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Acclaimed South African actress urges the world to ‘see the strength and resilience of Africa’s refugees’

Acclaimed South African actress urges the world to ‘see the strength and resilience of Africa’s refugees’


When Nomzmo Mbatha encountered a group of refugee children frolicking at a water collection point in Kenya’s Kakuma camp, her first reaction was of delight.


She could not hide her inner child as she easily joined in on the fun. She spent time joking and chatting with the children, who were in clear awe of her attire – a bright orange, checked kaftan tied at her waist with a beaded belt.

“I believe making a personal connection is key to fully championing the plight of refugees,” she said, during her week-long trip in Kenya.

And she did connect – from meeting and exercising with members of Team Refugees at their training centre in Nairobi to helping South Sudanese girls carry water in jerricans in Kakuma. Nomzamo comes across as truthful and undeterred in her role as an advocate for UNHCR’s LuQuLuQu campaign

 As International Women’s Day is marked today, Nomzamo reflects on her Kenya trip and on the impact that the refugee women she met has had on her. She considers the Women’s Day theme, The Time is Now, a rallying call for people to change their attitudes and the overall narrative of Africa’s displaced.

“All I know is that it is more necessary than ever that we take care of each other.”

Born 27 years ago in the townships of Durban, she grew up experiencing varying degrees of poverty and now, as an actress, model and advocate for the UN Refugee Agency, she believes that it’s time for refugees, especially women to be empowered.

“All I know is that it is more necessary than ever that we take care of each other,” she says. “That we become each other’s refuge.”

The time she spent with young girls and women at a safe space in the camp was especially moving for her. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, works with other aid agencies to identify such safe areas in the camp where young girls who are at risk of sexual and gender based violence, early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are accommodated.

Nomzamo spoke to the women who, despite the challenges they’ve undergone, maintain a positive outlook towards life.

“Their strength, their ability to overcome and their ingenuity for making the best of a difficult situation is what I celebrate.”

“Women are often not the warmongers, but invariably, they beat the trauma of war,” she says. “Their strength, their ability to overcome and their ingenuity for making the best of a difficult situation is what I celebrate.”

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Calling on the world to witness the strength and resilience of refugees, she especially calls for increased support for refugee women’s rights, equality and justice.

“My hope is that we begin to remove the mental borders that we have put up in our minds,” she says. “We can only change the narrative by having more conversations on how we can truly come together.”

Her encounters and conversations with refugees in Kakuma, which hosts over 185,000 refugees from 13 African countries, have further cemented her belief that refugees have admirable strength and resilience.

Nomzamo now has a strong, impassioned message to convey to the world: Africa’s refugees are not poor people.

“We need to bring refugees back to a place of self-reliance because before they fled, they were able-bodied, respected members of their communities.”

Needa Mazou, UNHCR’s Head of Private Sector Partnerships in Africa and Curator of the LuQuLuQu campaign agrees.

“Refugees, especially women and children are often perceived as helpless faceless aid-dependent people,” she says. “This is grossly inaccurate.”

“We need such advocates and emissaries like Nomzamo who can drive our campaign as a vehicle of empowerment and celebration.”

She adds that partnering with celebrities like Nomzamo helps shine a light on the incredible abilities of refugees, particularly women, who more often than not, bear the brunt of war.

“We need such advocates and emissaries like Nomzamo who can drive our campaign as a vehicle of empowerment and celebration.”

Prior to her trip to Kenya, Nomzamo also visited Dzaleka camp in Malawi.

Her role as a UNHCR supporter will see her make trips to various refugee hosting countries in the region to familiarize herself with the plight of Africa’s displaced and call for increased support and empathy.

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