06 August 2021 | Story Dr Cindé Greyling | Photo André Damons
Nombulelo Shange - Making a positive impact with writing

Nombulelo Shange is a lecturer in Sociology in the University of the Free State (UFS) Department of Sociology and one of our top opinion article writers – regularly quoted by the media. She is also currently a PhD candidate in Anthropology, studying a Cape Town community called the ‘mountain doctors’. 

What is the best thing about your job?

I love my students and have missed them so much during this precarious time. 

What is the best and worst decision you have ever made?

Although I loved teaching English in South Korea, I was young and became extremely homesick, so I ended up coming back prematurely – leaving me unemployed for three years. Later, I was accepted by the University of St Andrews in Scotland for my PhD, but in the end, I sadly had to turn that opportunity down because of finances. I regret not pushing harder in both cases. But the thing with mistakes and bad decisions is that they come together to shape your current experiences. I might not be where I am today had I not made those mistakes. The best decision I ever made was leaving the NGO space and returning to academia in 2018; academia is my calling. I love teaching, writing, and theorising.

What does the word woman mean to you?

I think to be a woman means many different things. But at its core, it should mean inclusion and individual and collective acceptance and expression of our differences. 

Which woman inspires you, and why?

There are so many, and they all inspire me in different ways. My mothers, Prof Pearl Sithole, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Beyonce, Patricia Hill Collins, Sisonke Msimang, Makoma Lekalakala, Nonhle Mbuthuma, and Tarana Burke. My friends, my little niece, and all the black women, living and gone – who gave up their lives so that, one day, a girl like me can enjoy certain liberties. 

What advice would you give to the 15-year-old you?

Make mistakes, it’s okay, it won’t be the end of the world. You will learn from them, but just focus on being a kid. Stop hiding in the library behind books; you learn more from life by exploring and living it, not only reading about it. Being an introvert is OK, but don’t let it make you fear people. Being an uncool becomes the new cool later, so you’ll be fine, you’ll be great!

What makes you a woman of quality, impact, and care?

My impact has been in my written work, both within academia and the mainstream media. I research, write, and theorise on a variety of topics, mainly decoloniality, indigenous knowledge, and feminism. I see my place as an emerging scholar and leader in this space not just at the UFS, but also nationally, and eventually internationally.


I cannot live without … a fully stocked kitchen; love cooking and baking … hate cleaning up afterwards.
My secret weapon is … kindness; I’ve had so many uncertain or tense situations go well, just because I treated people with kindness before even knowing they would be the ones I need/get help from.
I always have … my cellphone; it makes going through life so much easier, especially as a woman. It is more than just a phone, it is my panic button when I am feeling unsafe, my navigator when I am lost and scared, my bank – and most importantly – my way to connect with loved ones.
I will never … knowingly allow certain privileges I enjoy, being used against others who are more socially disenfranchised than I am.
I hope … to see my family and pet bunny Dash soon, I miss them very much.

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