The Nelson Mandela Legacy Lecture host by SAERA
The South African Education Research Association (SAERA) annually hosts a feature lecture the considers some of the inspirations arising out of Nelson Mandela – his endurance, his presence his writings and his being as a South African and global icon – and what these inspirations would mean for education in South Africa and beyond. Over the years of SAERA’s existence, distinguished scholars, including Prof Crain Soudien, Prof Jonathan Jansen, Prof Pumla Madikizela Gobodo, Prof Catherine Odora Hoppers, Prof Ihron Rensburg, Dr Marie Elena Torrie, Prof Puleng Segalo, Prof Relebohile Moletsane and Prof Pam Christie, had presented this annual calendar event of SAERA.
The lecture chooses a compelling speaker to address the following questions: What does Nelson Mandela mean for the great task of education? What might one take away from a study of his writing, speeches and actions? Appropriated often as he is behind the cause of education, there is not, as yet, in seeking an immediate answer to the question, a serious corpus of writing from which one can extract what one might call a Mandela approach to education.
Most uses of Mandela in education are invocational. One frequently-cited example is the comment he makes in Long Walk to Freedom that “(e)ducation is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
Open to deconstruction as quotes such as these might be, particularly his statement about ‘what we make out of what we have’, there is nothing in the quite substantial collection of what he himself has written or in the growing literature around him on education. This lecture discusses how Mr Mandela’s legacy might be drawn on for having an educational discussion.
We ask the speaker to consider what would make Mandela educational as opposed to simply or just inspirational? What would make an engagement with him one from which one can progress or move from one position to another which is better? How, to put it more starkly, does one make Mandela a catalyst for the surfacing of contradiction in one’s and in our general thinking rather than the tranquilising balm for which he is used? How does one draw on him to incite contradiction, to stimulate conflict, and to locate him as a site of provocation for thinking, thinking about oneself, thinking about self-in-the-world? How, against the cult of piety being constructed around him, does one rescue him for the purpose of education? How does one say the name Mandela and in it find the stepping-off points for questions about the things that matter in our lives, individually, in the solidarities which we make and in our relationship with the wider universe?