Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is a well educated man. He is a great believer in education and life-long learning. It was at the Wesleyan mission school that he first attended that he was given the name Nelson.

This formal schooling was not the only Mandela education though. As the son of a tribal councilor he learned the art of listening which helped in his role as a leader and peacemaker throughout his life.

In terms of formal schooling when Mandela’s father died when Nelson was 9, he was taken under the guardianship of the regent Jongintaba. In the usual Thembu custom Nelson Mandela school meant initiation at 16 and attendance at Clarkebury Boarding School. Instead of taking the usual three years to complete his Junior Certification Nelson was through in 2 years.

From there he went (in 1937) to the usual college for Thembu royalty – Healdtown in Fort Beaufort. At the Fort Hare University Nelson Mandela became involved in the Student Representative Council. Following a boycott there he was told to leave and the Nelson Mandela education took a change of direction.

Rather than follow through on his guardians wish for an arranged marriage the young Nelson took off to Johannesburg. He completed his Bachelor of Arts studies there through the University of South Africa through correspondence.

Mandela then went on to study law at the University of Witswatersrand. Nelson Mandela university life was interrupted by his involvement in the ANC. He and friend Oliver Tambo opened the first black legal practice in South Africa, giving affordable and often free advice to black people who could otherwise not afford it. Mandela continued his legal education while he was in prison too.

When he was put into Robben Island prison Mandela often gave legal advice to both prisoners and prison staff. His love and belief in education was appreciated, and Robben Island became known as the ‘Nelson Mandela University’. It was a cruel and tough life in prison, but Mandela somehow managed to turn it into a place of learning.

Mandela saw education as part of the key to winning the struggle against apartheid, while at the same time he had spoken out that education had nothing to do with a person being ‘able’ to vote or think.

Two quick quotes from Mandela on education give an indication of what he believes:

  • “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
  • “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”


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