Today is Nelson Mandela Day! Read more about the former South African leader’s impact on education and politics

Posted 7 months ago

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Nelson Madela, former president of South Africa

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The South African activist and former president Nelson Mandela, helped bring an end to apartheid and has been a globally recognized figure for the advocacy of human rights. He was a leader of both peaceful protests and resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime.

Mandela was the first in his family to receive a formal education, completing his primary studies at a local missionary school. He attended a Methodist secondary school where he participated in both boxing and track.

In 1939, Mandela began his higher-education studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the prestigious University of Fort Hare in South Africa, the only Western-style higher learning institute. He became involved in the Student Representative Council and was later expelled for joining a student protest against university policies.

After learning a marriage had been arranged for him, Mandela fled to Johannesburg in 1941 where he worked as a watchman and law clerk while completing his bachelor’s degree. He studied law at the University of Witwaterstand, where he was involved in the movement against racial discrimination.

In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), now the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he worked with fellow party members to establish its youth league, the ANCYL, and to open the first black legal practice in South Africa, providing affordable and often free advice to South Africans who could otherwise not afford it. In 1952, he became deputy national president of ANC, advocating nonviolent resistence to apartheid-South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremecy and racial segregation.

In 1961, Mandela was arrested for treason and arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. In 1964, he along with several other leaders of ANC, were sentenced to life in prison.

When Mandela was jailed in Robben Island prison, he continued to practice law behind bars, giving legal advice to both prisoners and staff. Robben Island became known as the ‘Nelson Mandela University’, it was a cruel prison but Mandela managed to turn it into a place of learning and education.

Mandela saw education as part of the key to winning the struggle against apartheid.

In 1990, South African president, F.W. de Klerk ordered the release of Mandela. After his release, Mandela led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to aprtheid and the establishment of a multiracial government.

In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and one year later, the ANC won South Africa’s first free election, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.

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