Nomzamo Mbatha announced as the first Cotton On Foundation ambassador in South Africa

‘Start with the man in the mirror. Own race, own pace, own lane.’

Nomzamo Mbatha Cotton On Foundation

The Cotton On Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Australian retailer Cotton On, has named actress and activist Nomzamo Mbatha as their first-ever South African ambassador.

The announcement was made at the official opening of Ethekwini Primary School yesterday. Ethekwini Primary School is situated in KwaMashu, which is where Nomzamo grew up.

‘It is a heartwarming and fulfilling moment for me to be part of the Ethekweni Primary, in the township where I was raised, KwaMashu,’ says Nomzamo. ‘Education is incredibly close to my heart, as it was my way out. My mother is a teacher so I understand the impact of the Foundation’s partnership with Ethekweni Primary School.’

The Cotton On Foundation has delivered a state-of-the-art school and created 1 280 education places for primary-school learners. The foundation’s next project partner is Dr JL Dube High School, also located in KwaMashu. This project brings to life the foundation’s ‘Child’s Journey’ model and will ensure local children are getting quality education in KwaMashu, from primary through to secondary school.

Here’s what Nomzamo had to say about the amazing project:

How did you get involved with the Cotton On Foundation?

Nomzamo: The Cotton On Foundation found out that I’m from KwaMashu, and I’m very much involved in being a voice for the voiceless and speaking up for the marginalising of the disenfranchised. When the conversations began, we found out that we had very similar views and, upon taking me through the school, they realised that I would be a perfect fit to be able to amplify the voice of the school in KwaMashu and the foundation.

After watching the Cotton On Foundation documentary, my mind was blown! The amount of work they put in levelling the field of quality education on this continent is humbling and extremely admirable!

How does it feel to be back in your home town of KwaMashu?

Nomzamo: It’s always good to be home! As you can see, I’m eating all the wrong foods but it’s great to be home. What a full-circle moment to see help being provided and dignity being restored in the community that raised me. I always say that I was not just raised by my family but also by the community of KwaMashu. I would be the little girl walking in the street to buy bread and old mammas would be like, ‘You must stay in school! Stay smart – you will be something one day.’

Please tell us about this *amazing* school project

Nomzamo: The Cotton On Foundation donated a container library in 2015 and that is how the relationship started. The principal, teachers and learners took such good care of this and appreciated it so much. The foundation saw that the facilities weren’t in good shape or anywhere near conducive to a learning environment, and decided that they wanted to contribute even more to this school. They improved the infrastructure of the school so that it can house a full-on primary school and not just a lower-primary school.

It’s 2020 and we are sitting here seeing the vision come to life. They could have gone anywhere in the world. They could have just ticked the box as any other corporate does with CSI, and not actually invest in the potential and hard work that they see. The Cotton On Foundation wants to be the solution.

And is there another one in the pipeline?

Nomzamo: Seeing the vision for Ethekwini Primary come to life is just incredible! Above and beyond that, we are still celebrating the opening of the school and the Cotton On Foundation already has plans to restructure and help the JL Dube High School, also in KwaMashu! More investment! They understand that education doesn’t end in the classroom. When you educate a learner, you are empowering a community!

So if the Cotton On Foundation can do it, do you think other companies should learn from them?

Nomzamo: Absolutely! I think corporates really have to roll up their sleeves and truly make a mark with something that actually has substance. They have to say that they actually want to take a vested interest, not only in quality education but in so many other spaces that the private sector can assist the government with.

Private-sector companies can empower children.  I hope it implores other companies to go out to remote places and make a difference.

Why are you so passionate about giving back?

Nomzamo: I grew up not having much. I know what it’s like to be a kid who doesn’t know where the next backpack is going to come from. I was always the problem child being brought into the principal’s office and asked: ‘Where are your school fees?’ My mom didn’t have the money!

I always wanted to work really, really hard to be able to take myself and my family out of those circumstances. I’ve also been passionate about being the change that I genuinely want to see in the world, and I don’t have respect for people who want to highlight problems. Honestly, if you are going to highlight a problem, you are the only person who is going to see it. What’s the way forward? What’s the solution?

We could spend three days in workshops saying what the problems are, but we need to find the best way to work together to make sure we are helping our communities grow. We have to decrease the inequality gap. There is no pride in living in a ghastly unequal world.

How has living in the USA shaped you?

Nomzamo: It has made me more certain! It’s definitely made me braver. What living on a different continent has taught me about myself is that I am more courageous and braver than I ever thought I was. I am able to build a home for myself and be able to commute and live the life of my dreams – the life I always wanted to give myself. I haven’t even scraped the surface yet!

Do you see South Africa differently since living abroad?

Nomzamo: Absolutely not! I don’t see my country any differently from what my view was before moving. I think the world is just going through changes. Technology has never been as fast as it is right now. Evolution doesn’t take centuries, it takes a day! We could wake up tomorrow with completely new information in terms of natural disasters or whatever new technological phenomenon that’s been discovered. It doesn’t make me see South Africa any different – in fact, it just motivates me to do more for my country and the world at large.

If there is one thing you could tell the youth of SA, what would it be?

Nomzamo: Start with the man in the mirror. Own race, own pace, own lane.

What’s next for you?

Nomzamo: World domination! More hard work! Everybody must stay tuned and see what I have in store. I continue to live my dreams and I’m closing out my 20s this year – that’s a big milestone for me! The sequel to Coming To America is out! Go out there and put bums on seats! Let’s show them that we are just as viable on the international scale!

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