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The youngest finalist in the St Louis Export Top 40 under 40 influential young people, Siyanda Mohutsiwa, 20, is currently studying mathematics at the University of Botswana.
Her extra ordinary natural beauty paired with her rather conservative sense of style had caught my eye in the hallways prior to the to the St Louis Export chats.
Unkempt afro, long dress, no makeup. How many young women can pull that off and still turn heads for the right reasons? After all this is Gaborone where a certain stereotypical image is associated with young women her age and anything outside that frame definitely catches the eye.
Without taking anything away from her charm, it was her incredibly impressive profile that eventually quickened our acquaintance.
As the host, Yarona fm’s Phenyo Moroka gave a chronological account of her literary achievements before giving her the stage everyone, save for her father, was moved. If the audience were impressed by her résume, they were definitely floored by her age.
“She has always been a straight A student and her achievements have not really surprised me at all. I expected it,” her rather modest father, Mothusi Mohutsiwa told me during a short recess.
A month after Lansmore, we meet again in the Sunday Standard boardroom and this time around it is not by chance. And this time as I am the only audience .No father, no crowd. It would have been a grave injustice not to introduce this promising young talent to the rest of the country. Remember the looks that first got my attention at Lansmore Hotel? Well, give or take nothing.
It is hard to believe there are many prodigies in Botswana. If there are, they are somewhere in their own little cocoons still waiting to be discovered, if ever.
Mohutsiwa says she has been writing since the age of five. “My father bought a computer and if I was not reading books I spent most of the time just typing stuff,” she tells me.
By the age of 12 she had an opinion column in a national paper after her teachers forwarded one of her writings to the editor. At 15 she was almost arrested for stealing a Steve Biko book at a book store.
“I saw the book and I just loved it … didn’t even know who Steve Biko was. I was with my friends and they stole magazines.”
Mohutsiwa says she has read over 800 books and adds: “As much as I believe I have a natural talent for writing the quality of my writing has been greatly improved by how much reading I have done.”
At 16 she started her own blog that eventually led to her being featured on several international radio stations (including several South African stations and BBC), discussing her areas of interest: black consciousness, feminism, pan-Africanism, and developmental economics.
A staunch feminist, at 19 she wrote an article on a her tweeter account challenging King Mswati’s stance on women wearing mini-skirts that led to an interview on South Africa’s radio station, Cape Talk.
“I also wrote an article challenging South African president Jacob Zuma’s statement on how it is ‘un-African’ to take good care of dogs that also led to an interview on BBC Radio and Cape Radio again,” she says. “It was an incredibly proud moment for me.”
At the beginning of 2013, Mohutsiwa was invited to become an Agent Provocateur on the Zanews blog, becoming the youngest ever contributor to the South African site.
She writes political satire alongside the likes of Ndumiso Ngcobo and Chester Missing. As if that was not enough she also earned the opportunity to become the youngest contributor to the Mail & Guardian (M&G) Thought Leader blog, and also the first Motswana.
“It had been one of my goals to write for M&G. I had gone through their roaster and all the bloggers were old and most of them white. No young people,” she says.
She is disappointed she has not been given an opportunity to contribute to local media. “I have never even been on local radio.”
At the moment Mohutsiwa is working on completing her Mathematics degree and hopes to have her first book, a compilation of old and new opinion pieces on the topic of feminism and African culture, complete and published by 2014.
With her book and her almost 5000-strong twitter following, Mohutsiwa hopes to spread ideas that can contribute to African growth.
Listening to this adolescent speaking passionately about issues of human interest – ranging from homosexuality, prostitution, feminism, black consciousness, to education – would put any adult to shame.
If there is any lesson that parents can draw from Mohutsiwa’s story, it is that perhaps the most important ingredient in the success of child prodigies is a family that values excellence in a particular field and is able to foster talent.