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Children still struggle to get good educations, but some follow in Mandela's footsteps.
Ngxekana has had help along the way. His parents have encouraged him to attend a better school at the edge of Mthatha, the nearest big town. He is aware that he is more fortunate than many other young people his age, and that has fueled his future ambitions.
“I am going to study law,” he said. "We need to take the law to the people. There’s a gap with many people who are not aware of their rights.”
Mandela himself was a lawyer, and as a young man he ran a law firm in Johannesburg with anti-apartheid leader Oliver Tambo. “There is a bit of inspiration from Nelson Mandela,” Ngxekana admitted. But he is also inspired by the South African constitution, written in the early 1990s — “one of the best constitutions in the world,” he said — and by the dream of ending the continuing inequities in his country.
Today, Mandela’s charitable foundation supports several education programs, including the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, based at the University of Fort Hare — which Mandela attended when it was the top school for black Africans.
The institute organizes a series of leadership programs, including a recent weekend camp held at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu, attended by students from 21 local schools.
“We teach learners how writing is important, how reading is important,” said Xolela Kenene, a literature assistant at the camp. “In rural areas, there are no libraries. We are trying to make these learners love reading and writing.”
Yamkela Loliwe, 14, and Akhona Dlotshe, 15, are eighth grade students from Mqanduli, a nearby village, who were selected to take part in the camp because they are “active, engaged learners,” as Kenene explained.
At the camp they studied poetry for the first time, learning about rhyming schemes and alliteration, and were working on their own books of poetry, a chance to express their feelings about growing up in the Eastern Cape.
“I’m writing about my life and future, and about nature,” said Akhona. “I am feeling good because I’m getting more knowledge.”
Yamkela was working on a two-part poem about AIDS, in English and the Xhosa language.
Upon returning to their village school after the weekend, both girls planned to share with classmates what they had learned. “We will tell them everything that we did here,” Yamkela said. “It’s building our own future.”
A bright and confident young woman, Yamkela said she felt awed by the chance to take part in a workshop in the place where Mandela grew up. She said why Mandela inspires her to keep learning: “He fought for us.”
|Rural poverty||Road from Qunu|