Address by Nelson Mandela at St. John's School, Johannesburg

November 2003

It is always a special privilege to take part in educational gatherings like these.

It is not everyday that those of us who are not directly involved get the opportunity to experience the life of a school in this manner. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today.

There is no doubt in my mind that the single most important factor for the future of our country is education.

If we want to build the better life for all of which we so often speak and dream, we will have to ensure that we have a highly educated and skilled population.

We cannot be a competitive and winning nation in the modern world without education and training of the highest quality.

In order to successfully tackle the social problems and challenges we face, we have to give education the highest priority.

For our democracy, which we cherish so much, to continue to grow and to be sustained and deepened, education is crucial. An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy.

Our schools are therefore of the most important building blocks in the construction of the future of our nation. It is for that reason that it is always such a particular joy to interact with the members of a school as we do today.

We must congratulate the heads and staff of the College and Schools for the excellent work they are doing. St John’s justifiably has a great reputation. You are widely admired and respected for your dedication and professionalism.

The governing body and the parent community are important parts of the life of a well-functioning school. Too often we see, particularly in the poorer communities of our country, how the staff of a school work as hard as they can but their efforts are of no or little avail because of a lack of parental and community caring for the school. You are an example of just how much that broader participation and caring contribute to the life of a school.

You the learners are the heart of the school. I hope that you appreciate the excellent work of your teachers and other staff. I know that when one is young you often do not understand exactly how much teachers care for us when they put demands on us.

You are fortunate to live in a country that is free and that has opened up many opportunities for its youth. It has not always been like this. We do not want you young people to worry too much about the past; but it is good for you to at least know that there was a time in our history that our country was deeply divided and when not all people had the equal opportunities of today.

As I say, you should not worry and anguish too much over the things that we older people did to one another; what you must concentrate on is to build a society where people respect others, irrespective of social or other differences.

You must learn hard and use the opportunities you have to make of yourself the best-equipped person possible. In that way you will be realising your own potential but at the same time you will help to make of your country a stronger and better one. Communities and nations are made up out of individuals. The more you develop your talents as an individual the more talented will be your community and country.

You must enjoy the opportunities and privileges you have, and make the most of it. You must also know that there are many in our country who do not have these privileges and opportunities, through no fault of their own. Once more, that knowledge should not make you feel guilty in a negative way. It should rather inspire you to work hard so that you can contribute to building a society in which all have opportunities and privileges.

The greatest threat to our future is that of HIV/AIDS. I know that St John’s is playing its part in the fight against this pandemic. Education to raise awareness is a crucial part of that fight. Please continue to do all in your power to make that fight a successful one.

Let me once more thank you for the invitation to be here. Congratulations on your proud achievements and best wishes for your future.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation