Crystal's story

Education – the great engine

Crystal facing the camera. Portrait image

 Crystal Orderson


This year, Sussex will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mandela Scholarship. The Scholarship has had a profound impact on the lives and careers of its recipients during the last half-century. Crystal Orderson was a Mandela Scholar from 2004-2005. This is her story.

Crystal grew up in Mitchells' Plain, a township located on the outskirts of Cape Town. She attended high school in the turbulent early 1990s, a time when the apartheid police often disrupted education by closing schools down. Change was afoot, however, by the time she started her university studies in 1994. That was the year that saw the end of white minority rule and the late Nelson Mandela became president of a free and democratic South Africa.

Crystal says:

“I was the first in the family to go on to higher education, a precious opportunity that not only inspired my siblings but my community. It was always my dream to study abroad and to complete a postgraduate degree. The Mandela Scholarship provided the means for me to fulfil these dreams.”

Crystal describes her time at Sussex as one of the most special and treasured times in her life, and she maintains that being awarded a Mandela Scholarship is something she will never take for granted.

She continues:

“From day one, I knew that Sussex was the place for me. It felt like a long-lost family member that I had found. The University not only allowed me to engage with academics from across the globe who really pushed my thinking, it provided an environment in which I could form friendships with other South Africans who had been forced to leave our homeland because of apartheid.

“I met students from all over the world and I listened to stories about the ANC in exile. I learned about the politics of the liberation movement in the UK, as well as local and global politics. Of course, the social life that the University and Brighton offered also deserves a mention! Most importantly though, Sussex gave me an opportunity to learn, engage and then come back to South Africa and contribute to building a non-racial country.”

When she did return to South Africa, Crystal rejoined the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the country’s and Africa's biggest public broadcaster, as a senior political journalist. Then, after 18 months, she was appointed as the Bureau Chief for the SABC in West Africa and moved to Senegal. She says:

“I firmly believe that hard work and my postgraduate studies gave me the edge against a competitive field of applicants for the job. Spending close to three years working and travelling was a dream come true, as was being able to connect with Sussex alumni from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, and Tanzania; it all added to my understanding of Africa.”

Twenty years on, Crystal feels her time at Sussex is still having an influence on her life and career:

“My Sussex experience shifted my thinking and my commitment to ensuring that South Africa becomes a country for all. Of course, it’s not been an easy process switching from minority to majority rule. How do we build a country for all despite years of inequality? How does a liberation movement like the African National Congress (ANC) bring about change in an attempt to build a non-racial, democratic country? How do we deal with the massive inequality gap between the haves and the have-nots? These are the questions and issues I think about.”

Education 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 mine worker 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.”NELSON MANDELA

In September 2023, we will welcome two new Mandela Scholars to Sussex. You can support them and future Mandela Scholars by making a donation today.