Mandela Fellow from S. Africa attends classes, talks of future

By University Communications
July 28, 2016
Mogau Seshoene sits outside July 19 at Jarvis Hall Science Wing.

Photo: Mogau Seshoene sits outside July 19 at Jarvis Hall Science Wing.

 On a typical work day, Mogau Seshoene is up early, leaving the apartment she shares with her cousin in Pretoria, South Africa, and heading to a gym for a 6 a.m. workout.

After a shower, coffee and light breakfast, it’s off to work at the Lazy Makoti, a cooking school she started in 2014 in Pretoria, a city of about 750,000 people and the capital of South Africa. The bright-eyed, energetic Seshoene spends the day overseeing cooking classes for her clients or taping the second season of her made-for-TV cooking show, which debuts on a new network in February.

Tuesday, July 19, was not a typical day for Seshoene, except for her early morning routine. By 8 a.m., she was exiting the front doors of a very different building — Red Cedar residence hall at University of Wisconsin-Stout — and walking through downtown Menomonie, almost 9,000 miles from home.

It was the start of day 31 in the life of a Mandela Fellow.

Wearing jeans, a Lazy Makoti T-shirt and a brown hat, she walked from north to south campus, heading to Jarvis Hall Science Wing. With the temperature already near 80 and high humidity, she said the weather was just as warm, if not warmer, than in Pretoria.

Seshoene listens to Professor John Dzissah.The weather made it feel like home, but Seshoene unmistakably was in a foreign land — in the United States for the first time — and admittedly having the experience of her short lifetime. She was in her fifth of six weeks at UW-Stout with 24 other sub-Saharan Africans from President Obama’s Mandela Fellowship, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

Seshoene was seeing and hearing much that was new to her and much that left an impression, not the least of which was the friendliness of the people on campus and around Menomonie.

“Everyone has gone over and above being nice. They are so, so nice and welcoming,” she said.

Strangers have invited her and other Fellows to go fishing, to spend a day at a farm and to dinner in their homes in and around Menomonie. “I did not expect that of Americans. Being here has helped me understand Americans a lot more.”

July 19, like many other days for the UW-Stout Mandela Fellows, was filled with classroom lectures. The group also has taken business tours, including General Mills in the Twin Cities, ConAgra Foods in Menomonie and the WalMart distribution center near Menomonie as part of their entrepreneurship-focused experience. A total of 1,000 Mandela Fellows are at universities around the U.S. The Fellows at UW-Stout are from 19 countries.

Seshoene sat in the front row during the first lecture of the day, on quality improvement by UW-Stout Professor John Dzissah, a native of Ghana and chair of the operations and management department. As a businesswoman, she took notes on his discussion of what quality means to consumers, how to add value to a product or service, the importance of packaging and other topics.

After two classes, the second on milk quality, Seshoene and three other Fellows ate lunch at the Memorial Student Center.

Seshoene listens to a lecture.

Big dreams for business, Africa

When her classes were over for the day, and before she returned to Red Cedar Hall for the evening to have dinner with her roommates from Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria, Seshoene talked about her business and her U.S. experiences.

Seshoene, a chef, has several goals for the Lazy Makoti, a reference to a bride who can’t cook. One goal is to “cultivate a love for South African food” in a country that has become highly westernized. Many people in South Africa don’t know how to cook traditional foods, so she’s teaching them.

Seshoene talks with another Mandela Fellow.Another goal is to empower rural black women 50 and older to learn cooking skills to help them become more independent. Seshoene, who employs six people, plans to train these women to open their own cooking schools, in effect a “skill transfer” from her to them.

“Millions of these women had no chance to go to school because they were black,” Seshoene said, adding that although Apartheid is gone in South Africa the impact of the deep racial divide it created will be felt for many years to come.

In early June, prior to the start of the Mandela Fellowship, Seshoene, 27, was recognized by a major international magazine, Forbes. She was named one of Forbes’ top 30 entrepreneurs under the age of 30 in Africa and the only woman from South Africa on the list. Her business also sells Lazy Makoti kitchen accessories made in South Africa.

Seshoene is impressed with Americans’ loyalty to their country, from flying the ubiquitous U.S. flag to the Fourth of July celebrations to the willingness to serve and help one another in time of need. She would like to see that kind of patriotism in South Africa.

“I would like South Africa to appreciate and preserve its culture,” she said.

“The entire Mandela Fellowship experience, living with other Africans, has opened my mind a lot more to what Africa is. I’ve stopped thinking like a South African and more like an African,” she said, realizing that her business model could be of value in any African country.

Seshoene gets lunch at the student center.

Seshoene has a degree in consumer science from the University of Pretoria. She grew up with a sister in the village of Polokwane. Her father is a pastor in a Baptist church and her mother an elementary school teacher.

When she returns to South Africa in early August, stopping first with other Fellows in Washington for a summit with President Obama, she may have some answers to the big questions she has been asking herself while walking through Menomonie and during her visit to the U.S.

“What kind of legacy and what kind of Africa do I want 20 years from now? What kind of role do I want to play? What is my vision for myself, my country and ultimately the world?” she said. “All of the Mandela Fellows are doing such amazing things. It makes me hopeful for the continent.”



Second: Seshoene listens while UW-Stout Professor John Dzissah talks about quality improvement.

Third: Seshoene listens during a lecture.

Fourth: Seshoene talks with another Mandela Fellow.

Bottom: Seshoene gets lunch at the Memorial Student Center.