South Africans named Queen’s Young Leaders


Launched in 2014, the Queen’s Young Leaders programme honours young people across the Commonwealth who are contributing to the improvement of their societies. Two South Africans were among those who received awards this year at Buckingham Palace.

Queens young leaders 2016 Two South Africans, Lethabo Ashleigh Letube and Jessica Dewhurst, join the 2016 Queen’s Young Leaders on 23 June 2016 at Buckingham Palace. (Image: Queen’s Young Leaders)

Priya Pitamber

Imagine flying to London to receive an award from Queen Elizabeth II. That is what happened to two young South African women, who were each awarded at Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Young Leaders 2016. Lethabo Ashleigh Letube and Jessica Dewhurst were honoured for the work they do.

The ceremony took place on 23 June 2016 where leadership and good work were recognised. The awards are aimed at young people between the ages of 18 to 29 across the Commonwealth who are making a change for the better in their communities.

In attendance were, among others, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, former English soccer star David Beckham, and former British prime minister John Major.

“You have already been an inspiration to so many; but I hope this award will inspire you to go out and achieve even greater things in the future, empowered by the network of leaders you now sit amongst,” said Prince Harry to the honourees at the ceremony.

Beckham said he was thrilled “to be here once again to help Her Majesty the Queen in congratulating a new group of inspiring young leaders”. He was looking forward to following the progress of the class of 2016. “I have no doubt we will be seeing a lot of this year’s exceptional group of young people as they continue to make lasting change in their communities.”

“Winners of this prestigious award will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK during which they will collect their award from Her Majesty the Queen,” reads the website. “With this support, award winners will be expected to continue and develop the amazing work they are already doing in their communities.”

Representing South Africa

Letube grew up in the Langa township in Cape Town and works with Project Playground, which provides a safe space for children to go after school. It offers engaging activities and meals.

She is also the chairwoman of a violence and crime prevention programme called Great Corner Lugna Gatna, according to the Queen’s Young Leaders website. Through the programme, young people are able to attend classes that empower them to turn their lives around from drug and alcohol abuse.

“I always try to lead by example and motivate young people in the right way,” said Letube. “My motto is ‘you’re never a failure up until you give up.'”

Watch Letube speak about the palace and the training received in the UK:

Being selected as a Queen’s Young Leader was a dream come true, said 24-year-old Dewhurst. She described the Queen as “incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about all of her young leaders and the work we do”.

The Queen, she said, was genuinely interested and passionate about her and her work. “I could hardly believe that at 90 she was still so engaged and excited to support us in building sustainable and transformational organisations across the Commonwealth, but she most definitely was.”

At 15, Dewhurst began volunteering at NGO camps to support refugees, children living with HIV/Aids and victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. By the age of 18, she had become the youth co-ordinator for the Edmund Rice Network for South Africa, training young people to start community-based projects.

In 2013, she started the Social Justice and Advocacy Desk for South Central Africa, which offers skills courses to help young people find jobs, offers training and mentorships, and knowledge about human rights.

“Being a Queen’s Young Leader means a lifelong commitment to my fellow person,” Dewhurst said. “And the promise that as a global force we will continue to work tirelessly to make the world a better place.”

It was also about empowering young leaders to actively be the change makers in their society, while inspiring others to be the very same, she said. “Through this programme I have had the opportunity to learn so much, expand my skill set and bring that knowledge and experience into our context of South Central Africa.”

See this interview with Dewhurst:

Her focus now is on the continued expansion of the organisation to specialise and offer the best service possible to beneficiaries.


South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu supports the Queen’s Young Leaders programme.

“I believe young people are especially empowered and impassioned to change our world for the better,” he said.

“The Queen’s Young Leaders programme celebrates, rewards and supports young people throughout the Commonwealth. I urge young South Africans and their peers across the Commonwealth to apply for the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. Let’s discover inspirational young people together.”

Applications for the 2017 Queen’s Young Leaders are now open. Click here for more information.