I was sent a news article containing a speech that Nelson Mandela gave at Bongalethu Primary, almost 20 years ago to the day. Below are a few excerpts:

In the early 1990’s people in search of employment and a better life for themselves and their children left their rural regions for the cities. Crowded squatter camps mushroomed overnight with no infrastructure and no provision for the education of their children. Concerned parents took the initiative and started informal schools run by untrained teachers in whatever kind of accommodation was at hand. One of these schools, Bongolethu Community School, was chosen as part of President Nelson Mandela’s project to renovate schools in need of urgent attention. Woolworths provided the funding for this renovation and President Nelson Mandela was invited to visit and address the school and the community on 9 May 1996.

“Our children must appreciate that now they do not have to compete with their white counterparts in this country who had the advantage for decades. The world has become very small. What happens in Chittagong in India is immediately of relevance to this country. What happens in Iceland affects us in Cape Town. Our children are going to represent us in international goals. They are going to compete with people in countries which have a tradition of learning, a culture of learning and therefore it should be their duty to ensure that they equip themselves with the highest qualifications. It is in this regard that teachers and other people who belong to a group that has been advantaged, that has had the advantage of going to school, to tertiary institutions, that has acquired knowledge, skills, expertise, we want them to remain in this country and help us to ensure that our children also get the opportunity to get properly qualified.

What is wanted now is men and women who can rise above the ethnic mold in which they have been involved so deeply, to think in terms of South Africa as a whole. Such men and women, no matter what the colour of their skin is, will always take the position of leadership.

It has been said a person who does what all others can do is an ordinary person. that is not what we are wanting. A person who does what only a few others can do is an exceptional person. We want such persons. But a person who does what no other person has ever done, that is a genius. That is a national asset. And that is what we want all of you to strive for, to be national assets, to be geniuses. If you can do that, our country will be more than a miracle and it will become a Mecca for the entire world. I thank you.”

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