Activist and inspiration: Yusuf Talia dies due to illness

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy through his short life.

GREATNESS: Witsie Yusuf Talia has left a proud legacy in his 25 years of life. Photo: Facebook

An activist. A leader. An inspiration. Those are some of the words used to describe Witsie Yusuf Talia who passed away today at the age of 25.

The wheelchair-bound Talia, who battled with muscular dystrophy, was a familiar face around campus where he actively involved in politics and societies. He was part of the Disabled Students Movement and the president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).  He was also an energetic activist for Palestine.

Talia was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) under the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) banner and served as deputy president on the council in 2010.

“Today is a sad day for everybody who knew the gentle soul that was Yusuf but also for Wits in general,” said outgoing SRC president Shafee Verachia.

Verachia said Talia had dedicated his life to service and was a role model for others.

“He was the perfect example of what it means to serve humanity,” Verachia said.

The 2013 SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa, said Talia was someone who always had time to help his fellow students.

“One thing which sticks out about Yusuf is the ability he had to avail himself whenever he could to assist students and give of his time, despite his physical condition and pressing academic commitments,” Mgudlwa said.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,” said Mgudlwa, “We will miss him.”

Talia was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at an early age though very few people knew about his life-threatening disease because of his work ethic.

Talia was named as one of the top 200 young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian in 2013 for his contribution the higher education system and his work to improve conditions for disabled students.

“He was sociable and approachable while at the same time dignified and respectable,”

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela at the time, Talia said of the recognition, with his trademark humility, “I feel so honoured. It was so unexpected.

He told Wits Vuvuzela that the youth should work towards improving society: “The youth need to adopt an attitude of helping those in need in their societies. We can do anything we put our minds to.”

Talia was studying towards an honours degree in Physiology and hoped to be a doctor one day. He had already earned a BSc and a degree in Actuarial Science.

On behalf of the outgoing SRC, Verachia wished “the Almighty to grant strength to his parents, brother Waseem and to all those touched by this amazing human being”.


Witsie hopes to be the next ‘One Day Leader’

“MANY leaders lead, but they have never been through what they are leading people through”, Octavia Prince Shabangu, the only Witsie on the “One Day Leader” show, told Wits Vuvuzela this week.

Shabangu’s obstacles have helped him to share and give advice to other people. “You’ll find leaders advising people about poverty but they don’t know about poverty. I’ll never advise you on something I do not know”, he said.

“One day Leader” is a show aired on SABC 1 that is dedicated to uplifting young leaders by providing them with the skill-set and knowledge they need to tackle social, political and economic issues in South Africa through debate and other leadership activities. The six contestants compete with each other for the coveted title, “One Day Leader”.

Born and breed in Mpumalanga, in a small town called Gedlebane, Shabangu has  climbed up the ladder to be the only Witsie and one of the top six “One Day Leader” contestants. but Shabangu’s climb has not been without difficulty.

Shabangu is in 3rd year, studying a bachelor’s degree in accountancy. He is the eldest of six children. His mother is a retired domestic worker and his father a part-time employed truck driver who just recently got employment in 2013.

RISE AGAIN: Octavia Shabangu on the road to becoming the #1 leader of the "One Day Leader" show.

RISE AGAIN: Octavia Shabangu on the road to becoming the #1 leader of the “One Day Leader” show. Photo by: Lutho Mtongana

“Growing up was tough but I think it’s something that I needed to prepare me for the harsh reality of what life had to offer,” said Shabangu.

He believes a great leader should be resilient.

“Don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on your dreams, don’t give up on the people around you,” he said.

One day [last year] he and his family were evicted. “When we arrived home and we found everything in the streets, my parents at the time were both unemployed and there was nothing they could do. Me and my family were rendered homeless, I was still in school, I had to leave school for a while, for about four months so I could just find a job and stabilize everything. I never thought that I as an individual, I could be hopeless,” he continued.

However, despite the hurdles he faced last year having tried to get on the show, and not making it to the top 20 of season two, Shabangu went back to school and decided to try and enter the competition again.

He was in a taxi rank when the phone rang for an interview with him. Later that same day, he heard he was again not on the top 20 list of candidates who made on the show. After hearing the news he decided to beg for a second chance. “Let me debate all 20 of them,” he said.

After being allowed to debate one of the top six candidates, Siphosenkosi Malimela, he made it to the top six.

“I just keep on coming and coming as hard as I can. I’m true to my values and I believe in the power of inspiration,” he said.

He draws his inspiration from big problems in his hometown for example, the poverty, high pregnancy rate, including  no running water.

When Shabangu is not juggling school and the show, he plays basketball for the Wits Noswal Residence and is involved in the Campus Outreach Programme.

One Day Leader is broadcast every Monday at 16:30 on SABC 1. To vote for Shabangu sms “Leader 6” to 34020.