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Image credit: Mike Scott

Dalisu Jwara: Embracing values

Dalisu Jwara: Embracing values

Dalisu Jwara talks to Queen's Young Leaders about using values to reconsider what it means to be male

As Dalisu Jwara and his friend Leroy Nyarhi walked through the streets of Johannesburg one day in August 2013, a woman approached and asked them for money. She told them how she’d been forced into a marriage with an abusive alcoholic and said they were the first people to ever bother listening to her story.

“She urged us not to change, offered us blessings and told us to love and protect women.”

The incident stayed with Dalisu. Over the days and weeks that followed, he found himself thinking about his grandmother, who’d passed away the previous year.

“My grandmother was my anchor, the individual who inspired me to become a better person. Every day she told me to work hard in order to succeed and pursue my dreams. But beyond that she taught me how to be humble, to remain humble during success and at difficult times, and to be empathetic and embrace others.”

After meeting the beggar woman in Johannesburg, Dalisu gave a lot of thought to the way he viewed women and how women are portrayed in the media and music.

Founding AmaDODA

Back at university in Cape Town, he and Leroy talked about the incident. They discussed male attitudes to women and the lack of good male role models. They founded AmaDODA – or ‘Grown Men’ – with fellow students, Tapuwe Marauka, Nunashe Gomwe and Munya Tshuma. A sixth partner, Kneo Mokgopa joined in March 2014 to fine-tune its vision.

AmaDODA addresses the rising tide of violence against women in South Africa by encouraging young men to consider ‘ubudoda’ – a Zulu word meaning “the essence of being a man”.

“We live in a patriarchal society and women are victims of rape and gender stereotypes, so we’re saying, ‘What does ubudoda mean? In the 21st century how do I become a man who upholds the integrity of others?’”

By getting young men to think about ‘ubudoda’, AmaDODA aims to develop a generation of African men who fulfil their role in society by embracing ‘ubuntu’.

“‘Ubuntu’ is a Zulu word meaning ‘an ability to relate to others and understand we’re all interconnected’. It’s very easy to forget that in pursuit of your own goals. But ubuntu says, ‘I will recognise you, not because of who you are or where you’re from, but because you’re a valid being in the universe’.”


From the outset, the AmaDODA team were clear about their values and their aims.

“From your values you make your choices and your choices determine your future.”

Dalisu reminds himself of his values every morning. The two that are most important to him are equality and diversity.

“The people I’ve met in my life who’ve shaped the person I am, have been people from different spectrums: black, white, Indian, mixed race, Asian and a diversity of faiths as well.”

As well as being taught humility and empathy by his grandmother, as a child Dalisu learnt a lot from Frank Simmonds. He met Simmonds when he was awarded a bursary from the Alexandra Education Committee. Simmonds was its director and it was from him that Dalisu learnt how to become “a man of value”.

“He taught me that through his actions and by encouraging me to be a perpetual student of life and society, and to constantly question and learn.” 

Dalisu continues to learn from those he meets. He is currently mentored by Sim Tshabalala, the co-CEO of Standard Bank Group, and Kuseni Dlamini, the Chairman of Mass Mart.

“They’ve been solid men who’ve shown me what it really takes to lead, but also to be a human being who cares about his society and is willing to make change.”

In the summer of 2014, Dalisu attended 33Fifty, a Commonwealth youth leadership programme. While in the UK, he met Prince Charles and Julia Middleton, founder and CEO of Common Purpose, who became a great influence.  

“She has invested a lot in me and featured me in her book. She has shown me that I’m able to navigate the complexities of this world and that I can make it anywhere.”

Dalisu meets Prince Charles

Navigating complexity

Setting up and running AmaDODA has involved a lot of complexity.

“We didn’t have funding at all; we were using our own money. And we were all students studying at university. Our degrees were rigorous, so we had to juggle the university aspect as well as running this organisation.”

Selling branded t-shirts raised some cash, but social media proved the most valuable resource.

“You don’t need money to start a Facebook account. All you need is your vision and to use your friends to gain traction to bring people towards understanding what you’re about. Having a social media page is the biggest way to engage young individuals, keep them updated and organise them.”

The group also had trouble finding time for meetings so used WhatsApp to co-ordinate activities.

And their values have helped the AmaDODA team stay motivated.

“I think given our backgrounds and where we’re from, and understanding the role that this organisation could play in a young man’s life on a township somewhere – or even the city in the elite circles of society – is what’s kept us going.”


AmaDODA now has over 3,000 Facebook followers and has started to expand into Zimbabwe. In its first year, it has been recognised by many prominent individuals who campaign against gender-based prejudice and violence. These include South African actress and UN gender activist, Rosie Motene, the V-day Campaign, Cecile Lipworth, Busi Siwe Deyi and Jerome September from the University of Cape Town.

The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town also supports AmaDODA’s work with performance and discussion workshops.

At the time of writing, AmaDODA is preparing for South Africa’s annual 16 Days of Activism in December.

“A lot of the heavy marketing around campaigns is in December. That’s when we’re on the ground. We’re engaging, we’re in panel discussions, we’re in the community in Johannesburg and our guys in Zimbabwe will be spearheading their side as well.”

Dalisu’s advice for young leaders is to stay grounded.

“Remember where you come from and who you are, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.”