Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu
Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu (Courtesy of the Embassy of South Africa)

Home to iconic freedom rights fighters Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa continues to be a place of beauty and great strength that is often overshadowed by race relations and social disparity plaguing the country.

In a message of peace and awareness — and to build a larger bridge of support between Africans and African-Americans — Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu, the 19th U.S. ambassador to South Africa, stressed the importance of education and togetherness.

“When I think about the race relations going on in South Africa, I immediately think of Nelson Mandela, who said that ‘people are taught to hate, so if somebody can be taught to hate, they can also be taught to love,’” Mahlangu said. “A lot of things are happening around us that may seem out of our control, but I think a great equalizer is education.

“In starting with our own people bridging the gap between Africans and African-Americans lies in the question of education and the question of culture,” Mahlangu said. “Education is a tool that can help us to resolve the challenges of the world, that why its foundation is very important, if you are educated it puts you on the international standard…The world does not become very small for you, it opens the roads for you to travel in many directions and it gives you the opportunities to link up with the broader society of the world and build up your mental capacity to understand how people live and do things and most importantly, you become able to engage with your peers with the world. With education, you are a free man or a free woman.”

As a member of the Constitutional Assembly, the body that drafted the post-apartheid Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Mahlangu said that growing up in a place that gave his family little to no rights motivated him to get involved in public policy and education.

“We were under a system that did not even allow us to go to school,” he said. “If we were allowed, we were told what to learn and the only important thing was to learn the language of other people and to write just a little, which could never bear many skills. Since 1994, we’ve changed the curriculum and I am excited about the university programs that the embassy is currently working where American college students will get the chance to study at places like the University of KwaZulu-Natal.”

With the embassy’s involvement in education, community forums and university events, the former leader of the South African Parliament’s delegation to the Pan-African Parliament said these items fall in line with the legacy and mission of Mandela, who the institution honored on Dec. 5, the anniversary of Mandela’s death in 2013.

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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