As Project Coordinator of the Centre for Social Justice, Diane Gahiza is a very busy woman. Having a keen interest in social justice issues and excellent people skills – as well as a good sense of humour – helps Gahiza deal with life's challenges. As we kicked off May commemorating Workers' Day, we dedicate this series of articles to our staff and their important contribution to Stellenbosch University (SU). In the interview below, Gahiza tells us more about her work.
What does your role at SU entail?
My role as Project Coordinator of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) involves overseeing the coordination of the Centre, with a specific focus on the Musa Plan for Social Justice. This initiative is dedicated to mobilising resources to combat the escalating issues of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. I also coordinate the short courses the CSJ offers throughout the year and I help manage the Director of the CSJ, Prof Thuli Madonsela's engagements. The CSJ is part of the Faculty of Law, so it's nice to be part of a bigger family within the SU and interacting with top legal minds as well as the students who are involved in our Social Justice Ambassadors programme. The Annual Social Justice Conference and Summit hosted by the CSJ requires a lot of planning and organising, but luckily I'm part of a strong team that works together well.
What does a typical day at work look like?
My days are a whirlwind of managing calls, meetings and responding to emails from people across the country and the globe who contact Prof Thuli.
Together with my colleagues, we dedicate our time to events management, operational management, forging synergies with stakeholders and building relationships across a variety of sectors. Some days are unpredictable – in between juggling meetings and taking care of correspondence and admin, I do human resources work and handle financial matters. For the events we organise at the CSJ, such as the regular Social Justice Café's and the Social Justice Walk on 16 June, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes logistics to take care of.
I sometimes travel with Prof Thuli, such as the trip we recently took to the Karoo to visit the Prince Albert Community Trust (PACT) Centre for the Journey to Jazz initiative. It's so inspiring to see social justice projects in action on grassroots level and meet activists like Ingrid Wolfaardt who make a difference in their communities.
My work also entails attending many academic gatherings and social events which I find stimulating and enriching.
How did your education or past experiences prepare you for this role?
Although I didn't study law, my training has exposed me to a wide array of topics that have equipped me with useful skills in public administration, policy, governance, and support services. I've always been interested in social justice issues, and I grew up in an environment where education was prioritised. My family is originally from East Africa and we moved to South Africa in 1984.
As kids, my two sisters and I were exposed to great diversity. We grew up with people from different backgrounds and with different cultures and languages and our parents set an example of cultivating a strong sense of respect and tolerance.
I think I inherited my mom's people skills and an ability to engage with people from all walks of life. I always try to understand where people are coming from. It also helps to have a sense of humour and not take yourself too seriously.
What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU?
I derive great satisfaction from my interactions with students and colleagues. There is so much happening on campus and in Stellenbosch – it's a fantastically stimulating place. I also love being in an academic environment where I'm constantly learning and exposed to new ideas and insights.
Over the past five years I've been privileged to meet wonderful people through my work, and I've travelled widely. Last year I accompanied Prof Thuli to the One Young World Summit in the United Kingdom. Another highlight was attending the Global Leadership Summit in Swaziland, where I was able to attend fascinating sessions. Through my work I've met heads of state, celebrities, and some of the top academics in the world.
But a very special highlight I will always treasure was accompanying Prof Thuli to visit the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife. It was so special to hear this great man talk about his life experiences. Just to be in his presence was an honour.
Through the work in the CSJ, I'm also exposed to many inspirational leaders and people who give me hope for our country.
Tell us something exciting or interesting about yourself that few people would expect.
I love reading and I'm intrigued by writers from elsewhere in Africa. I have an intellectual crush on Sue Nyathi and I love Chimamanda Adichie's books. I belong to an amazing book club with a very diverse group of people. The youngest is 28 and the oldest is 75. We are not shy to sip some wine now and then! Something else that gives me pleasure is being part of a choir, I just wish I had more time for it.