Madiba’s Passion for Education

Access and Inclusion March 31, 2014

Nelson Mandela, the first President of democratic South Africa, was detained in prison for twenty-seven years, one of the world’s longest-detained political prisoners. His release from prison began the most remarkable political transition any country has ever known. His leadership of the African National Congress set in place a unique process of forgiveness and reconciliation, allowing former antagonists to pursue the transition to a fully fledged democracy. 

Madiba, the clan name by which he is popularly known), will always be known as a leader whose personal sacrifice and commitment to the struggle against apartheid set an example to the world. He is the leader who chose reconciliation over revenge. He is the leader whose moral courage defined our era of liberation, so much so that our history books are already defining our freedom as the “Age of Mandela”. 

Madiba led without bitterness. In President Clinton’s words, “He taught us the freedom of forgiveness and the power of humility”. His was a great, selfless leadership. President Mandela said the following of his commitment to the struggle against apartheid and for freedom: “We all did so not for any personal gain or material rewards. We took this stand because these were goals we saw as worthy and virtuous.” He was born in and of the struggle. As he once famously proclaimed, “The struggle is my life”. He was the product of the liberation movement, tempered by a culture of criticism and dialogue and hardened by the responsibilities of the movement and the accountability of leadership.

He is an inspiration to us all. His qualities as a person inspire us. And they inspire our children. 

Madiba has long been passionate about education, but it was really only after he stepped down as President that he put most of his energy into children and education through his three main foundations, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, his Children’s Foundation and his Nelson Mandela Institute. Many will remember his twisting of corporate arms to build schools in rural areas. His aim was to get businessmen and women involved with communities so that they would get to know the children and teachers who would benefit from their donations. The schools were all in the public sector and they received no additional special attention. 

From 2001 his attention moved from building schools to building character through teaching children. The Foundation published Emerging Voices in 2004, a pioneering study of rural education from the perspective and experience of the rural poor. Out of this study emerged the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, based in the Eastern Cape at Fort Hare University and which now undertakes innovative research and teacher development. 

His commitment to education teaches us his most important belief. Politics is about people, not power.