A Tribute to the Education Legacy of Mandela - Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development

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A year-end message from the NMI

Dear Friend and Family of the Nelson Mandela Institute,

As we collectively let go of the physical presence of Tata Madiba, my mind turns to the extended family and friends of the Nelson Mandela Institute, who work so hard to turn around this system of education.

I am not different from millions whose lives have been fundamentally inspired and changed by his journey.  As a youngster who had little understanding of how the world worked, I bumped into the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, and felt myself ever drawn in.  A math-and-science girl was drawn into African history.  Drawn into the ideas and possibilities of standing up for a world that made more sense.  Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Samora Machel, Lillian Ngoyi, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Eduardo Mondlane, Albertina Sisulu, Amina Cachalia, Neville Alexander, Amilcar Cabral, Fanon, Ellen Khuzwayo, Chris Hani.  I began to understand that history had not stopped.  That we recreate our world (or change it) every day.  That the wealthier nations are productive of poverty in other nations.  That this could be challenged, turned around.

While I was blessed with strong formal education, it was only when I found myself as a youngster within the fray of the trade union movement in the build up to 1994, that I started to truly relate to the power of ideas…  A profoundly intellectual time, as workers and citizens focused on the detail of recreating a nation.

It is through this struggle that I came to understand the world, and to know that I cannot understand myself outside of the communities we participate in and create.  Motho ke motho ka batho.  A person is a person because of other people.

People ask me.  When did you decided to stay in South Africa?  I never really did.  I was drawn into a river.  I have felt a sense of gravity ever since.  To be part of the massive effort of ploughing new soil.


While the period has turned many of us inward, it also turns us outward — away from the personal to the greater beauty and power of the collectives we build, the nations we grow, the world that at times like this seems smaller.

On Tuesday, the extended family of the Nelson Mandela Institute gathered at Qunu — teachers, learners, parents and community leaders.  With a strong sense of Mandela as a son of their most local soil, they paid tribute to his life.  Teachers reclaimed his legacy to help them strengthen their relationship with their own legacies.  Young people spoke strong, beautifully, with wisdom.  We saw the new Mandela’s emerging.  They took my breath away.

May collectives of teachers, parents and children come together across the world – committed to the day to day work of creating humanising schools for our children.  If ever there was a tribute to Tata Madiba, it will be a system of public education that serves the best expression of all of our children…


It is not an easy time in the world, or in this country.  Inequality is eating our earth.  Too many children are being beaten up by the way we have organised our world.  Our system of schooling continues to undermine the humanity of many of our children.  Our global economies are organised to throw people out, more than to bring people in.  Our sense of what is means to be human is increasingly swallowed by the dragon of consumerism.  Flash is diverting our attention from another journey – a journey that serves to build a more sustainable and just world.

Ayi Kwei Armah wrote a book called ‘the beautiful ones are not yet born.’  I think he did not get it quite right.  The beautiful ones are born every day.  We have not yet created a world, however, in which their beauty can best grow…

Our work is cut out for us…

But as we close down for a much needed break, let us celebrate the goodness that surrounds us.  If we do not love the world and people around us, we are not cut out to transform it forward.  May we reconnect with our love for our children – our collective children.  May we remember what it is to laugh deeply.   May we commit to re-seeing each other again – and perhaps, see each other for the first time.

We are so proud of the teachers, parents, community leaders, children and others who work with us every day.  It is an honour to walk this walk with all of you.  This year we have all worked extremely hard.  We have run a long hard race.  May you have a loving, restful time with your families and loved ones.  May we all come back renewed for the year in front of us.

Tsamaya ka kgotso Madiba.  Tsamaya ka kgotso.

Kimberley Porteus

Executive Director, Nelson Mandela Institute