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South Africa

Nelson Mandela Institute seeks new solutions to education and development challenges

UNICEF Image: South Africa, Nelson Mandela Institute, Graca Machel
© UNICEF video
Graça Machel (centre), child rights advocate and wife of Nelson Mandela, celebrates during the launch of the institute that bears her husband's name.

By Sarah Crowe

EAST LONDON, South Africa, 6 August 2007 – Like this country itself, the launch of the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development on 3 August was full of contrasts and surprises. Behind the grand British colonial façade of the East London City Hall, a brightly dressed Xhosa choir performed traditional songs as dignitaries filed through to the banquet.

But it was the brave words of the young children that left their mark. Around the room, they sat side-by-side with VIPS like Minister of Education Naledi Pandor, Premier of the Eastern Cape Nosimo Balindlela, child rights advocate Graça Machel and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte – as well as a former beauty queen, businessmen and entertainers.

One by one, the children took the microphone and gave testimony about how many of them still live in poverty without a decent education. An 11-year-old boy spoke of how, for most of his life, he never had shoes and walked to school barefoot. “Some of my friends do not read well,” he added. “My friends walk a long distance to school.”

UNICEF Image: South Africa, Nelson Mandela Institute,
© UNICEF video
UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Institute are partnering to help youths break free from HIV infection, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and violence.

Overcoming apartheid’s legacy

It was the prospect of ending such hardships that led to former President Mandela’s dream. “He has always had this dream and today that dream has come into reality,” said Ms. Balindlela.

Based at the University of Fort Hare, the institute that bears Mr. Mandela’s name focuses on community development and education as deeply interrelated concerns. Rather than separating education from other social and economic issues, the institute promotes trans-disciplinary solutions to complex challenges.

Apartheid’s legacy – more than 40 years of severe discrimination and enforced inferior education of the black majority – has left many township schools on the edge, under-funded and under-resourced. Stuck between old ways, bad habits and new temptations, many of South Africa’s young people have fallen into a cycle of HIV infection, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and violence.

The Nelson Mandela Institute, now a UNICEF partner, has its work cut out for it in helping youth break free from that cycle.

UNICEF Image: South Africa, Nelson Mandela Institute
© UNICEF video
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Institute.

Much more to be done

“Many people are not educated, and because we don’t have security at our school, people come to our school selling and smoking drugs. And that affects those who don’t do drugs and who want to be something,” said Sakhile Hans, 18, a student at Moses Mabida High School.

Among educators and others, there is a feeling that much more needs to be done to address such problems.

“There is a universal understanding that we need to pay more attention to the plight of young people,” said Mr. Belafonte. “Perhaps the most critical area is in education. A child without education is not only a helpless human being but eventually could develop into a hostile human being.

“And if society does not pay more attention to the children at large, then I think we will have a future that is going to continue to perpetuate chaos,” he added.

It is hoped that South Africa’s ability to pull together powerful partnerships, combined with the quality of its leaders and scholars, will take the country’s youth forward. “Together with its partners – Schools for Africa, the Nelson Mandela Institute and government – UNICEF is working to transform the lives of South African children and give them an education of real quality,” said UNICEF South Africa Education Officer Nadi Albino.





6 August 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on the Nelson Mandela Institute in East London.
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