The Nelson Mandela Public Lecture: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela and the Role of Higher Education in the African Union Agenda 2063

“This year, as the university celebrates 100years of excellence, Makerere University is holding the annual Nelson Mandela Public Lecture under the theme, “The legacy of Nelson Mandela, & the Role of Higher Education in the African Union Agenda 2063.” at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility found on the Main Campus.”

Those who were fortunate enough to attain higher education in the earlier half of the twentieth century were, in the words of one of Mandela’s clansmen, “people of great books and important papers” and such was the fate of the young Madiba who, after taking his school certificate exams a year earlier, in 1939, joined Fort Hare University.

With an annual intake of about 50 black southern Africans, Mandela’s ambition at that stage had been to acquire the qualifications requisite for one to become a court interpreter and as a result, he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration, and Roman Dutch Law.

A young Nelson Mandela, circa 1939

Tom Lodge’s biography, Mandela: A Critical Life infers from Robert Sobukwe’s later experience that Lord Hailey’s authoritative and liberal work on British colonial policy was a key text in Mandela’s native administration course, taught at that time by Z.K. Matthews, Fort Hare’s first black lecturer. 

The biography then proceeds to observe that there was a contrast between Mandela’s contemporaries and those who attended Fort Hare a few years earlier and later. 

Quoted in extenso, he says; 

“Mandela’s fellow students seemed to have been relatively unaffected by the wider world of politics. Govan Mbeki, who graduated in 1937, attended an institution at which students were animated by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Mbeki himself was introduced to the volumes of the Little Lenin Library by the visiting African–American left-wing sociologist, Max Yergan.

Sobukwe, who joined Fort Hare in 1947, spent nights with his friends reading aloud Eddie Roux’s Time Longer than Rope, a popular history of black South African political protest, as well as subscribing to Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot. In 1953 an ANC-affiliated journal, Fighting Talk reported that Mandela had joined the Congress while at Fort Hare and his conversations with Benson suggested to her that his ‘burgeoning nationalism was stimulated’ there, partly as a consequence of his ‘close’ friendship with Tambo.”

Following his boycott of the Student Representative Council (SRC) elections that occurred in 1940, Mandela was expelled from Fort Hare but this did not mark the end of his pursuit of higher education. After a series of events that affected his personal life, he went to the University of South Africa and studied a BA by correspondence since he had taken up a job to support himself. 

In 1943, Mandela joined the University of Witwatersrand, where he was the only native African student, to study Law. It was during this time that he became an active member of the ANC, where he participated in the processes that led to the creation of its youth league. 

Nelson Mandela (top row second from left) at the University of Witwatersrand 

It is clear at this point that the formative years of Mandela’s political life were greatly influenced not only by the very environment in which he lived but also by his experience with higher education. If not by the literary material he interacted with, then by the people he met or those that taught him. 

At Makerere, the Nelson Mandela Public Lecture is organised annually by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, in collaboration with the South African High Commission. It debuted on the 31st  of August 2017 and was officially launched by the President of the Republic of Uganda. Ms. Zoleka Mandela, a granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, delivered the first inaugural lecture under the Theme: Mandela the Legend: A Message for the Youth

President Museveni with Ms. Zoleka Mandela at the launching of the Inaugural Mandela Public lecture

This year, as the university celebrates 100years of excellence, Makerere University is holding the annual Nelson Mandela Public Lecture under the theme, “The legacy of Nelson Mandela, & the Role of Higher Education in the African Union Agenda 2063.” at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility found on the Main Campus. 

The African Union describes its Agenda 2063 as “Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future.” A strategic framework meant to deliver on its goal of inclusive and sustainable development. In other words, a plan for the future with a strong foundation from the past. 

The objectives set by the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, had been to, among other things, fight Apartheid in South Africa and achieve political independence on the continent both of which intersected with Mandela’s life in various ways. The events of May 1994, when he was sworn in as the President of South Africa after spending close to three decades in prison, were a direct result of this intersection between Mandela’s revolutionary spirit and actions and the greater good manifested by the objectives of the OAU. 

With the attainment of most of the goals, there was a need for African leaders to shift and reprioritize from the old goals of the OAU to new ones meant for “inclusive social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance and peace and security amongst other issues aimed at repositioning Africa to becoming a dominant player in the global arena.” 

At the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU in May 2013 held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, African heads of state signed a declaration to affirm their commitment to support Africa’s new path to attaining inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development. This declaration aimed at realising An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena. Agenda 2063 is the special purpose vehicle that the AU intends to use to achieve this vision within 50 years from the date of its adoption. 

According to the AU, the need to envision a long-term 50-year development trajectory for the continent is important as Africa needs to revise and adapt its development agenda due to ongoing structural transformations. A reduction in the number of conflicts, renewed economic growth, and social progress, the need for people-centered development, gender equality, and youth empowerment, and changing global contexts such as increased globalization and the ICT revolution, the increased unity of Africa which makes it a global power to be reckoned with and capable of rallying support around its common agenda, emerging development, and investment opportunities in areas such as agri-business, infrastructure development, health, and education as well as the value addition in African commodities.

The role of higher education in this context is to skill Africans and empower them in efforts of capacity building as they work towards these new objectives set out by Agenda 2063. This also highlights the importance of support to institutions of higher education such as universities as they take on this role.

Largely benefitting from the stewardship of great leaders such as Mandela, Africa now has the benefit of strategizing for the future and aspiring to become a significant force on an international scale. This is a notable shift from the past where Africa was merely a bystander and a subject of ‘greater’ powers to the Africa that we want.


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