Hear from our Mandela Scholars
Read the inspirational stories from some of our Mandela Scholars.
Alistair Clark (Social Development MA, 2009-10)
"I grew up in a rural community in South Africa, where opportunities were limited. I never imagined that I would one day get the opportunity to study at the same University as Thabo Mbeki, Festus Mogae and other African leaders.
"When I received the email informing me that I had been awarded the Mandela Scholarship, I first felt disbelief and then fear. The experience proved to be a turning point in my life. The exposure, the people whom I met. Sussex broadened my horizons immensely and made me realize that I had a world of new opportunities that I could pursue.
"When I returned to South Africa, I started working for the International Institute for Democracy an Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an intergovernmental organisation mandated to support democracy worldwide. I was transferred to IDEA’s Ethiopia office, where I now work, serving as the Programme Officer responsible for Planning for the organisation’s Africa and West Asia Regional Programme, which covers 69 different countries.
"Without the Mandela Scholarship, I would not have been aware of organisations such as IDEA or the type of work that they do, and I definitely would not have had the confidence to apply."
Grace Mganga (Poverty and Development MA, 2013-14)
"I always knew I wanted to make a positive contribution to my country, Malawi. While growing up in the 1990s I witnessed frequent loss of life as many of my extended family succumbed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a result, I grew up with my extended family, surrounded by cousins and close friends who had been orphaned.
"It was evident to me that the spread of the disease and the ultimate burden of care left to the few remaining relatives was caused by broken down systems within the Government. Much of the problem was attributed to poor policy planning and high levels of corruption and negligence.
"This inspired me to pursue a career as a Policy Advisor in Government. A key part of this journey was being awarded the Mandela Scholarship to come and study for a Poverty and Development MA at Sussex, for which I gained a distinction.
"Since then, I have worked with the Malawi Parliament as a Chief Social Policy Advisor to Members of Parliament. I have championed a campaign to increase and track national budgetary allocation to social protection programmes that support widows and child-headed households. Special emphasis is placed on ensuring these programmes keep children in school so that one day they can be self-sustained.
"I always had the passion and the zeal to change my country, but without the pre-requisite education and training, I would have fallen short in attaining my dream. Today, I hold a position of immense influence in shaping policy and practice for Malawi. I am able to do all this thanks to the Mandela Scholarship."
Her Excellency Robina Marks (Gender and Development MA, 1998-99)
"Close to two decades ago, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Mandela Scholarship to study a Gender and Development MA at the University of Sussex. I was aware of the international standing of the University, well known for being one of the highest-ranking universities in the UK, but also a university that was known for encouraging critical thinking and opening up new pathways into knowledge production to contribute to a world that is humane, compassionate and responsive to the major challenges facing the world.
"At the time, studying at the relatively mature age of 35 seemed like a daunting prospect. The father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, had just completed his first term in office, and as a nation, we were coming to terms with what it would require to translate the values of our non-sexist, non-racial democracy constitution into a better life for all, and not just for some as had been the case during apartheid. For many of us who had fought against apartheid and for the release of Nelson Mandela as well as other political prisoners, our task was clear: a post-apartheid South Africa required us to complete our education, which in my case was interrupted by anti-apartheid work, years spent on the run from the security police and eventual imprisonment. So when I received the news that I was awarded a Mandela Scholarship, it felt like a destiny fulfilled!
"What followed was an intense year of study, and the first year of “normal” in my life. Finally, I had the relative luxury of being able to focus on working through some of the issues that we had to face in a post-apartheid South Africa. In addition, I experienced the warmth and compassion of several people who made my stay so much easier. The friendship and compassion of the late Dr Richard Attenborough, then Chancellor of the university, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith, both of whom seemed to believe that the best way to deal with a student who undoubtedly suffered from PTSD after spending a lifetime in the anti-apartheid movement, was to try and teach her to play croquet! They did not succeed!
"My year at Sussex became a turning point in my life - it was there that I was able to reflect on the life of service that I wanted to live. A life guided by the values that Nelson Mandela taught us: patriotism, loyalty, integrity and passion. That led me to pursue a career in the Foreign Service. These are values that I’ve carried with me in all of the countries where I have represented South Africa as an ambassador: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives, as well as at the United Nations and the African Union where I had the opportunity to represent South Africa.
"All of this started with me applying for and being awarded a Mandela scholarship at Sussex. Whilst there I learned to live by the motto of the university: “Vacate et scire”. That year of “Be still and know” became a transformative time in my life and set me on the path of public service that I still live today.
"I am proud to be an alumna of this wonderful institution and I am grateful to the Mandela Scholarship Fund for their sterling work over the years to build a solid core of public and private sector individuals who continue to live and work according to the values of Nelson Mandela. May you grow from strength to strength."
Joel Moketla Mamabolo (International Education MA, 1997-98)
"My name is Joel Moketla Mamabolo and I work as senior lecturer in the Department of Education Studies at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. In 1996, I was awarded a Mandela Scholarship, which enabled me to read for an International Education MA at the University of Sussex.
"I felt honoured to receive the Mandela Scholarship at a time when my country was still grappling with the vestiges of the apartheid system. The Scholarship helped me in many ways. Firstly, it gave me my first opportunity to travel abroad on a plane, which was tremendous. Secondly, I was admitted to study a University that is known to have contributed immensely towards the education of exiled South Africans, including the likes of Thabo Mbeki and Essop Pahad.
"I am proud to be associated with the University of Sussex. I want to heartily thank the Scholarship Fund for the support they provided both to me and to other young South Africans over the years, helping them to further their education. I sincerely hope that this is maintained in years to come. I also want to encourage the present cohort of Mandela Scholars to study hard and make our country proud."
Kayaletu Tshiki (International Law LLM, 2013-14)
"I grew up in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. I was raised by a single mother who had no formal education. She was a domestic worker and my father was employed as a security guard. Both my parents were low-income earners. My school days were very challenging and we lived in a two-room shack on a squatter camp. I was constantly being chased out of school for not having paid the school fees or not having the full uniform.
"There were no opportunities for students in our community but I was determined to get an education. The Mandela Scholarship was a huge help for me and being awarded it meant I was able to pursue my dreams of studying for a masters degree in law at the University of Sussex, which I gained with distinction. I now direct my own law firm, Tshiki & Associates Attorneys. I am also a lecturer at the Nelson Mandela School of Law, University of Fort Hare. In 2017, I was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow in recognition of my leadership skills in various fields of social justice and I was invited to attend a six-week leadership program in the USA.
"Thank you to the Mandela Scholarship funders, volunteers, partners, and those who work tirelessly to see to it that young Africans like myself, coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, receive this kind of support."
Khodani Mulaudzi (Climate Change & Development MA, 2014-15)
"I was born in a rural village in Limpopo Venda known as Tshifulanani and my parents were both teachers. My dad was the first in his family to go to school. My grandmother was a natural scientist although she had never set foot in a school. Despite this she knew everything about anything and she inspired my love for the environment and natural sciences. In high school, I chose to follow the science stream in order to pursue a career in the natural sciences and went to one of the top performing government schools in my region. During my high school years, I struggled with mathematics and science; I started to believe that maybe I was just not cut out for it. In 2007, I finished school with merit but my maths and science grades were so low that I was rejected from my first choice program at the University of Cape Town. Fortunately, I was accepted to study Environmental Health at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
"It was during my first year at university that I first realised I was capable of understanding and performing well in the sciences. I took physics and chemistry modules and by the end of the first term, I was doing very well. I believe the improvement in my performance was because for the first time in my life I had access to a chemistry lab and an entire library full of books. Growing up in a rural area, I thought my schooling conditions were normal, even at my top performing high school. I did not know that there was another world where textbooks were not shared between two to three students, or that chemistry could be so easy to understand when you could see the litmus colour change in real life outside the shared textbook.
"My first year in university helped me to understand why so many students in rural areas do not make it to higher education; even the best schools in my region were underequipped and understaffed. Often 70 students shared one classroom. After I graduated with my first diploma, I realised that I could go further with my education and set my sights higher.
"When I was awarded the Mandela Scholarship in 2014, I had doubts about my ability to succeed in one of the best universities in the world. When I first arrived in the UK, the trustees and mentors of the Mandela Scholarship Fund quickly dispelled those fears with their amazing support and encouragement. For me the scholarship was more than being sponsored to study in the UK, the scholarship opened my eyes to a completely new world of possibilities and boosted my confidence. Today when I’m faced with challenges, I think if I managed to graduate with a masters in Climate Change and Development from Sussex despite being a rural girl that barely passed science in high school then I can overcome anything!
"My newfound confidence has helped me to navigate a career as an environmentalist working with not for profit organisations like the wildlife charity WWF as well as for public sector corporations. I am also co-owner of an environmental health and safety consulting company, which has carried out work for national departments and metropolitan municipalities in South Africa.
"Being awarded the Mandela Scholarship at the age of 24 was like being told, “We believe in you and we will invest in your dreams”. It confirmed that my dreams are valid and as a result every day I strive to do better, for myself and for the Africa that I love so much."
Maia Marie (Globalisation, Ethnicity & Culture MA, 2005-6)
"I love the Mandela Scholarship Fund and am so grateful to it. My year at Sussex was so important to me. It connected me with an international network of friends, people with whom I shared ideas and visions. It made me realise that Sussex attracts special people. My studies there helped me shape my way of seeing and understanding the world and opened up important work opportunities for me.
"After graduating, I spent a few years working in the NGO development world, and my degree really equipped me with the ideas I needed to navigate it. However, eventually, I decided that it wasn't right for me and I moved into education work. Now I run a little retreat space with my partner, where we provide a place of rest and listening for others. I feel fulfilled to be doing the work that is most close to my heart.
"That year at Sussex was precious for me. It was an important part of my journey to where I am now. I want to express my gratitude to the Mandela Scholarship Fund and I'm very happy to hear that the Mandela Scholarship is still going."
Matsobane Sexwale (Psychology BA, 1990-93)
My three years at Sussex were among the best of my life. I found friendship amongst a cohort united in their thirst for knowledge and dreams of applying this knowledge to make a positive difference in the world. The beautiful campus and the strong friendships that I built helped me to feel like I fitted in better than I had ever done anywhere before. I now often joke that I behaved like a teenager for the first time at 19!
I was born in Lesotho where my parents were in exile as members of the African National Congress (ANC). My first ten years had a wonderful sense of normality and I have fond memories of my childhood. This changed in December 1982, when the South African Army raided the homes of the ANC cadres in Maseru, Lesotho. 42 people were killed in the early hours of that morning; among them were 12 Basotho citizens. We survived thanks to my father’s Umkhonto we Sizwe military training and the daily drills he put us through. My sister was severely injured and most of our possessions were destroyed by fire. Overnight I had to come to terms with being a stateless refugee and all sense of normality faded.
We had to leave Lesotho so we moved to Swaziland, Norway and the Netherlands. My parents divorced when I was a young teenager – this was a difficult time for me. I attended no less than six schools in three different education systems. I found some subjects too easy and struggled with others where I lacked the foundation given the differences in the schooling, language and teaching approaches.
I still recall the feeling of immense joy that I experienced when I found out that I had been awarded a Mandela Scholarship. It still makes me cry and smile simultaneously! I continue to be grateful that I was given the opportunity to study at a top university. I recollect with great fondness the wonderful reception I received at Sussex. Whilst I always felt motivated to do my best, I was acutely aware that being a Mandela Scholar was a once in a lifetime opportunity that would set me apart from others and that would allow me to realise my dreams. Fortunately, the degree and school I selected, the lecturers and the teaching approach suited me, and the analytical skills that I learned at Sussex have served me well during the last 24 years.
I started my career as a Human Resources generalist then worked in management consulting for 18 years. In 1999, I completed a masters degree in psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, and in 2005 I set up my own consulting practice, which at its peak employed over 20 people. This year, I changed my career focus to work full-time in a language school that teaches African languages to children and adults. The school incorporates storytelling, music, games and craft, all with strong cultural references. Without the Mandela Scholarship Fund and without my Sussex education, I might never have achieved all that I have in my personal life or my career. Even though South Africa is now free, I believe that awards like the Mandela Scholarship still play a vital role in allowing more South Africans to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to continue to grow our country, improve our economy and to influence society in a positive way.
Gugu Mthombeni (International Education MA, 2002-3)
"I spent the first eleven years of my life living in a mud house with no electricity after my family had their farm confiscated by white farmers. At that time, education was severely restricted for black people in South Africa and my local school only provided multi-grade teaching, where children of all ages were grouped together for classes. Because of this, and the fact that the nearest secondary school was 19km away, my parents decided to relocate to Pietermaritzburg.
"My father was a police officer and my mother was a teacher. They bought a two-bedroom house in Imbali, Pietermaritzburg but I went to live with my aunt in Esigodini, Pietermaritzburg. The nearest secondary school was 6km away. I had to walk there each morning and take a bus back each afternoon. This was during the 1970s, a time when black people still had no electricity or running water in the townships and homelands. I used to go to visit my mother and father once a month.
"I finished school in 1981 and was accepted to study at Appelsbosch College of Education, 75km away. We had to wash with cold water all the year round for three years. When I was in my first year, my father had to resign as a police officer. Having refused to work as a spy for the apartheid regime, he had encountered death threats from his white colleagues.
"I started teaching at Boscombe Farm School in 1986. The school was 100km away from home and had multi-grade teaching. In 1988, I transferred to Windermere Primary School near Durban where I was promoted to the post of Head Teacher. In 1997, the farm owner closed down the school claiming that he wanted to use the land. Pupils and teachers were moved to Umhloti Primary School, which had historically been an Indian school. In 1999, I lost my job. Although this was post-apartheid, black people were still thought incapable of teaching or managing, even in Indian schools.
"In June 2002, I received the incredible news that I had been awarded a Mandela Scholarship. I remember it well; I was just stepping out of my car at Mount Edgecombe shopping centre when I received the phone call. I asked the lady caller three times whether she was sure about what she was saying! After the conversation had finished, I started crying. It took me about twenty minutes to calm down. It all seemed totally miraculous and I was overjoyed to think that I was going to get to travel to and study in the UK.
"The Mandela scholarship gave me the opportunity to study international education. At Sussex, I also learned how to think outside the box about South Africa and its education system, and my course gave me a better understanding of my country.
"I now work for the Department of Education as a Deputy Chief Education Specialist (DCES), which is the equivalent to a school inspector. I manage the Tongaat Teacher Development (TD) Centre, an institution where teachers come for seminars, workshops and training. I also identify and visit disadvantaged schools that need support.
"When I returned to South Africa after finishing my studies at Sussex, I was still a displaced Head Teacher, but I was more confident about tackling the challenges that I faced before I left. Not everybody of a similar background gets the opportunity I had to study abroad and my life has been enriched by it. I returned with renewed confidence and as a result, I was promoted to a position where I could use my knowledge and skill set to the full. What is more, I have instilled the importance of education in my children; something that I consider is my greatest success."