Democracy’s lessons: Up close with a Mandela Fellow

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Zimbabwean journalist Roselyne Sachiti is one of 25 young Africans chosen to be a Mandela Fellow through the Presidential Precinct. Zimbabwean journalist Roselyne Sachiti is one of 25 young Africans chosen to be a Mandela Fellow through the Presidential Precinct.

As features editor for Zimbabwe’s largest daily paper, The Herald, in the capital city of Harare, Roselyne Sachiti doesn’t shy away from tough stories, even if they place her in danger. The 33- year-old journalist has gone undercover to investigate the smuggling of clothes into her country, an episode that found her temporarily locked in a room in a smuggler’s house. She’s snuck across Zimbabwe’s border to report on the dangers facing women on such journeys, spotting evidence of violence and sexual assault along the way.

This summer, Sachiti is in Charlottesville, one of 25 young leaders from African nations who were selected from a pool of thousands of applicants for the Mandela Washington Fellowship through the Presidential Precinct, a nonprofit consortium of the University of Virginia, William & Mary and the three presidential homes, Monticello, Montpelier and Ash Lawn-Highland. The program, in its second year, seeks to support democracy in developing nations.

C-VILLE sat down with Sachiti before she departed to ask what she’s learned on her trip so far and what she hopes to bring home with her.

What’s the most interesting or exciting thing you’ve done on this trip so far?

The visits to historic places like Monticello were interesting. Monticello gave me firsthand experience of Jefferson’s reforms of agriculture, his support of education and the troubling history of slavery.

What has been surprising?

I was surprised that some people in the United States do not have access to clean water and sanitation. I was also surprised by the housing challenges faced by some Americans.

What similarities do you see between Zimbabwe and the U.S.?

Our parliaments are both transparent as the public is allowed to sit in the public gallery to listen to debates. We also broadcast our parliamentary sessions live on national television and have notable women representation in both parliament and senate.

What do you wish Americans knew about your country?

I wish that they knew that Zimbabwe is a peaceful country whose people are educated, hard working and also entrepreneurial. It is the richest country in natural resources per capita in the world with several minerals like gold and platinum in world class quantities. We have good tourist areas like the Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Kariba, Nyanga and Great Zimbabwe.

What issues do you hope to work on when you get home?

The community-assisted agriculture practiced at Bellair Farm, where families pay money at the beginning of the year and come to pick up produce every week is something I will take home. Zimbabwe is an agricultural nation and most farmers will benefit in terms of identifying new markets. I will also work on innovative ways to disseminate information on contraceptives to rural women and others in religious sects like the apostolic faith. I will work on making sure that poor girls who cannot afford sanitary pads have information on how to make and properly use reusable sustainable pads.