A strong force to reckon with, Patricia makes history everyday

Date Publish: 
Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Growing up in a town called Kipushi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Patricia Mudiayi has never imagined that 18 years later, she would be a migrant who is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to changing the lives of other migrants who migrated to South Africa for various reasons. As a stranger in a foreign country and where the role of migrants is often misunderstood, her hope was to find a job and make a living.

After she obtained her matric in 1998 at Lubumbashi, she went on to university to study Chemical Metallurgy. Despite obstacles that threatened to stand in her way, Mudiayi was fortunate to get a job as a teacher at Leap Science and Maths school in Cape Town where she teaches Natural and Physical Sciences.

Her passion for women empowerment and humanitarian spirit inspired Mudiayi to start a women support group having seen the struggles of many migrant women. After working for eleven years at LEAP, one cold morning in the middle of winter Mudiayi was complaining about how cold her office was. It was at that moment when she started to feel sorry for those who are out in the cold with no place to go. “In that moment I just remembered how cold it was outside in Green Market Square where people are roaming around with no hope or idea of where to go and what to do,” says Mudiayi.

Although a migrant in this country, Mudiayi chose to see South Africa as her home and a place that could allow her to making a lasting difference. It is for that reason that Mudiayi began her journey of helping others by starting the award winning organization KWESU which means “HOME”. Its role is to support and empower women to live a life of dignity and to heal social isolation by building a sense of community between women. Mudiayi wanted to help transform the lives of migrant women and empower them with skills for social survival in Cape Town.

Her organization which provides sewing skills, computer classes and English classes to migrant and South African women in the community of Langa started when she realised that giving money to the women who needed to find stability will not change their situation. Her model of operation is inspired by a famous quote “If you give me fish I will eat tomorrow, but if you teach me how to fish, I will eat forever.”

Mudiayi held her first consultation session with a number of migrant women where they discussed the challenges, their historical background, and their currently living conditions.  During that session Mudiayi picked up that one of the women who was abused by her husband was equipped with a sewing skill.

“I decided to buy a sewing machine for her and asked her to sew linen and I paid for it. I wanted her to get an opportunity to earn a living. After a while, another lady joined her and that’s when I decided to buy more machines,” says Mudiayi.

Today the organization grew to be one of the few non-governmental organizations credited for assisting women, particularly migrants, to integrate into South African society. Mudiayi is one of the many migrants who have chosen to involve themselves in positive initiatives around South Africa and contribute to the advancement of the country they now call home.

Their efforts and hard work were noticed when she and other individuals and organizations where honoured by the Department of Home Affairs for their role in uplifting the South African society when they were named as winners at the Inaugural Mkhaya Migrants Awards in 2015.

“It was a privilege for me to receive such an honour. I am grateful to the Home Affairs department and to the people who nominated me, and to the women of KWESU as well. We took so many risks together. It is a relationship between South Africans and migrants where both partners are winning. It is a starting of a long relationship to unify Africa, says Mudiayi.

When KWESU was established in 2010 with only 21 women, Mudiayi could not have foreseen this project to be where it is today. At the moment the project is serving in different communities in Cape Town. There are 10 women situated in the offices of KWESU, 25 who attend a support group, 17 – 20 students who are in the sewing class (in Langa and Parow), and is open for all. Currently they serve Somalian, Congolese from Brazzaville, Congolese from DRC, and South African beneficiaries. And so far KWESU has proudly produced two graduation ceremonies of 16 women who finished their sewing course and they are all working.

Although there are still a few challenges that the organization meets along the way, Mudiayi says it is her dream to see the project in the next few years operating in its own building where different skills will be offered. Mudiayi says she would like to see her project expanding to different communities and provinces and exporting all the products manufactured to the rest of Africa.

Her message to South Africans and other migrants across the globe is to encourage hard work and taking a risk without fear to accomplish your heart desires. “All African people must learn to work together. There are plenty of opportunities in Africa for Africans but Africans have to create these opportunities themselves without fear, it’s all about taking risks. The future of Africa is in African hands,” says Mudiayi.

By Mapula Tloubatla