Change the world


Nelson Mandela University is celebrating the sights, sounds, flavours and talent of the continent in recognition of Africa Day on 25 May.

By Chantal Janneker, Senior Director: Communication and Marketing

Nelson Mandela University is celebrating the sights, sounds, flavours and talent of the continent in recognition of Africa Day on 25 May.

With students from across South Africa, southern Africa and the continent, we recognise and honour the diverse cultural heritage of Africa.

The “Africa Day Arts Festival” on Friday 24 May is the centrepiece of our Africa Week, with a special headline performance by The Soil, one of South Africa’s favourite acapella groups.

It will celebrate African art, music and culture in a vibrant and interactive setting with marimba beats, multilingual poetry, a food festival and much more.

Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, on 25 May 1963.

There are close to 1,5 billion people in Africa today, more than double the 700,000 million there were in 1994. The continent also has the youngest population in the world, with more than 400 million young people aged between the ages of 15 to 35. By the year 2030 (only six years away), two out of five young people in the world will be African. The median age is already 19 – the same age as so many of our first-year students.

It is, in the words of Edward Paice, the director of the Africa Research Institute in London, a “youthquake”.

This means that universities, or any institute of higher learning, must be reimagined to meet their needs, nurture their talent, give them wings and enable them to reach for their dreams.

Nelson Mandela University, as a dynamic African university in service of society, embraces this challenge.

What are we here for, if not to give young people the tools to shape a better future, not only for themselves but for their families, their communities, and the country as a whole – to be in service of society?

We also need to ask, however, what kind of Africa will they be living in? And, more importantly, how do we prepare our students for this world?

This youth bulge means that universities must play their part in encouraging student entrepreneurship and boosting youth employment.

It is a bleak fact that the unemployment rate in the Eastern Cape is now the worst in the country.

The Herald recently reported that the expanded unemployment rate in the Eastern Cape stood at a terrifying 49.1% in the first quarter of 2024. Young people, in particular, bear the brunt of this because there simply are not enough jobs for the number of people searching for one.

It is small comfort to know that university graduates are far more likely to secure employment than those without a formal qualification. Even graduates need to tick that elusive “work experience” box when applying for a job.

This is why Nelson Mandela University has embedded a culture of entrepreneurship, and not only in the more obvious fields of commerce and industry. Our Madibaz Youth Entrepreneurship Lab is forging ahead by creating an empowering environment that will enhance future employability.

And, although you will find cutting-edge research in the fields of technology, science and digital transformation at our university, the University is also on a major drive to revitalise the humanities.

Re-centring the curriculum to include indigenous knowledge systems, for far too long neglected in South African higher education circles, is one example. Another is the drive to produce graduates in sync with what it means to have studied at a university named after one of the greatest, most iconic leaders the world has ever seen.

We want them to carry Madiba’s spirit of ubuntu and sense of social justice out into the workplace.

Revitalising the humanities also extends beyond the classroom and into real-world careers.

It means seeing MaXhosa Africa garments by fashion alumni Laduma Ngxokolo on screen in a Hollywood blockbuster like Black Panther, or worn by an international superstar such as Beyoncé.

It also means seeing a copy of the New Yorker magazine with an illustration on the cover by  MA Fine Art graduate Pola Maneli.

And, despite the pre-election polls citing low numbers of youth likely to vote on 29 May, we do not believe South African youth are passive.

Rather, they are a source of talent yearning to make an impact.

So let us flip the script and see the advantages of living on this vibrant continent. For some, the spike in birthrates in Africa is a cause for concern, but we can actually reframe this as an advantage.

Young people are brimming with energy, ideas and creativity.

Having the youngest population in the world means that Africa will supply the labour force globally.

We should not forget that nations with greying or shrinking populations can have their own challenges.

Italy, for example,  is reportedly experimenting with robots to look after the aged. Japan, another country with an older population, is reportedly on the brink of not being able to function because of its falling birth rate.

Despite the real challenges of climate change, the energy transition and migration, UNESCO estimates that Africa’s film and music industries could be worth $20 billion and create 20 million jobs.

We want our students to be part of this.

Higher education in Africa will help to shape the future of this continent because now is the time for its young people to confidently take their place alongside their global peers.

We know that they will change the world.

Contact information
Primarashni Gower
Director: Communication & Marketing
Tel: 0415043057