Interview with Lightwell Mpofu

Background and education

Out of all the Majors, you could have chosen from, why did you opt for studying Law?

My law journey started in a valley of revenge. I was very bitter and broken about the tragedy that had befallen my family and robbed us of my dear sister. She was raped before being brutally murdered and the insult to injury was that at the time the country was going through an economic meltdown. This meant that most sectors were either dysfunctional or operating in a very strange and inhumane way. Our situation as a family fell into the merciless hands of the latter. The police were showing very cold feet in following the leads of my sister’s murder. It was almost obvious that they did this because they wanted bribes or maybe they had been given a bribe by the perpetrators – this I can’t know for sure but what I am sure of is the anger I felt at the time. I was fourteen, barely done with my second year of secondary school and I had always wanted to be a doctor or an engineer but at that life altering moment, I found myself desiring so much to seek justice for my sister and I believe that’s where my road as a human rights advocate really started.

How is your field of study helping you in your journey of Activism?

My study of the law was not only very therapeutic, but it also helped me to gain such a deep understanding of how the law functions and how one can go about seeking justice. I started to understand many things, including, but not limited to, the due process in criminal procedural law. This shed a bit of light into some of the police officers’ actions regarding my sister’s case. (However, this does not replace my suspicions of foul play) Further, my study of the law became and still is, a very instrumental foundation to my activism journey. Unless one knows the law, that is; the constitution, human rights instruments, legal precedent and other tenets of the law, one cannot fully and thoroughly advocate for human rights. It is important to be able to understand the system and the protection it affords. At the same time, this helps one to also have a grasp on some of the loopholes that the system has, and this informs one’s advocacy or activism efforts.

Activism and Leadership

How would you describe your Leadership Style, and what are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better Leader?

There are twelve different kinds of leadership that I know of, but I believe mostly in transformational and democratic leadership. Transformational leadership is all about initiating change in communities, organisations, groups of people, others and one’s self. This is very important to me because it acknowledges the fact that as human beings we are not static, we should never be. Tomorrow we must not find ourselves in the same place that we were in today. We ought to desire change. We ought to inspire change. We ought to be the change. And this not only applies to the people that one is leading but also to the leaders themselves in their own personal capacity. My mother uses the analogy of a body of water. If it is stagnant it breeds parasites, but if it flows it is usually clean. Moreover, stagnant waters are dangerous because that’s where crocodiles like to lie in wait for their prey. In order to avert danger and parasitic behaviour there is a great need to be transformational in the way that we approach leadership and life.

The second aspect of leadership is democracy. This popular form of leadership entails fairness, competence, creativity, courage, intelligence, honesty and mutual conversation between the leader and the people he or she serves. An important point to note again is that leadership is service, and different from ruling over people. Democratic leadership is well expressed in a Ndebele Idiom, ‘Inkosi yinkosi ngabantu’ which means that, headship is centred on subordinate’s contributions. The democratic leader, although he or she holds the final responsibility, is known to be consultative and delegates authority to other people below him or her.

As a Leader and an Activist, how do you lift yourself out of a rut and motivate yourself to keep fighting the good fight?

As a leader and activist, I am motivated by the prospects of a beautiful future for those I serve and the next generation. Even when our activism efforts may sometimes be dampened and left in a rut by different predicaments we face, some natural and some man-made, it is this forte that keeps me going; the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel. My other motivation is my spiritual beliefs. In this regard I live by the mantra; ‘Do not be weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap if you do not tire.

What is the cause(s) that is closest to your heart and why?

I have quite a number of causes that I am passionate about and most of them arise from the theme of protecting human rights and freedoms, but one that is closest to my heart currently is; enhancing the voice of the previously marginalised in order to help them to command attention, making peace a common thing in uncommon places. I believe that if the deep culture of silencing is broken, and people are truly free to express themselves, then the desires we seek from activism will be closer to accomplishment, and some of them will eventually be accomplished.

Who are the Leaders that inspire you most and why?

Most earthly leaders are flawed, this is not to say I am a perfectionist, but it is part of the human condition to have some good and also to have some bad in one. Therefore, I don’t necessarily have a person that I can say is the model of good leadership, but I have people with whom I derive good leadership principles from. However, if this question also applies to models from religion and spirituality then my greatest model of leadership would be Jesus Christ and what is written of him in the bible. This is because of the leadership style he exhibited. He was very compassionate, didn’t tolerate nonsense, empowered the people that he led and was also a servant leader. I draw much of my inspiration from this because of my Christian background.

On being a writer

What is your creative process like? How does one go about writing a book?

Writing has been a culture for me since 2012. The organisation I work for (Africa Community Publishing and Development – ACPD) is a civic education organisation and it publishes materials that are then used to raise awareness and motivate people to action in communities, among other purposes. This taught me to have such an alertness for generative themes (things that people generally feel about a certain phenomenon or problems that they are faced with in the society.) Writing for me then has progressively become a response to the societal ills I see every day and an effort to make it engaging enough to get the attention of people and ensure action against a problem or in support of a cause. I think the best way to start writing a book is to have what to write about. Don’t just write for the sake of it but have a passion for the themes that you want to cover. Be well informed about your subject matter. Create a book plan in order to know what it is you want to communicate even before setting out. From there one can look at similar literature on the subject matter or listen to generative themes around the issue. This for me usually gives me motivation and sets the ball of creativity rolling.

What practical advice would you give young African aspiring writers?

Practical advice I would give to African aspiring writers is to read. You need to read as much as you can. I remember when I was in primary school I was so much of a reader that I was even so well known by the librarians at every community library I would go to. The second thing is that you need to practice writing. Rome was not built in a day. Whether it is to take up voluntary blogging or whatever the case may be, write every chance you get and open yourself up to criticism, it’s not nice but it is definitely worth it. The final thing, although this list is not exhaustive is; believe in yourself and your abilities. Be self-critical enough to be ever improving but don’t be so over-critical of yourself that you don’t even dare step out and show your face. One of my motivational stories as a writer is about the experience I had of applying for the Voices of Youth online blogging internship in 2015 (a project under UNICEF New York). It was a very competitive process and when I wrote the abstract, I was simply doing it for fun. To my surprise, about a month from the day I submitted the application, I got an email that was in high praise of my writing skill. I had been selected to be one of the 20 young people from over 3000 applicants worldwide, to be a part of the life-changing experience. My key takeout from there was, in Shakespeare’s words; “Our doubts are traitors, they make us lose the good we oft might win by failing to attempt.” So just, go for it!

Have you ever had a creative block? And how did you pull yourself out of it?

I have had a couple of creative blocks and usually for me that goes away when I start reading other books and spending more time around nature. I believe that writing is seasonal and that a break is necessary sometimes. Sometimes it’s a season for you as a writer to pour yourself and your ideas out into the world and sometimes it’s just a season of saturation, to be left in awe and filled with the wonder of what other artists, creatives and nature are giving to you. Remember it’s not about the quantity of your writing, but rather the quality of your writing.

On Africa

In your opinion, how can young people secure a better future for Africa?

I think young people are Africa. Most people, including young people themselves, believe that young people are the future of Africa. They then leave it to chance that they will begin their changemaking journey when they are adults. Once they become adults they then start wishing that they had more energy and relentlessness to do what they should have started when they were young. So young people need to own the change, to be the change and to rise and speak up. If they don’t make their voice heard, then it logically follows that their voice won’t be heard. They need to take up parliamentary and other leadership positions. They must not just vote but they should motivate each other to run for office. Even if they fail to get in the first time, at least they would have tried and there are a lot of priceless life lessons to be learnt from trying. The second thing is that they need to be comfortable with intergenerational dialogue. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from such. Usually, in my experience, young people have an obsession with change, so much so that they never seek to see the good in the old as well. However, real sustainable change depends largely on our ability as young people to learn as much as we can from the rich repository of knowledge, mistakes and successes that our adults have. No generation is an island, we need each other to change the world.

What does Africa need most at the moment?

I think what Africa needs most right now is truth, honesty and transparency. Most of the problems we have come from lack of accountability and distrust of government by citizens. In many countries therefore, citizens do not feel like the government is there to serve them but rather that the government is their enemy, what with their corrupt deeds! This effectively leads to citizens not rallying behind their government’s actions, no matter how seemingly good the intentions. I think more transparency and the virtues mentioned above will solve the problem and lead to a better Africa.

What is something you would like every African Youths to know?

I would like every African youth to know that there is no Africa for us without us. The change we seek to see is possible, but it takes youth who are willing to learn, youth who dream, who have a vision and who are quick to action! Let us all take up the initiative of building Africa as if our very life depends on it, because it does!

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