Nelson Mandela’s passion for education

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Nelson Mandela’s passion for education


Written by Cyril Francis - Lecturer - School of Commerce


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a true son of the African soil and a courageous and passionate leader of a new democratic South Africa. He struggled for equality and justice for all in South Africa, depriving himself of his wonder years of adulthood. He was a firm believer in the philosophy of Ubuntu – “we are who we are through other people” (Van Breda, 2018).

This was the driving force throughout his life and he highlighted the importance of education as a key driver for political, economic and social reform and transformation with the following statements:

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” (The Borgen Project, n.d.)

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” (The Borgen Project, n.d.)

Nelson Mandela was never given anything for free. What he achieved in his life was due to hard work, commitment and dedication in an environment that was hostile and unjust. Nothing detracted him from striving to achieve the personal goals and objectives he set for himself, and during his 27 years of incarceration he motivated his fellow comrades to change their prison cells into theatres of lifelong learning.

In the current political, economic, and social order in South Africa, the country is crying for special young people who can drive the agenda of change through constructive and calculated assessments of what is damaging this beautiful nation of South Africa. Young people become catalysts for economic and social change based on a solid foundation of education, development and growth in sectors crucially needed in the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics. Young people need to dream and live out their dreams and not allow others in society to dictate or prescribe to them what to do. Dreams build character as young people pursue them and allow their cognitive ability to form their own opinion.

Pursuing higher education has been a very challenging journey for many South Africans for a number of reasons, and the main two reasons revolve around finance and having the correct entry requirements. One of the ways to correct this imbalance is for students to take their secondary schooling very seriously and to work towards achieving the entry requirement for higher education. Funding is a challenge, but something that could be overcome by obtaining the desired matric results. The government has made billions of rands available to students, but the requirement of graduation within acceptable time periods leaves much to be desired. This negative attitude to success robs many young people of funding opportunities to pursue further studies.

Furthermore, the situation is complicated by students not knowing what they want to study nor which field of industry they would like to enter.

Finding a balancing act is a very challenging issue and therefore each young person in South Africa has a responsibility to dream the “African Dream” and work towards achieving it.

As Madiba said, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” (Future Africa, 2021). As young people and future leaders of this great nation, they owe it to themselves and other young people to have a vision that will completely change the mentality, attitude and self-entitled behaviour of the broader society.



Future Africa. 2021. Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela. [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

The Borgen Project. n.d. Top nine Nelson Mandela quotes about education. [Online] Available from:,are%20always%20a%20formidable%20combination (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Van Breda, A.D. 2018. ‘We are who we are through other people’: the interactional foundation of the resilience of youth leaving care in South Africa. [Online] Available from:  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).


16 Jul 2021