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​​​The members of the executive committee of the Johannesburg Student Council are dedicated, and to a person are keen to live up to the confidence their peers have in them.

On 27 June, the members of the Johannesburg Student Council went to the polls to elect the new executive committee.

Campaigning was fierce, but after votes were cast and counted, the exco had a full complement of capable leaders from a variety of Johannesburg school. Members come from as diverse backgrounds as Westbury and Kyalami, each bringing their talents and skills to the pot.

Stephanie van Straten - junior mayor
Stephanie van Straten, the newly elected junior mayor, stands tall, with a smile that electrifies a conversation.

Her confidence leaves no room to doubt her leadership qualities, which she has an opportunity to develop even further during her term in the Johannesburg Student Council. "My role is to lead the council and I believe I can lead it very well," she says.

Van Straten believes her self-assurance played an instrumental role in her election as junior mayor by other junior councillors on 27 June. "I'm a very open person and I think my fellow councillors saw that I could lead them."

A 16-year-old learner at Beaulieu College in Kyalami, she says the junior council is her "main passion" for this year. "It's a beautiful project and through it [the junior councillors] could be the positive influence that we want to be," she says, showing glimpses of great enthusiasm.

The thoughtful teenager enjoys horse riding and plays netball for her school team. She is quite dedicated to her studies and the project-based work of the council does not faze her. "I work very hard."

While a lot of people are telling her to consider a career in politics, Van Straten says she has not yet decided what to study once she has finished school. A medical career is one of her options, but she does not rule out the possibility of going into politics.

"I believe the council has opened my eyes to South African politics. We're actually learning how to be politicians in the council."

Noluthando Malaza - junior deputy mayor
The proverbial dynamite in a small package waiting to explode - that's what one thinks on meeting 15-year-old Noluthando Malaza.

"I'm extremely outspoken. I speak my mind," says Johannesburg's new junior deputy mayor.

Malaza exudes confidence whenever she speaks - and she's aware of her oratory capabilities. She has a zeal for constructive debate, as seen during her election campaign for the mayoral position.

"I have been taught to question everything. If you are brought up in such an environment, you become extremely opinionated," she says articulately.

Her vocabulary is wide-ranging and she's never speechless, peppering her conversation with big words. "I know that I can be a true leader."

Malaza sees the Student Council as a breeding ground for future leaders of South Africa and is excited to be a part of it.

She was born in Soweto, where she lived until she was 10. She now stays in Highlands North and goes to Waverly Girls High School, where she's in Grade 10.

Though she's yet to decide her career path, she's convinced she has the talent to make it in the media industry. "I have that oomph to crack it in the media, plus I talk a lot," she says enthusiastically.

Malaza spends most of her time writing, and some of her articles have been published. "I also write poetry. Quite often, I allow my imagination to just flow in writing."

She wants to obtain at least six distinctions in matric and has "started to discipline" herself.

James McLaren - junior Speaker
The Speaker of the Johannesburg Student Council, James McLaren, is a young man with non-conformist views on a wide range of topics, from politics to social issues.

"My views are controversial because I come from a family that doesn't like the norm," states the well-groomed McLaren.

The son of a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, he says his somewhat maverick views are also inspired by what he's overhead intellectuals exchange in private conversation.

"I love speaking. I talk about these controversial issues and get people to think about them."

McLaren is one of the most talkative members of the Student Council, comprising more than 130 junior councillors from various schools across Johannesburg. It was no surprise that he was elected Speaker.

"I feel privileged to be Speaker of the council. I think I was elected because I made my views known to fellow councillors," says the 16-year-old.

He moved to a new school, St Stithians Boys' College, at the beginning of the year and says the "project-based" school has brought a revolution in his life. Here he has discovered the importance of community work. "Community service is becoming one of my priorities, along with my academics."

The Grade 10 learner was raised in a Christian family, but as he puts it he's "looking and trying to find the positive aspects of Christianity and the negative aspects, and I will then decide if I will subscribe to the religion or if I will go to another religion".

Phumlani Nyamathe - junior deputy Speaker
Lending a helping hand for the betterment of the community is what Phumlani Nyamathe loves doing.

Nyamathe, a Grade 10 learner at the Hill High School in Rosettenville, is the deputy Speaker of the Johannesburg Student Council (JSC). "I do a lot of community work," says the loquacious Nyamathe.

For starters, he is a volunteer at the Johannesburg Society for the Blind, where he helps out in a number of ways. Though he mostly attends to computer problems, he's always available to assist in the financial department.

He also lends a hand with cleaning at times, and is an assistant at the gym. The society was formed in 1926. "I spend most of my time there," says Nyamathe.

A resident of Elandsfontein, Nyamathe speaks eloquently with a voice that could easily increase listenership for a talk radio station; and he has been involved in public speaking since he was in Grade Four.

He says the Student Council raises civic awareness among junior councillors. It could benefit more people if it was more wide-ranging, Nyamathe states. "In that way it would teach lots of the youth to be civically aware.

"It really does play a great role in the development of Johannesburg and the country."

He believes the JSC can play a meaningful role in society without involving any money in its work. "It's not so much about giving money and giving out items; we can lend support to needy groups."

The council is a great opportunity for himself and the other 132 members to develop their leadership skills.

Nyamathe, who enjoys playing soccer, says he is yet to decide what to do when he matriculates, but he believes he's destined for the financial world. "Financially, my mind is very inclined."

Sabeehah Mahomed - health chairperson
In just one conversation with Sabeehah Mahomed, it is easy to believe the 16-year-old is a born leader.

Mahomed was elected chairperson of the health portfolio by the rest of the junior councillors, and she occupies leadership and voluntary positions in other youth organisations.

"Leadership is my passion," she states modestly.

She is the treasurer of the South African Police Service Youth Desk Forum in Lenasia and is a managing director of the Youth Service Association. A practising Muslim, Mohamed is also a volunteer member of the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance, the Islamic Careline Youth Initiative and the Umhlaba Vision Foundation.

"I will never give it up for anything," she says of her involvement in civic organisations.

The petite teenager is also into science and invented a solar water heating system that can heat up water to 43 degrees. The invention ensured her a third-spot in a regional science competition.

Though she says she was somewhat taken aback by her election on to the JSC executive committee on 27 June, she admits that her leadership skills saw her through. "My campaign was based on word of mouth. I was able to convince other councillors of my leadership by just talking to them."

Mahomed's selection reads like a story of determination. Her school was not a participant in the project, masterminded in the Office of the Speaker. She got hold of relevant people in the council to enlist her school. The results were that she was selected alongside a learner from another school in Lenasia, which she helped enrol into the junior council project.

She is well-versed on health issues and says she has been involved in the community health sector for the past four years. "I have been to different communities and hospitals to help ill people," she says.

The Grade 11 learner at the Lenasia Muslim School is gunning for eight distinctions in matric. Destined to study medicine at the University of Cape Town, Mahomed also wants to secure a scholarship.

"If there is something that I want I fight very hard to get it," says the determined girl, who in her spare time likes reading, camping, religion and exploring. She's also writing a novel.

Ayla Hoogervorst - environment chairperson
Ayla Hoogervorst, the environment chairperson of Johannesburg's junior council, has a deep understanding of environmental issues in the city.

The Grade 11 learner speaks passionately about what she wants to achieve during her tenure. "There are so many things to do, ranging from cleaning parks to rehabilitating parks and wetlands."

The soft-spoken Hoogervorst embarked on a drive to rehabilitate a man-made wetland in her school, Beaulieu College in Kyalami, which was designed to help learners understand the concept of an eco-system. Having already enlisted the services of a soil assessor, Hoogervorst wants to ensure that that "land is eco-friendly".

She says the wetland has been neglected for some years and suspects that its water is contaminated. "I will drain that infected water and put in new water that is at the right temperature and the right pH."

Hoogervorst's passion for the environment began when she was younger, when she lived on a farm. She speaks fondly of how she has "always interacted with the land and animals".

Latent for some years, this environmental bent was re-ignited in 2008 when she was sick and had to go for homeopathic treatment. "I was ill and the doctors couldn't help me," she says. "I became interested in finding out how nature was healing me."

An excursion to the Tsitsikama National Park in December 2008 also played a role, she says.

The humble environmentalist loves having fun with her friends, meditating and playing sport. And then there is her other talent, art. "I am passionate about art. I spend a lot of my time painting."

When she completes her secondary schooling next year she plans to study architecture. This will allow her to work towards protecting the environment in a special way. "I want to make eco-friendly architecture," she says.

Tumelo Sekhokoane - community development chairperson
He's not exactly as big as the late American rapper Notorious B.I.G, but Tumelo Sekhokoane is big enough. And he's using his bulky body to his advantage.

"I am a big guy and I'm happy with the way I am," says the chairperson of community development in the Johannesburg Student Council.

A Grade 10 learner at the United Church School in Yeoville, Sekhokoane is brimming with confidence about what he can do for the community. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ fast approaching, his goal is to help youth develop their sports talents.

A football tournament in Yeoville tops his agenda for projects for the JSC. "The Student Council is something that has to affect the community and develop it," Sekhokoane states.

"I also think that the council is playing a big role in developing future presidents of this country."

The lad from the West Rand loves entertaining people, a ploy he used during his election campaign. "To go to a person's heart you don't have to go with a serious agenda, you have to make them laugh," he says on why he thought fellow junior councillors voted him on to the executive committee.

Unexpectedly, Sekhokoane is lead singer in a boys' church choir. He is also the co-founder of a three-man gospel and R&B crew called Evolutionary Boys.

He started Evolutionary Boys with his brother and a friend, who he says are also bulky. "Many people see us as being obese but we are happy with the way we are because we are healthy," he enthuses.

The group is enthusiastic about singing and dancing. "People started seeing that though we have big bodies we can make them happy."

Sekhokoane, who also enjoys soccer and Playstation, wants to study civil engineering when he finishes school in 2011. "This is a field into which fewer black people are venturing, so I want to inspire others," he says.

"I just love life and if you love life, life might just bring good fruits."

Mogamat Jardine - community safety chairperson
Mogamat Jardine is a young visionary who wants to dispel the myths about Westbury, his home. He believes this would be the initial step towards instilling hope in youngsters in the area.

Jardine, the chairperson of the JSC's community safety portfolio, says there are certain elements that discourage youngsters in Westbury from aiming for success. "I come from an area that's crime-ridden," he says. "People tend to think that if you are from a bad area you won't go anywhere in life."

Youngsters in the suburb should free themselves of that negative idea and realise that opportunities exist for them as well. "The community that you come from does not determine where you will end up."

Jardine points out that Westbury residents could draw inspiration from successful people who come from the area, his point of reference being poet Don Mattera and soccer player Steven Pienaar. The latter plays for English team Everton and is one of the favourites in the South African national team, Bafana Bafana.

"There is good happening. People need to change the mentality that they won't go anywhere."

He has been a victim of crime, a story he told fellow junior councillors during election campaigning. Almost two years ago he nearly died after he was stabbed with a screwdriver just three centimetres from his kidney. His life was saved at Helen Joseph Hospital, he says.

A Grade 11 learner at Westbury High School, Jardine says he was caught between a gang fight - members of one gang attacked him as they thought he belonged to a rival group. "I was just an innocent guy walking past," he laments.

His religion, Islam, keeps him sane: "Without my religion I wouldn't be the kind of person that I am. I value Islam," he explains.

Inspired by a grandfather whom he hardly knew, Jardine wants to go into the South African Navy when he finishes school. He plans to dedicate 10 years to studying civil engineering, mechanical engineering and law enforcement in the force.

For fun, he plays baseball, rugby, cricket and boxing and sees the Student Council as an opportunity to empower himself. "The council is giving us a boost in life."

Mmasello Kekana - youth chairperson
Mmasello Kekana appears shy and reclusive at first meeting, but a conversation with her reveals what she's all about: a young person who has a vision of empowering herself and other youth.

The Grade 10 learner at Marlboro Gardens Secondary School in Alexandra is the elected chairperson of the JSC's youth portfolio. Kekana sees her position, leading about 15 other junior councillors, as a gateway to reaching out to youth in different areas of the city.

"The Student Council is more like a voice of the youth of Johannesburg. We have to reach out to them," says the soft-spoken Kekana.

A humble person, she believes that her message of all-embracing representation during the election campaign saw her through to the council's executive committee. "I am here to represent all youth in Joburg. I want to contribute to expanding opportunities for the youth out there," she says with her enchanting trademark smile.

A project she has in mind is that of a talent search. She says it would be a fun day in an area like Alexandra, where the youth would have an opportunity to reflect on their talents.

Kekana is intrigued with how leadership works and has attended a few workshops dissecting leadership skills. "I don't believe that leaders are born. One needs to develop their leadership skills."

A resident of Ebony Park, a township outside Midrand, Kekana has been consecutively elected on to the representative council of learners at her school since she was in Grade Eight and is convinced the JSC will help her nurture her leadership skills.

She's a Christian and wants to study logistics when she matriculates. An avid reader, she also enjoys participating in athletics.

Zuzile Pondo - transport chairperson
Zuzile Pondo has artistic creativity running through her veins. The JSC chairperson for transport is an emerging ceramics and jewellery designer who wants to go places with her art.

"I am very competent," Pondo says of her design ability.

A Grade 10 learner at the National School of Arts (NSA), Pondo has had her designs exhibited at two exclusive events at the school.

"I have always liked working with my hands, creating ornaments and drawing sketches," says the well-spoken Pondo. "I've always been an artist."

She has been at the NSA for three years, and says her designs are distinct as she "takes risks whenever I do my art".

She is rated as one of the school's top achievers and she was awarded a platinum certificate for her work displayed in the college's Festival of Fame in 2007.

"I never do what everyone wants me to do. I always think out of the box," says the learner, who maintains firm eye contact and radiates the poise one would spot in top-achieving women.

She wants to take her speciality to greater heights after she matriculates. Her vision is to study accounting at the universities of either the Witwatersrand or Cape Town, which will help her forge a viable design career. "I want to go corporate."

Pondo does not like skulking inside obscure boxes, and challenges herself to explore new territories. She says her drive to become chairperson of transport was inspired by her desire to avoid going for what "she's comfortable with".

Living in Vereeniging, she's a full-time boarder at the arts school in Braamfontein. She describes herself as "a straight-forward person" who "works not only hard, but smart as well".

Her involvement in the Student Council will be a learning process. "I want to be one of the leaders who brings significant change to the work of the council."

Her great passion in transport is the re-construction of roads leading to Johannesburg and within the city.

Besides art, she loves reading and playing a "bit of sport".