Sesi Mahlangu likes to see children walking tall – and it starts with a pair of shoes

Sesi Mahlangu likes to see children walking tall – and it starts with a pair of shoes
Actionist Sesi Mahlangu has started a foundation that provides school shoes to children who can’t afford them. (Photo: Thom Pierce/The Actionists)

For many children in poor communities, a pair of school shoes is beyond reach. 

The butterfly effect describes how one small action can have considerable repercussions. Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can make a huge impact on another person’s life.

Sesi Mahlangu is on a mission to give young learners new school shoes. This is her simple idea. It is the backbone of her organisation, the Dream Foundation. She believes that a decent pair of shoes can give a child dignity and pride, changing the way they see themselves and engage with others.

By ticking off one of the many items on the worry list of young learners in Ekurhuleni, she believes that they will engage in school a little more, be bullied a little less and walk a little taller.

She understands that many kids also need uniforms, textbooks, transport and food, but a decent pair of shoes is a start.

“My dream is for them to focus on what they need to focus on. Not having shoes to wear should not be their responsibility,” says Mahlangu.

Her parents died when she was young and Mahlangu was raised by her older sister and her husband, who she now refers to as her parents. She grew up in a family that supported her in every way they could.

It was the realisation that other kids at her school could not afford a pair of shoes that inspired Mahlangu and her friend to save their money and buy a pair for one of their classmates.

In 2019, at the age of 21, Mahlangu started the Dream Foundation and launched a social media campaign to collect 59 pairs of shoes for schoolchildren in her community. The next year it managed to collect 89 pairs.

Each year, the foundation approaches a school and asks the teachers to identify learners who do not have the means to buy shoes.

As well as the shoe drive, it also runs annual workshops, called “I’m Complete”, for 50 girls. The programme helps the participants to deal with issues related to gender-based violence, self-esteem and teenage pregnancy.

The Dream Foundation has also started a boys’ camp that aims to get young men talking openly about their struggles and steering them towards becoming more meaningful members of society.

“I just have this fire in my heart for the youth, a love for the youth. What my parents gave me – that’s the inspiration. The love that they gave me I want to put out to others that didn’t receive what I got,” says Mahlangu. This year she wants to collect 120 pairs of shoes for learners in Ekurhuleni. Shoes can be bought for between R250 and R300 and are needed in sizes 1 to 5. To donate a pair, please visit The Actionists’ website at www.the for more details. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who don’t just talk but who take direct action. The people you can go to when you don’t know where to turn, who won’t stop working for the change they want to see in the world. The Actionists is also a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa.

Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles a wide range of people around the country who are providing vital services, intuitive solutions and unrelenting activism. And through the website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide tangible ways for people to get involved. The intention is to inspire and inform, to challenge the idea that nothing is being done, to create a network of Actionists and to bring people who need help together with the people who can provide a solution. 

Daily Maverick will be running three Actionist profile every week for the next year. Look out for them on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Get in touch, nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected].

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 1 July 2023

DM168 1 July 2023


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