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South African motivational speaker urges community to “Keep Hope Alive”

Sydney Kenig
Dr. David Molapo gives a talk about how to have a positive outlook on life at the Keeping Hope Alive event at Old Main at The University of Arizona in Tucson AZ on Monday February. 11, 2019. David Molapo is the founder of the I CAN foundation in South Africa.

David Molapo, a motivational speaker and founder and director of the I Can Foundation in South Africa, spoke to a crowd about how to maintain the determination to positively change the world during a presentation in Old Main on Monday, Feb. 11.

The talk, called “Keep Hope Alive, Even in Challenging Times,” was organized by the University of Arizona Presidential Events Department.

Molapo has been giving talks like this one for many years and has been especially focused on inspiring younger generations to have hope and stand up against injustice.

“Ninety percent of my life right now is focused on the next generation. I believe as leaders, that’s where we mess up. Instead of leaving a legacy, we leave a vacancy, because we hoard everything,” Molapo said. “This is an opportunity for us to pass the baton, so that this next generation can do a better job than we’ve done.” 

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According to Molapo, education became his passion, but it was also only one of a few jobs that was allowed for a person of color in South Africa during Apartheid, which included a police-person, educator, general worker or a cleaner. 

“Because of my parents, I actually became passionate about pursuing education for the simple reason that I could influence people,” Molapo said. “That is how I chose education. I came to the United States because of education. I got a scholarship because of my educational excellence.”

In 1990, Nelson Mandela, the anti-Apartheid leader who would become president of South Africa, was released from prison. This led Molapo to return to South Africa, where he struggled to find a job, so he created his own job as a management consultant and motivational speaker.

According to Molapo, when he returned to South Africa, he met Mandela and personally learned from him. He has now dedicated much of his life to spreading Mandela’s messages throughout the world, especially to younger people.

“I was privileged to serve, and even today the Mandela Foundation and I Can Foundation have worked together. So there are principles I have learned firsthand from the man,” Molapo said. “So, I talk about those principles and the leadership lessons, and I apply it, first of all, to my life and then encourage the young generation of what it means to be a servant leader using the life of Nelson Mandela.”

The talk also featured a performance of jazz and gospel music by the South African duo Bongi and Collin Damans. They performed two jazz songs and two gospel songs in various languages with many themes, such as love, justice and rising up. 

Judy Elkin, a tourist visiting from New York, said she found encouragement and solace in the talk and especially the music in a time that she considers the be deeply politically troubling. 

“So many of the things he touched on are currently right on the top of the list for me … ” Elkin said. “I loved the music. I think music is really a factor in keeping going.”

According to Molapo, the “Keep Hope Alive” talk was not the only place he went during his time in Arizona. He also visited the Nogales, Mexico, border with UA Title IX Director Ronald Wilson and the Southwest Folklife Alliance.

Molapo said what he saw at the border reminded him of his experiences in Apartheid. He made it clear he came out of it aware of the issue and he wanted to share about the border crisis in Africa in the future.

“The similarities are incredible. It took me back to Apartheid, South Africa. If there is one issue I want to see UA shouting about back in South Africa, it would be the issue on the border,” Malapo said.

Stephanie Bermudez, who partners with SFA in producing a youth entrepreneural program out of recently created Voz Frontera, a youth arts program, met Molapo, Bongi and Collins when they visited Nogales at the Castro House with other community leaders. 

According to Bermudez, she is excited to see how the newfound relationship between the I Can Foundation and the SFA will develop.

“They’re very collaborative in South Africa, and what they saw in Nogales yesterday, I am really excited to see how we might be able to bring all of it together to make an impact,” Bermudez said.” 

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Molapo said he always wants people to feel empowered when they exit the doors. He hopes that he gives them courage to be selfless like he believes Mandela was.

“Don’t leave this earth with stuff that you have. Die empty, as Nelson Mandela did. Give of yourself. Isn’t that what life is all about?” Molapo asked.  “We focus sometimes on success, which is all about us, but I hope at the end of the session, people will move from success to significance. Adding value to the life of people. I can. You can. Together we can.” 

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