Thoughts. Words. Action.

Nelson Mandela on Children and Education

The passing of Nelson Mandela, also referred to as ‘Tata’ (father), ‘Madiba’ (the name of his clan), or ‘Rolihlahla’ (his birth name, whose colloquial meaning is ‘troublemaker’) has become a global event, as it should.  He was a man who decided to stand for something much larger than himself, and simply did not waver from it.  He understood what he represented, and did his best to act in a manner consistent with that ideal.

The actions that demonstrated Mandela’s uncompromising stances for his belief are numerous, including:

  • Mandela asked most of the black and white officials of the previous government to stay and help him run the country when he became the first democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994, after having been placed in 3 different prisons for 27 years by the same government officials.
  • When elected president, Mandela let former South African president F. W. de Klerk, who became Deputy President, to reside in the presidential palace, while he situated himself in an alternate location.
  • Mandela wore South African rugby team captain Francois Pienaar’s number 6 green jersey during the 1995 championship hosted, and won by South Africa, sending a stronger unification message than any speech would have, to South Africa, and the world.

This global figure that towered above his contemporaries, and will be an example for future generations also held a deep belief that the future of any country, the world, and humanity is only secured through our actions and behavior towards children, and the education of our children.

Here are some of his relevant quotes about children, which reflect his thinking and which we would be well advised to reflect in our thoughts and actions.

 “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

“We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.”

“Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”

“Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.”

“Our love for children is undiminished. Their innocence and energy, their happiness and welfare must be protected and treasured. It is their laughter that I yearned for while in prison.”

Mr. Mandela, like all great men, was a man of words and actions in equal measure.  He did not just speak about children being our future.  After becoming president, he started the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in 1995, to which he continued to donate 1/3 of his presidential salary. In addition, through the Nelson Mandela Foundation, his spirit carries forward in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.

On the education front, he left some equally thoughtful words for us.  It is worthwhile to know that Mandela was the first child in his family to attend school, and Nelson was the English name given to him by his teacher, which was a custom at that time in South Africa.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“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 farm workers 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.”

To drive his education ideology, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation was set up in 2005 in partnership with the Rhodes fund, and it has since disbursed 200 scholarships to qualified post-graduate students of African countries.

Children must be protected, guided and nurtured.  In places where these most innocent members of society are caught in the vicious cycles of poverty, malnutrition, and lack of education, we are obligated to do what we can to help them break the cycle.  Even if we do not have the means or the stature of the Mandelas of the world, we can still do something.  In the most needful parts of the world, we can find honest and selfless organizations that are doing this work.  Then we can support them, talk about them, and write about them.

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