Interview with Zanelle Thabede: Youth leader & Young Women’s advocate

‘’I’ll say to young people, be inquisitive, ask questions, increase your self-awareness and do not hold back from advocating for your age group.’’


 Zanelle is Co-founder of the Women Working Together (WWT) in Swaziland and Programme manager of the Super Buddies Club. She is an Alumni of the International Exchange Leadership programme conducted in the USA. She is a member of the Core Network of Youth affiliated to the US Embassy, Swaziland. Zanelle is passionate about working with women and has done so in the past 5 years. She has worked with CIET, a social research organization where she trained young women in life skills. She also worked in the area of research with Population Services International (PSI), ActivQuest and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF)


What does it feel like to be a young woman with big ambitions in today’s world?

 Well, sometimes it feels like it is all in vain because a lot comes against you and a lot of attitudes today are mostly geared towards negativity. However, I overcome those challenges by focusing on important things and having people I can speak to about my frustrations and get good advice and support.


You co-founded Women Working Together (WWT) launched earlier this year. What inspired that and how do you determine what would be useful for women to work together on through your organization?  

WWT was founded because a colleague and I would meet phenomenal women in meetings we attended. We figured we could create the same opportunity for our peers to have access to and build mentoring relationships with older and more experienced women. WWT seeks to create such networking platforms for women from all sectors.


Creating such an outfit obviously benefits many but what is leading such a nationwide endeavour doing for your own development and advancement?

I grow each time we have an event as all events have their challenges and we strive not to repeat past mistakes. I am learning to work with people on a more professional level. I am used to supervising teams in communities but with WWT I learning from other people’s professionalism and their mistakes too. The networking aspect has also raised my visibility and profile and I have found myself giving talks at national functions and gaining invitations to state dinners. Even though I feel not everyone grasps the WWT concept, many do and its benefits are gaining ground.


You hold a high level role as a member of the Country co-ordinating Committee (CCM) for the Global Fund in Swaziland. How did you prepare for that role and what tips would you give other young women who may want such opportunity?

 Well that role came as a surprise; I spoke up in a meeting, was very vocal and was subsequently elected to represent the youth constituency in the CCM. One thing I can say to young people is, be inquisitive, ask where you seek clarity and do not hold back from advocating for your age group. I never prepared for the role, but with every meeting I ensure I go prepared by reading all the documents and getting up to speed with on the issues. In the meetings themselves I ask questions if I am unclear about something, agree where I strongly feel the need to and disagree where I do not but in a constructive way.


What are some of the career and leadership skills that young women like yourself are able to learn from each other and which ones do you look to learn from more established women professionals?

From each other we learn etiquette, professionalism and how to be relevant. I have learnt a lot in these areas from my WWT co-founder, Ntombikayise Nyoni. I am naturally loud and opinionated and she is soft and more pragmatic in approaching certain issues. Since we started WWT, I have learnt a lot from her in terms of deciding issues I want to tackle or not. We also look out for each other. From older women we learn from their successes and how they achieved them because it’s easy to want to give up when hurdles come. We gain strength from established women who are willing to share their stories and give advice on how to persevere and other tips which are relevant for today. Established women’s mentorship is also important when we are pursuing our studies or starting a new career.


In your view who is a woman leader and what do you look for in woman leader mentor or role model?

Generally all women are leaders but to narrow it down I look for someone who is in an establishment, heading a group or managing others already. A woman who is able to share her experiences when asked and willing to reach out to the next woman, a woman one who reaches out for those coming up. Like yourself, your mentorship programme is a great example of why I would call you a leader, your willingness to listen and guide. Thank you for that.


How do people respond to your leadership and what are some of the lessons you’re learning that is helping you evolve and strengthen your leadership?

 Well, sometimes I am a bit ‘’go by the book’’ person and some people do not like that. I work best with groups and delegate which many appreciate. I learn from each experience of leadership. In some cases people do not necessarily appreciate my efforts to delegate and in others they do. I am learning as I go. I appreciate every feedback and use it to improve.


In your experience what are some of the things young women should develop early in their career to increase their chances of making it to high level positions later?

 I think academic qualifications suited to their interests and increasing their self-awareness are always strong foundations to establish. I have learnt that career interests will evolve throughout one’s lifetime so it is important to study for formal qualifications early when you can and build experience in line with what they are passionate about as they go and never give up on the end-goal.


What are some of the things you have done that you are most proud of and why?

WWT is something I am very proud of. Joining Swazi civil Society is another and being the chair of the Gender Consortium taught me a lot about how NGOs operate in Swaziland. I am also proud to have not underestimated myself and gone on to gain as much knowledge about Gender issues and HIV without a formal qualification in these subjects. I have pursued my goal of advocating for women’s rights and helping design programmes that aim to remove women from being the face of HIV. I am working on a qualification whilst doing advocacy and working on these issues.


In your view what does it mean for women to have a voice and how are you developing your own?

 I believe for women to have a voice would mean society valuing women’s opinions, women themselves knowing their worth and demonstrating self esteem. As of now women who are given the platform still can’t adequately express what they truly feel out of fear of not saying what is considered relevant or even thinking they are not important enough to say anything. To build my voice I am reading up on things that matter to me and making sure I say something at every meeting or function I attend. I also try my best to spark up debate even where I agree with the people and practice critical thinking. I also make sure I share feedback on every experience I go through in life.


For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.


Share this

5 thoughts on “Interview with Zanelle Thabede: Youth leader & Young Women’s advocate

  1. You are a great leader and i am so proud you.God bless you Vera for your good work. You are a true role model.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.