How Do You Celebrate Your 21st (or that of your offspring)?


CAPTION: Pictured left to right: Moleboheng Mokoatle, Mandla Shabangu, Eunice Themba and Samkelisiwe Mlambo during the donation of the 125 blankets and food parcels to the orphanage in Daggakraal, Mpumalanga.

Mandla Shabangu is an unusual 21-year-old. Earlier this year, instead of organising a lavish 21st birthday party for himself, he got together with three friends to donate blankets and food to an orphanage in Daggakraal, one of South Africa’s most impoverished and isolated communities. From this selfless act, the #Being21 initiative was born.

As a graduate of the Columba Leadership programme, Shabangu was inspired by the idea of service as a fundamental value. “After the Columba academy, I decided to commit myself to being of service for the rest of my life,” says Shabangu. “So, when I approached my 21st birthday I thought why not do something to make someone else happy, instead of getting tangible gifts?” he continues.

Shabangu originally planned to use the initiative for his own birthday and then to close it down, but several sponsors, including Nedbank and Nestle, urged him to register #Being21 as a non-profit organisation and to continue the good work. And so, on 24 April 2017, #Being21 was officially registered.

“Columba Leadership is a values-based leadership programme developing responsible leaders and employable young people. Mandla is a great example of what a young person can do when they are instilled with strong values, connect with a sense of purpose, and develop the confidence to take charge of their own lives,” says Tracy Hackland, CEO at Columba Leadership. “We are extremely proud of what Mandla has achieved with #Being21. At Columba, we believe that there is greatness in all young people – we just need to unlock it,” she continues.

“You only turn 21 once in a lifetime. We want to change the narrative of how 21st birthdays are celebrated, so we are busy recruiting young people who are turning 21 next year to use this opportunity to be of service to those in need,” says Shabangu.

At their first event, #Being21 donated 125 blankets and food parcels to the orphanage at Daggakraal. Since then they have donated another 55 knitted blankets and 25 polar fleeces to needy members of their local community. “For our next event, we are planning to donate 250 school shoes and 250 school bags to disadvantaged children in Lusikisiki,” says Shabangu.

Starting an NPO at the tender age of 21 was not an easy task. “This was our first project and we made a lot of mistakes and hit a lot of icebergs,” explains Shabangu. “We continually used the values taught to us by Columba to keep us going. We persevered, focussed on our goal and kept going until we succeeded. Columba supported us from beginning to end. They were an anchor for me and the team, and we thank them for their support,” he continues.

“When we look at what Mandla has achieved at such a young age, we are inspired to increase our efforts to reach more young people and to unlock their potential,” says Hackland. “#Being21 is a living example of the power of Columba’s approach. Practical experiences of leadership through the initiatives young people lead at school, and in cases like Mandla, even after they leave school, helps them to develop a range of skills that stand them in good stead for work and life after school. Our programme isn’t about charity or handouts – it’s about giving young people the tools to change their own lives.” she concludes.

For more information about #Being21 contact Mandla at: or 084 668 1940.
For more information about Columba Leadership ( contact Tracy Hackland at: or 011 440 5790.


Founded in 2009, our mission is to build a national movement of ethical leaders for youth employment and enterprise, unlocking the future growth potential of South Africa and building a more equal society that we all want to live in.

We develop the character of young leaders in schools using ethical values. Supported by their educators and principal, they form teams with school friends and run action learning projects to fix challenges they face in their schools and communities. They all learn important skills like critical thinking, collaboration, communication and resilience, and introduce the spirit of enterprise into schools.

Young leaders become role models of active citizens and make a big contribution to improving discipline and learning in their schools. We train educators, cluster schools and align with education department processes so that schools maintain the impact after we have gone.


Nadia Nel

081 439 3912