Top of the crop: Last night an exceptional group of Stellenbosch University alumni, staff and postgraduate students joined the ranks of a very exclusive club by making the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list for 2023. This initiative recognises the most versatile, innovative young professionals who have created resilient, entrepreneurial and robust solutions. We are incredibly proud of these young Maties who are actively shaping South Africa and playing a vital role in building our future.
Lindelwa Mahlalela (23) is the founder and CEO of LeeConnect, which assists high school learners to apply for university and college funding schemes and to gain access to quality education. She has had a positive impact on the lives of many young people by providing them with the information and resources they need to pursue their studies.
She was included in the Africa’s Brightest Young Minds Top 200 and in the Gordon Institute of Business’s Science Festival of Ideas Top 10. Lindelwa, who holds a Diploma in Sustainable Development from Stellenbosch University, says she has always had an entrepreneurial mindset. “My mom and grandmother supported me throughout, since I sold ice cream at 15 years old. That taught me people skills and money management.”
Lindelwa describes her outlook as follows: “I would like South Africa to empower entrepreneurs and implement new strategies in the education sector, such as making resources and information more accessible. We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but there is a learner in KwaZulu-Natal who doesn’t know what an email address is. We need to believe in equality and to work towards building a country that empowers learners and teachers.”
Lindiwe Johnson (32) is a senior analyst for green economy skills development at the nonprofit organisation GreenCape. Her work entails identifying and breaking down critical barriers to future green economy skills, unlocking the potential for growth and investment across institutional sectors.
The nonprofit works at the interface between business, government and academia to facilitate cross-sectoral insight into barriers and industry opportunities, and to identify skills gaps in the renewable energy industry and to fulfil needs regarding skills development and potential growth in green economy industries. Lindiwe’s responsibilities include capacity building and awareness campaigns to inform and empower various stakeholders. She holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Development and a BA in Development and Environmental Studies from Stellenbosch University. Lindiwe says she is a dreamer, and these dreams have allowed her to live with curiosity, a lust for learning and openness to taking risks.
Alex Forsyth-Thompson, CFA, CFP®, wants to leave a legacy of added value and innovation in the South African business world.
The 35-year-old has gone a long way to achieving that as founder and chief executive officer of Float, a market-leading payments fintech start-up that is changing the way people do payments in South Africa.
This Stellenbosch Business School graduate is responsible for the vision and strategic direction of his company and also oversees other functions, such as sales, business development, partnerships and product development. Among his achievements, Alex highlights chairing the Junior Board at Alexander Forbes and winning the Gold Award in recognition of service to the group for launching an innovation.
Alex was head and co-founder of Alexander Forbes: Stokvel Investments, which was named by Moneyweb.co.za as one of the 10 most innovative financial products launched in 2015. Also, he was among the Destiny Man Power of 40 list in 2017.
Amilah Costandius (33), CA(SA), is a Deloitte Africa sector leader for insurance and investment management. She spearheads innovations in this industry to boost financial inclusion, education and efficacy for this sector to improve the livelihood of South Africans and other African nations. She holds a BAcc and a BAcc Honours degree from Stellenbosch University.
In addition to her full-time job, Amilah also cofounded health tech business Healr, which uses AI to reduce inefficiencies in the cancer treatment cycle by augmenting oncologists’ capacity, thus allowing more South Africans to be treated. Healr aims to resolve the shortage of oncologists by automating contouring, a task that typically takes an oncologist three hours to do, leaving them more time to treat patients.
Healr has been recognised as one of the leading health tech startups in South Africa and Amilah was a finalist at the 2022 Global Women in Tech Excellence Awards, hosted in the UK.
Bakang Mputle (27) is an environmental activist scholar, whose work is anchored in two United Nations sustainable development goals: education and climate action.
His academic and research interests lie in environmental humanities, climate justice transition and political ecology. He has done an ethnographic study on reclaimers (waste pickers) in the City of Johannesburg, who have a vital role in the City’s waste management and recycling systems. This work has informed conversations and policy discussions with the City, Pikitup and other stakeholders.
Bakang is reading for a PhD in Climate Justice at Stellenbosch University and is co-authoring a book with colleagues at the Joint Education Trust – an independent, nonprofit organisation that works with the government, the private sector, international development agencies and education institutions.
Among Bakang’s other passions is fine art. He enjoys using the arts and photography as mediums for communicating environmental issues within and outside academia.
Bonolo Khumalo (26) is an advocate of the High Court of South Africa and member of the Legal Practice Council. She received the University of the Western Cape’s Top Achievers Award in 2017, also for het voluntary work with the UWC’s Street Law Society. Bonolo completed her LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution at Stellenbosch University in one year, 2019.
Although she is a brilliant litigant, what really makes her special is her passion for human rights cases. Working alongside the South African Refugee-led Network (SARLN) as well as serving on the Global Strategic Litigation Council for Refugee Rights (Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School for Social Research, New York), her role is to litigate for the voiceless and marginalised – refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. Bonolo runs her own practice, where she handles general civil litigation, labour law, medical malpractice, cyber law, family law, access to information, human rights law and constitutional law.
Kiveshan “Jives” Thumbiran
Kiveshan “Jives” Thumbiran (29) is lecturer of photography and digital media at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Visual Arts. He believes in encouraging students to never give up. As well as teaching and supervising students from first-year to master’s studies, Jives is a dynamic researcher using art practice-based methodologies – “I perform research by making art,” he explains.
Being a young Indian lecturer, his mission is to transform and decolonise the tertiary education space through teaching and research. He won the Excellence in Higher Education Award in 2017, hosted by iStore and ThinkAhead, for his master’s studies.
Jives aims to reshape South Africa by making art that breaks the boundaries around who are allowed to call themselves African, and by fighting the problematic nature of spaces in South Africa, including the challenges concerning tokenism. He is paving the way for the South African Indian-born diaspora to take part in the South African art scene through his work as lecturer as well as his work as practicing artist.
Michael van der Linde
Michael van der Linde (33) is the cofounder and chief product officer at Tracto, which helps parents support their children through emotional and behavioural challenges, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and autism.
This entrepreneur, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce with Market Research, Sociology, Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the University of Stellenbosch, started his first business as a student when he cofounded OKGO Wines, followed by Nucleus Stellenbosch.
Michael has worked in aerospace, health tech and the internet of things. Also, he is cofounder and chief product officer at Augmental Technologies, a health tech startup that supports caregivers of neurodiverse children.
Michael’s sports achievements as a youngster and his single mom’s tenacity bore fruit in the form of a sports bursary at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch. “Without the bursary, my mother was unable to afford the fees. This single event provided a sense of hope that I could take control of my own journey.”
Nicola Vermooten (34), PhD, is the managing director of AccessEd, a multinational public benefit organisation that believes higher education should be accessible to all young people, regardless of socio-economic background and upbringing.
She holds a PhD in Industrial Psychology from Stellenbosch University and is registered as an independent industrial psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Nicola has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles (h-index 5) and shared her research findings at conferences both nationally and internationally.
Given the lean structure of AccessEd, Nicola is actively involved in all aspects of the organisation – strategic as well as operational. The organisation’s main objective is to launch and scale up programmes that promote access to higher education among young people from underserved communities. To ensure its long-term sustainability, AccessEd contracts with universities, doctoral academies and scholarship groups on the organisation’s research-based curricula programmes and postgraduate development programme. The organisation used to be registered as a charity in England and Wales. Given the successful expansion of their AccessEd ZA Programme (for pupils in South Africa) – from 53 pupils in 2020 to 316 in 2022 – under Nicola’s leadership, the UK board decided to rehome AccessEd to South Africa with her at the helm. Nicola’s desire to have a positive impact on the South African education system started at a young age: while completing her undergraduate degree, she offered career guidance and extra classes to pupils from underserved communities. Through her research, she developed an in-depth understanding of inequalities between fee-paying and no-fee public schools in South Africa.
Nyeleti Precious Mabaso
Nyeleti Precious Mabaso (23) is a speech-language pathologist who is working towards her master’s at Stellenbosch University. She joined a white-dominated profession with the vision of bringing inclusivity and innovation to it. Nyeleti advocates for the inclusivity of African epistemology and the development of indigenous language-assessment tests for black people in South Africa. Towards this goal, she participated in Stellenbosch University’s transformation phase to include indigenous languages on campus.
Nyeleti’s groundbreaking research focused on adapting the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives to Tshivenḓa. She has received the South African Speech Language and Hearing Association’s AB Clemons Award for the best research project in South Africa, and the National Research Foundation awarded her a scholarship to pilot a study on bilingual Tshivenda-English-speaking children.
Rukshana Parker (30) is a law lecturer at Stellenbosch University. She creates a positive and engaging learning environment that inspires critical thinking through open discussion and collaboration and by breaking down complex legal information into manageable parts with practical examples.
Her student evaluations reflect that she always goes the extra mile to help them. She provides students with career advice and holds mock interviews to prepare them for the actual experience.
Rukshana is pursuing her PhD studies at the University of Cape Town after having obtained her Bachelor of Social Sciences, Bachelor of Law and Master of Law degrees there. She had been awarded the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship to complete her first two degrees at UCT.
Rukshana has done extensive research on organised crime in South Africa, focusing on drugs, gangs and assassinations. Because of her work, she was elected as secretary to an international drug commission headed by former heads of state. Her research has been the subject of several podcasts, news articles and radio interviews, and was presented at the 14th United Nations Crime Congress. Rukshana has also worked on projects to help people in gang-ridden areas on the Cape Flats to build resilience in their communities.
“I am passionate about providing safe, reliable and empowering transportation options for women,” says Maambele Khosa (27), founder and director of SheCab.
Maambele is completing her Master of Science and Technology degree at the Stellenbosch University, having obtained also her BSc in Geoinformatics and Information Systems Management and her Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing at Maties.
Maambele is committed to the unique challenges that women face regarding transport and travel, and is committed to resolving these challenges through innovative solutions. The SheCab team prioritises safety and security above all else, ensuring that their passengers feel comfortable and confident. SheCab provides ride-hailing, shuttle and corporate transportation services.
While overseeing all aspects of the business – including operations, marketing, talent acquisition, and product development – Maambele also is actively involved in driving clients on weekends and early mornings to stay connected with the team’s experiences of the work environment.
Thembalethu Seyisi, a candidate attorney at Cluver Markotter Inc, describes his job as “diving deep” to come up with legal solutions, as well as advising individuals, communities, entrepreneurs, small to medium-sized enterprises and corporates in all spheres of business.
The 23-year-old coordinates the #Action4Inclusion campaign, a Stellenbosch University crowdfunding effort aimed at alleviating study debts for students from the so-called “missing middle”. He serves as ambassador at the Centre for Social Justice, which promotes social justice scholarship, awareness and collaboration to ensure reform in the academic sphere and in society.
Thembalethu’s submissions to parliament show his commitment to a South Africa rooted in democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. In 2022, he was among News24’s 30 Young Mandelas.
At 21, he became the self-published author of a book titled 21 Life Lessons @ 21, in which he asked successful people – including high-profile role models, personal heroes as well as family members – to share one life lesson they wished they had known when they were 21. Emeritus Justice Edwin Cameron, Prof Thuli Madonsela and Ms Zelda la Grange are among the prominent contributors. To top it all, Thembalethu is training to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.