Lessons from Prison

How education can free the mind

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela

These words of Nelson Mandela speak to the deep conviction of a man, who no matter what his circumstances, advocated education as the most fundamental basis for all human action. He understood its power as a gateway to opportunity, equality, progress and enquiry.


This is why a collaborative project between False Bay College and the Robben Island Museum, SA Coventry University (United Kingdom), North West University (South Africa), Elderberry EB (Sweden) and The Creative Stores (Belgium) is focused on the iconic leader and the values most associated with his legacy.

The Mandela27 Cultural Programme (www.mandela27.eu) is a project linking the resources and skills of its EU and South African participants to the important historic and cultural events at the time of Mandela’s imprisonment as well as the events preceding South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

False Bay College are exceptionally proud to be an instrumental agent in the delivery of its key outcomes. The first of these included the launch of the Mandela Cell Model on Robben Island on 16 September 2014.
The model representation of Mandela’s cell which can be replicated using the dimensions available on the website (www.mandela27.eu), is a powerful symbol through which participants can engage on themes such as triumph over adversity or the liberation of the mind through education.

Attending the launch of the event on Robben Island were Robben Island Museum representatives, a delegation from False Bay College, including members of the Student Representative Council and False Bay College staff, together with struggle veterans and Rivonia trialists, Dr Ahmed Kathrada and Professor Denis Goldberg with Andrew Mlangeni on a video link.

False Bay College student, Lerato Nabiva, describes the event experience: “On 16 September 2014 I had the opportunity to meet the surviving Rivonia Trialists when a replica of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island was launched. The theme of the event was the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and suffering.

Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and Mlangeni (via video link) emphasised the importance of education. They shared their stories of how they educated themselves. Kathrada in fact obtained two degrees during his imprisonment.
The interaction with the veterans was life-changing and the stories were emotional – describing what they ate, wore and the punishments meted out. Attending the function was a great experience, and I thank False Bay College for this.”

For Deputy Principal Education and Training at False Bay College, Karin Hendricks, the value of projects like these lie in the values and information they impart, particularly through the lens of others’ life experience.
Says Hendricks: “Education does not only come from books, we view our students holistically and opportunities such as the Mandela27 project contribute to the development of the individual so that they may participate and make a positive contribution to society.”

We want our youth to learn about the history of apartheid, and to engage with the challenges that were faced by the generation of Mandela. In doing so, they need to be able to link these historical challenges to the current challenges that are facing young people today, and find within themselves appropriate ways of dealing with these.”

The fact that the political prisoners constructed exercise books from the lining of cement bags reflects how even the biggest obstacles can be overcome when the right will and motivation is in place. Today’s students face a complex set of challenges, including resource limitations, lack of access and other critical socio economic factors.

False Bay College Student Support and Development Manager, Jacqui Layman, says: “The lesson about education is so inspiring. I think of how we can learn from these and implement them within the college. The value of Peer Education in the example from Robben Island where prisoners with higher qualifications encouraged and assisted their fellow inmates to study, shows how there were no bounds OR excuses when it came to obtaining an education. What wonderful lessons of our students to hear and to pass on.”

The Mandela Cell display is a full scale model constructed by the Westlake Campus Technical Team of Bruce Davidson, Peter Williams, Godfrey Samuels and Fred Louw.

The display was taken to the Khayelitsha Campus (Mew Way) on 14 October and Mitchells Plain on October the 16th. On both occasions surviving Rivonia Trialists Professor Denis Goldberg and Mr Mkalipi spoke to the students about their years in prison and the sacrifices made.

Professor Goldberg, who saw his wife only twice in the 20 years of his imprisonment, described his motivation for joining the struggle. “We did it for our children and our children’s children. This was a non-racial struggle for a non-racial society”

Mr Mkalipi: spoke about the importance of literacy education in prison and how educated prisoners were able to provide tuition to fellow inmates. They made exercise books out of the lining of cement bags.
Mr Mkalipi said: “The generation that defeated apartheid we encourage you to get an education and to continue to learn.”

The display will be heading to the Fish Hoek, Muizenberg and Westlake campuses as well as the Khayelitsha Museum during the course of 2015.
Other aspects of the Mandela 27 Project include a website with interactive digital maps tracking events across South Africa and Europe; 3-D visual depiction of Robben Island, an online game entitled, The Serious Game.


Cassie Kruger (FBC Principal), Nomatshayina Mfeketho (Robben Island Museum), Karin Hendricks (FBC Deputy Principal), Mr Mkalipi (Rivonia Trialist), Mrs Mkalipi, Prof Goldberg (Rivonia Trialist), Andrea Dondolo (Khayelitsha Cultural Society)