Universities worldwide pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

Following his death at the age of 95 last Thursday, tributes from universities around the world have poured in for Nelson Mandela. South Africa’s great leader, Nobel peace prize laureate and global icon embodied humanity and humility, tolerance and forgiveness – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched during his presidency has been studied the world over as a model for post-conflict societies.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – father, husband, teacher, political prisoner, freedom fighter, humanitarian, revered political leader and former president – was also a champion of education.

Affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba, one of his most famous quotes was: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Expelled for political activism from the University of Fort Hare, Mandela went on to study law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg – one of very few black students at the historically white institution at the time.

Since then he has been awarded scores of honorary degrees, doctorates and awards from universities across South Africa, Africa and the world.

There are a slew of buildings and centres named after him locally and abroad including the Nelson R Mandela School of Law at the University of Fort Hare and the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, which was launched by Mandela in 2007, issued a statement on Saturday saying that of all his achievements “the one he spoke most proudly about to the end of his life was the completion of his studies.

“When asked about his most important message for young people, he said – they must study hard. When asked about his message for leaders around the world, he said simply – they must focus on education.”

Further afield in Africa, there are Nelson Mandela African Institutes of Science and Technology – graduate universities aimed at producing Africa-focused research and researchers – in Tanzania and Nigeria, with another planned for Burkina Faso.

One of Mandela’s enduring legacies will be the Mandela Rhodes Scholarships, a flagship programme of the Nelson Mandela Foundation that has sent more than 200 outstanding, ethical African students for postgraduate studies abroad.

In July this year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the foundation, pledges of R106 million (US$11 million) were received to support the scholarship, adding to its R350 million endowment and ensuring the programme’s continuation long into the future.

Writing in the New Scientist Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development and director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School, said Mandela’s “struggle for political freedom was closely associated with the desire to develop scientific and technological capacity.

“Apartheid did not just separate races. Probably the most destructive of its legacies was to restrict non-whites from getting technical training. What is more, this exclusion was not unique to South Africa but part of a wider political culture that defined Africa as a region with low levels of technological expertise.

“Mandela understood that exclusion from education was a major limiting factor to development.”

Universities pay tribute

By Friday, messages of tribute were being released by universities around the globe.

Oxford University Vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton said Mandela had been an inspiration wherever he went. “We remember with affection and gratitude his association with this university.” Oxford was the first of eight British universities to confer honorary degrees on Mandela.

“We were honoured to welcome him to Oxford to open the lecture theatre at the Saïd Business School that bears his name, and continue to take pride in the work of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarships programme for African students,” said Hamilton.

“Like people all over the world we mourn the passing of an extraordinary man, whose life and example has the power to teach us all,” Hamilton told University World News.

Cornell University joined the world in mourning Mandela’s passing, said the University President Professor David Skorton. “His legacy is one of committed leadership in the most difficult of circumstances, unwavering and courageous opposition to injustice, and determination to forge progress and reconciliation out of the harsh conflicts of the past.”

Professor John Ddumba-Ssentamu, vice-chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda told University World News that his institution had no cause to mourn Mandela, a “fresh shoot that sprang forth from the banks of the Mbashe River, tracing the lineage of the Thembu royal family.

“Madiba stayed true to the blood that coursed through his veins; neither turning his back on unfairness nor shying away from intimidation, as he pursued justice for the majority that called South Africa home,” said Ddumba-Ssentamu.

“Never one to be dissuaded, your freedom once regained, it was back to the people’s cause again. While the world watched your re-emergence, expecting anger for the 27-year stranglehold, and bitterness, rage and vengeance for the injustice suffered, you struck gold again.

“With wisdom as old as the hills, all that oozed out of the wounds from the oppressors' whip was an open greeting in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.”

Professor Oga Steve Abah, university advancement director at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, told University World News: “His life of struggle and commitment to freedom, his unparalleled capacity to forgive, and the uncharacteristic defiance of the prevalent practice of African leaders to appropriate power, set him apart from everyone.”

“Mandela continues to defy any simple categorisation even in death.” The university – the largest in Nigeria and second largest in Africa – awarded Mandela an honorary degree in 1985.

What South African vice-chancellors said

There were events to mark Mandela’s life and death at universities across South Africa on Friday.

Among the university awards Mandela received over the years was an honorary doctorate from the University of the Free State, which expressed “profound sadness” at his passing.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector, said: “He was our most important export to the world and we all walked tall anywhere on the planet because everyone, from peasants to presidents, knew Nelson Mandela, the man who emerged from almost three decades in prison to set his captors free.

“He has now passed the baton to every one of us and we have the solemn responsibility to live his core commitments of social justice and human reconciliation. We could not have asked for a better mentor. Go in peace, Madiba; you taught us well. We will in turn teach our children that a giant once walked among us.”

Rhodes University Vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat in a statement: “Rarely in history do we observe the extent and kind of grief that we see for Tatomkhulu Mandela. We knew that he would eventually leave us, but Madiba’s passing still fills us with great sorrow.”

University of Cape Town Vice-chancellor Professor Max Price said that together with everyone in South Africa – and across the world – the university was experiencing overwhelming sadness and loss.

“Madiba taught us all about what it means to be humane in an often inhumane world. His courage and tenacity in fighting for democracy during his earlier years, the triumph of his spirit during his long incarceration, his astute and dignified leadership, and his wise counsel have all exemplified a way of being in the world that we should revere and emulate.”

Professor Russel Botman, rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, said the victory over apartheid belonged to all who helped to end the system, but the greatest, most inspiring figure of the anti-apartheid struggle was undoubtedly Nelson Mandela.

“His example and the deprivations he endured gave people courage in the darkest hours. He stood for democracy and justice, even when it was to his own detriment,” said Botman, adding that the best tribute to Mandela’s legacy was to protect and uphold the constitution.

“Our country would be a far better place if the Constitution were applied more extensively," said Botman, particularly referring to the socio-economic provisions in the bill of human rights “that may help us restore our broken humanity in South Africa”.

“Mandela’s commitment to education makes him a role model for all lecturers and students, teachers and learners,” Botman added.

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, said Mandela had indeed changed the world. “He has left a legacy that will benefit and inspire generations to come. He set an example for the rest of the world and created history on his journey through life.”

Professor Brian O'Connell, vice-chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, or UWC, recalled Mandela’s speech after receiving an honorary doctorate from the university in November 1990 – the first honorary doctorate from any South African university.

Mandela said: “The challenges are enormous and the tasks ahead may appear daunting. But the future of our country and our people beckons us all to great deeds. Let us move forward with vision, with courage and determination as we educate for empowerment.”

O'Connell said Mandela developed a close relationship with UWC, and in 1994 appointed former vice-chancellor, the late Professor Jakes Gerwel, director-general in the presidency. Several members in Mandela’s cabinet were also from UWC.

The future

South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela would be accorded a state funeral, and would be laid to rest on 15 December in Qunu, the village of his birth in the Eastern Cape province. Sunday 8 December was declared a national day of prayer and reflection.

In his article Calestous Juma said Mandela would be remembered as one of the greatest leaders of all time. “But one of the best ways to live up to his loftiest aspirations for Africa is to give future generations science and technology education that gives them the skills to expand their economic opportunity.”