be on this platform, Samkeliso, and I will tell you why I decided that we should talk to you.
We decided to talk to you because your story I am getting represents the story of your gender and many in your generation.
You are the voice of, I think, a lot of young people, particularly women and also, I think that it is about time that your generation and my generation had a conversation about where this country is and where it is going.
So, your voice becomes hugely important.
Also that at the end of the day it is really your future that is at stake more than my generation’s future, and I think it is important that as we go forward, we hear more and more of voices from people such as yourself.
So you absolutely deserve to be here.
ST: Thank you for saying that because I had so much doubt.
TN: Samkeliso, you are the executive director of the Girl’s Table.
You are a mentor, you are an activist, you are an influencer, you are passionate about voter education and you are also a young entrepreneur.
In a nutshell, if I asked you who is Samkeliso Tshuma?
What would you say to the viewers?
ST: I always struggle with that question because we always answer it by saying what we do more than who we are.
I feel like we do not know who we are, so I always get confused because I end up saying I do this, like my roles.
Samkeliso Tshuma is a daughter, who was born in Plumtree in 1984 to Mr and Mrs Tshuma.
My dad passed away in 2012, and I have a younger sister called Shibahle. I call myself a Bulawayo girl because I was raised in Bulawayo, but born in Plumtree town.
So that is what I can say about myself because if I start going on I will end up saying my roles and I feel like roles do not define me, those are other things that I do like an activist or an entrepreneur, that is not who I am.
I am Samkeliso Tshuma.
TN: Tell me about what your upbringing instilled in you, which has carried on with you and reflects who you are right now?
ST: As I said I was born in Plumtree in a very small house, Trevor.
I remember I related with these young girls two weeks ago. In a small house and what we call a mix.
It was a one-bedroom house and with a lounge/kitchen, and I grew up in that small house with my mum, my granny and my aunt.
I saw my aunt and my mom being fighters and being people, who wanted more for themselves. So that is the environment that I grew up in.
My dad was also a Plumtree boy as was my mom a Plumtree girl, but they wanted more for themselves and they moved to Bulawayo, I think, when I was in Grade 2.
For me seeing that I grew up in that small house and seeing my parents wanting more and they were businesspeople, I started to want more as well so they instilled that thing of being a go-getter.
I feel like I got the spirit from my parents, especially my mom, of wanting more for myself and I know that right now in Zimbabwe it is so hard and we are struggling with so many things.
There is something, however, always that drives me, that says there is more out there. I am a go-getter and I just want more.
So that is the spirit that I have.
It came from me watching my parents and watching my grandmother and all my aunts in that small house, because most of them they now live overseas even though I am staying here with my mom, but there is still that need and desire to do more and to be better than where we come from.
If someone had to describe me, I am a person who wants more in life.
TN: That is interesting. We are going to talk about what a person as young as you who wants more does in this kind of environment that we are in.
This is because right there one begins to see tensions?
You want more in a society that might not have more. Let’s move on to now, Samkeliso, so in terms of your job as the executive director of The Girl’s Table.
Talk to me about what you do on a day-to-day basis? What does this job entail and why do you do it?
ST: I am an all-things woman, I am all-things girl, right.
I have always been fascinated by empowerment and as you mentioned earlier, that my voice is needed.
There are so many young people, young women especially, that you need to hear their voices in Zimbabwe especially.
Like in the media, you realise there are always the same women that are given the voice.
For me, I felt like there are so many voices that we have not heard that will bring fresh ideas, that can change this country, that can change the narrative.
So the reason why the Girl’s Table was created was to amplify those voices, the voices that we will never get to hear about like when we read The Chronicle newspaper or when you open the Daily News.
So with the Girl’s Table, all we do is amplify those voices.
We look for young people that do not get the platform, that do not get to be heard, and we ask them for views and their perspective on different topics.
Whether it is child marriages, or teenage pregnancies, we need to hear their views because I feel like if we are going to talk about equality or inclusion, we need voices that never get the platform that everyone else gets.
So at the Girl’s Table we push for those voices, we encourage young women to speak, because we grew up being told a young woman should not say anything, you only speak when you are asked to speak, you do not comment.
Things like politics is not for young women.
So at the Girl’s Table we encourage young women to speak.
I encourage young women to speak because if I do not say anything, who will know what how I feel about a certain topic? Who will know how I feel about the government? So at the Girl’s Table that is what we encourage them to speak and to say something.
I do not believe, Trevor, in the voice of the voiceless. I am one person who does not believe in that.
I always say the reason why we say that is because we have not given people the platform, a safe space for them to speak.
Everyone has a voice, some people their voices might be cracking when they speak, may lack confidence, but if you give me a platform and you ask me to speak on one or two to three things, I would definitely have something to say.
So that is what we are trying to do with The Girl’s Table, give you the platform to speak, a platform where you feel safe and you know that you are important, that your voice matters and your ideas matter.
You do not have to be so-and-so for someone to hear you. Just because you are Samkeliso Tshuma, it is more than enough.
We organise workshops, we organise dialogues and conversations for young people to gather and to speak on issues that matter to them.
That is our work as The Girl’s Table.