MAKWEREKWERE: A derogatory term used by black South Africans to describe other Africans.

Refugees and asylum seekers from conflict-ridden African countries endure hell to reach South Africa, a land of promise, a safe heaven. But have they come so far only to live a nightmare? Or will they build a new dream?

In South Africa, a land filled with Nelson Mandela’s dream of freedom, a courageous and determined refugee from the violence and oppression in Zimbabwe, battles against xenophobic violence, a government system ill-equipped to deal with challenges of immigration, and her own past to start a new life and help other refugees from all of Africa.

Stella Mkilliwane, a director of the Refugee Ministries Centre in Johannesburg, is of the minority Ndebele tribe in Zimbabwe. After being abducted, interrogated and threatened by security agents, she fled to South Africa in 2007.  A family therapist and social worker by training, she played a significant role in humanitarian relief and protection in response to the wave of xenophobic violence against foreigners in South Africa in May 2008, when approximately 100,000 families were displaced.

Every day, against the backdrop of the new democratic post-apartheid South Africa, Stella rises to fight another battle on behalf of refugees. It would be easier to take her asylum papers and try to blend in. Yet she chooses to fight to change the future for the “outsiders” and work toward a more tolerant South Africa.

In 2011 the Women’s Refugee Commission honored Stella for her work at its annual Voices of Courage Luncheon. Here is Stella’s acceptance speech: