20 January 2019


Obama picks a Fellow from Bokone Bophirima in Koketso Moeti

by: Semphete Correspondent    date: 26 April 2018

When former United States of America (USA) President, Barack Obama, welcomes 20 inaugural fellows of his Obama Foundation in Chicago next month, there will be one young South African on the group. 
Thirty-one-year-old Koketso Moeti from Rooigrond outside Bokone Bophirima’s capital city, Mahikeng, was chosen from 20 000 hopefuls from around the world who applied to the Obama Foundation. 
After a strict selection and having undergone two interviews, Moeti made it to the successful list of candidates. 
The soft spoken activist tells Semphete that she nearly missed the deadline for applications for the Obama Fellowship because she kept putting it off. She only submitted her application 15 minutes before the cut-off time.
She explains why: “People had told me about it and urged me to apply. But you know, there is this sense that ‘this is out of my reach, there’s no way I’m going to get it. But after some time I just said why not? What makes me so undeserving?”
A call Moeti made to a comrade to help with internet access because she did not have data, sealed it all. Though she had to go through two interview stages to finally be selected, she grew more confident that she would make it. 
“When we got to the first interview stage that’s when I felt there is a chance,” she said. And last month she received a call to tell her she is in. 
The Obama Foundation Fellowship Programme is a two-year all-expenses-paid fellowship programme, that is non-residential, which means Moeti will be based in South Africa and continue to do her activism job, and will frequent the USA for the programme’s meetings. “Next month we have our first meeting in Chicago,” she said this week.
This Civic Innovators Programme will see the Obama Foundation supporting outstanding civic innovators from around the world in order to amplify the impact of their work and to inspire a wave of civic innovation. Fellows will receive hands-on training and be put through a personalised development plan.

Moeti’s civic activism, which started in an informal settlement of Rooigrond outside Mahikeng where she grew up, put her in a good position for this fellowship programme.
What drives her spirit of activism? “My love for black people, a recognition that we deserve better than what we are getting such as living insecurely and being unable to feed our children. 
“It’s also about my own life. Even me as a person, I deserve better, but I recognize that there are so many others who live under the worst conditions,” Moeti told Semphete. 
Reminiscing on her first real activism project in Rooigrond dubbed  the ‘All I want for Christmas’ campaign - a plea for one of the most basic needs…water – gets Moeti emotional. The response was so huge that the community of Rooigrond started receiving donations from near and far, just to make sure that it had sufficient water supply. 
“When I look back, it makes me sad that so many people still live in that situation. Also sad that we get to a point where people have to get organised for basic things that they are entitled to,” Moeti said. 
“But it also makes me happy because I remember the level of solidarity in Rooigrond. People do show up when they know what is wrong”. 
She shared a word of encouragement, particularly for fellow young people of Bokone Bophirima. 
“I think that we become angry with ourselves and distracted when we take systemic failures and make them our own. I used to think I’m a loser because I didn’t have a job. But it’s not your fault. When you finally acknowledges that it’s not your fault, it takes so much away from your shoulders,” she said.
Moeti is a 2017 Aspen New Voices fellow and a founder of a mobile tool that enable ordinary South Africans to use their cellphones as democracy-building tools to hold leaders in government and corporations to account.
She says with South Africa being “a country of many divisions, poverty, spatial artichecture and so on, the only thing we have in common is a mobile phone” and that connects us. 
“It was an attempt to take what has been learned with the Rooigrond experience and seeing where it can work for someone else in another area,” she said. In Rooigrond, connecting to one another helped Moeti and his community stop a possible eviction from the land they occupied. Today the settlement has been formalized, with government-provided houses and services being rolled out. 
Obama was ecstatic when he announced his Foundation’s inaugural fellows. 
“These Obama Foundation Fellows are powerful examples of the many pathways we can take to improve our communities. These civic leaders bring a variety of disciplines and skill sets to their work, including community organising, healthcare, technology and the arts,” he said in a statement.
“These leaders are working hand-in-hand with their communities to build better futures. They understand that creating change often requires reaching out across the lines that divide us. Their successes to date show how collaborative, community-driven work can lead to strong, imaginative and long-lasting solutions, even on some of our most intractable and polarising problems.”