Maverick Citizen


Young Urban Women fights the battle for Orange Farm residents battered by state austerity

Young Urban Women fights the battle for Orange Farm residents battered by state austerity
Activists Duduzile Xaba and Mbalizethu Khumalo. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

Young Urban Women’s next mission is to create a vocational school to give their downtrodden community a ‘fair chance in life’.

Duduzile Xaba and Mbalizethu Khumalo both grew up in Orange Farm, outside Johannesburg, but they took very different paths to the Young Urban Women movement within which they now passionately advocate more opportunities and a brighter future for the residents of their downtrodden community. 

The Young Urban Women (YUW) group runs out of two locations in South Africa but is represented in several African countries and India. In Gauteng, they have two bases, one in the Afrika Tikkun Arekopaneng Community Centre in Orange Farm and the other in the Uthando Centre in central Johannesburg. The programme itself is facilitated and run by ActionAid. 

The programme started as an after-school support group in Orange Farm and Johannesburg, providing activities and engagement around issues that the young school girls were experiencing in their personal lives. More recently it has developed to include young women who have reached school-leaving age, but still need support and networks to thrive.

“Young Urban Women brings together a group of young ladies all looking for a shared safe space to talk about our daily lives which have been greatly affected by our socioeconomic status. Together we discuss and advocate against social injustices applied by government departments by implementing austerity measures, which often mean budget cuts on the social grants that we depend on,” Mbali says.

It is essentially a support group that facilitates dialogue and creates bridges between young women who all too often are in competition with each other rather than respectfully working together for a better future for all.

As part of the YUW programme, Dudu and Mbali are on a mission to create a new vocational school in Orange Farm, one that could teach much-needed skills like plumbing, electrical work, carpentry and boiler-making to unemployed residents. Seeing how many people come into the IT department at the Afrika Tikkun centre every day, they realise there is a great need, and want, for people to be trained with skills that can make them money while contributing to the upliftment of the community. There is so much need for skilled labourers with the ability to run their own businesses that Dudu and Mbali are sure that a vocational school will be the answer to many of the community’s problems. 

“Orange Farm is the last undeveloped township. Many young boys and girls drop out of school. They can’t read and write. They are not passionate. A vocational school will decrease crime. There are many young people who want to do something,” Mbali adds.

“Everyone needs a fair chance in life. Let’s break protocols, rules and regulations that the government is putting on us and let us thrive in doing what we want, doing what we are passionate about. There is a young group of women who are pushing, advocating and want to be out there and heard. Not being at the back but being in the front. We have fresh ideas,” Dudu says.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Actionists

The school isn’t going to come quickly, it will take a lot of hard work to pull all of the necessary parts together, but the YUW are passionate and well supported. They are starting by involving residents, the local council and other possible stakeholders. In time they want to start the school informally, asking local tradespeople to come and teach their skills to others in the community. 

In a country with so much unemployment and infrastructure that is rapidly ageing it seems like a sensible plan to focus on the jobs that are needed to provide basic needs to the growing population. If it works, they could be creating a blueprint for change all around the country. 

“As young people we can collaborate, hold hands and support each other to make things happen,” Dudu says. 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 engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]

This story is one of a series of articles produced by The Actionists to highlight the incredible work of organisations and activists across South Africa in their pursuit of justice and equal rights for all.

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


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