The Fellowship

The Zanele Mbeki Fellowship is a developmental programme of the Zanele Mbeki Development Trust (ZMDT). It is an African fellowship programme that seeks to cultivate and support a new generation of feminist leaders on the continent. The mission is to facilitate the fostering of the requisite knowledge, skills, conviction and attitudes required to effect holistic positive change for women in all spheres of society; including the personal.

The vision of Zanele Mbeki is the underpinning impetus of the Fellowship, which is for the overall development of society, with women taking their rightful central space. This, coupled with the timely resurgence of the feminist movement across the globe, and the ever-growing voices that are challenging the patriarchal nature of modern-day democracies, including in Africa, makes the fellowship programme an idea whose time has come.

The Fellowship will bring together a cohort of 25 young African women leaders to, amongst other things, deliberate on the concept of feminism and its promise to deliver social change in the world. This will include:

  1. Interrogating the centrality of the role of the full emancipation of women, within the context of working for social and economic structural changes which will grant substantive equality and social safety for all marginalised people including the poor, disabled, LGBTQI+ and other disregarded groups
  2. Defining the concept of African feminism, as distinct yet complimentary to the traditional understanding of feminism, and the global women’s movement
  3. Strengthening the activism of the fellows by invigorating them with the determination to challenge the status quo, and further instilling in them a sense of personal responsibility for the wellbeing of the continent.

To Achieve This

The Invitation

Inviting young African women leaders from diverse cultural and interdisciplinary backgrounds.

African Feminism

Deepening their understanding on issues relating to African feminism, Leadership and personal growth.


Building on and enhancing complimentary leadership requirements in respect of the public arena, and the personal leadership of self.

Building Networks

Encouraging the building of networks and opportunities for cross-border collaboration.


Providing the opportunity to engage on various issues with prominent leaders, activists and academics from around the continent.


Providing mentorship and assistance in the development of fellows’ community initiatives.


Guiding Pillars

The Fellowship will encompass seminars and activities based on these four mutually supportive pillars:

Core to each of the four pillars is the pillar of knowledge. The purpose of the Fellowship is to impart knowledge by exposing the fellows to rich content and activities that will enhance their activism.

Activities under this pillar will focus on providing fellows the opportunity to better understand their strengths and weaknesses and their individual leadership styles, as well as a space for self-reflection with regards to their personal and professional lives.

Activities under this pillar will focus on providing fellows with a comprehensive grounding in both feminist and development ideology, as well as exposing them to local and global thinking on this subject. The focus will be on building and developing African solutions, within the broader context of the global world.

Activities under this pillar will focus on providing fellows with practical tools and knowledge on how to enhance their individual leadership skills to better understand and execute the responsibilities of leadership. This will be complimented by practically supporting the extension of their activism and initiatives as change agents.

Activities under this pillar will focus on providing fellows first-hand experience with interacting and dealing with social and economic challenges facing local communities. The aim will be to ensure that fellows obtain learnings for their individual spaces of leadership.


Fellowship Journey

The Zanele Mbeki Fellowship’s inaugural class of 25 young African women leaders will embark on a stimulating journey of discovery and learning that will enhance and strengthen their activism.

The Fellowship is a part-time training programme in partnership with Duke Corporate Education (Duke CE) South Africa, an affiliation with Duke University in Durham, California.

It is an annual programme, with the inaugural fellows participating from July 2018 to May 2019. It will comprise of four face-to-face modules, and other supplementary activities in which fellows will have the opportunity; through seminars and immersive activities, to interact with academics, activists, leaders, as well as sector specialists on a variety of topics. During the course of the year, fellows will also be assigned to work with various community initiatives.


Nomination Criteria

The programme will recruit a group of young women leaders (ages 25 to 35 years old) from South Africa and from the rest of the SADC Region. These young leaders will be sourced from diverse cultural and interdisciplinary backgrounds.

Fellows will be typically young women professionals who are also active members of their communities, leading or participating in various community initiatives.

Participation in the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship is by invitation only. Individuals must be recommended by organisations, leaders or individuals linked to community organisations and cannot apply directly to the programme.

Prospective Fellows must meet the following criteria & attributes:

  • Young women professionals from diverse occupational sectors between the ages of 25 and 35.
  • Must be a citizen of a SADC member country.
  • Demonstrated leadership qualities.
  • Demonstrated considerable skill in their professions.
  • A record of public service in the community.
  • A woman with a passion for the upliftment of society.
  • A woman with an innovative mind-set, with the drive to challenge the status quo and the ability to recognise that things can be done differently.
  • A woman with an ongoing pursuit of excellence and a tenacity to set and achieve goals, motivated to make a difference and leave her mark.
  • A woman who is confident to succeed and who makes things happen.

An invitation to apply for a space in the Fellowship does not signify acceptance into the programme. All applications will go through a stringent selection process. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed pending final selection to the programme.

Applications for the 2018 Cohort will open in February 2018. A link to an application will be forwarded to identified prospective candidates.