By Zukiswa Mqolomba

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the honourable Julius Malema for having graduated with his first degree in communications and African studies from the University of South Africa. Secondly, I’d like to congratulate him for being accepted for his first postgraduate degree, an honours in philosophy.

These are inspiring achievements that should be lauded and celebrated. Very few South Africans have the opportunity to study further, let alone pursue their postgraduate studies.

Malema is now a role model to high school drop-outs and unemployed or unemployable youth who might have given up on their educational goals because of poor matric results. By having gone back to school at the age of 30+, he is making education fashionable among the youth. Malema is leading by example, following the great stalwarts of the liberation movement.

He is reassuring the youth that even though you might not have performed excellently in your matric year, that does not mean you cannot pursue a higher education qualification. What his graduation confirms is that a matric pass does not necessarily reflect one’s intellectual potential and capabilities. A matric pass does not give us a true reflection of what one can and cannot do post-matric.

He is living up to his political convictions: economic freedom in our lifetime. You cannot attain economic freedom in our lifetime without a proper education. Education is the engine of economic freedom in a knowledge-based economy.

I believe that Malema is the living epitome of former and late president Nelson Mandela’s quote in the Long Walk to Freedom:

Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

Malema is a political phoenix rising from the ashes. He was initially condemned and publically ridiculed as a school failure. They thought he was stupid and would never make it in acadaemia. Many of his critics and political detractors cannot believe that after achieving a G in woodwork, among other poor academic achievements, he is finally a graduate. Many thought he was a stupid, militant youth leader with no ability to think or reason and they cannot believe he managed to start his own political party after he was kicked out of the ANC.

They thought he was done as a politician and that his political life was over. Yet again, he made it through. He never remains down-trodden but has a resilient spirit to make it against all odds. He has just proven his critics wrong and has now made it. He is making South Africa proud.

He is a political survivor who always manages to prove his critics wrong. He is a true leader, in my opinion.

I hope other aspiring leaders will follow in his footsteps and liberate themselves through education, expanding the frontiers of knowledge production and transforming our society.

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, senior researcher, policy analyst and scholar activist working for government, and previously the World Bank in Washington DC. She has master’s degrees from the Universities of Cape Town and Sussex. Her ideological inclination is pan-Africanist. She believes in the African renaissance and that her generation of peers can make meaningful strides towards achieving it. She writes in her personal capacity.


  • Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members of The Mandela Rhodes Community. The Mandela Rhodes Community was started by recipients of the scholarship, and is a growing network of young African leaders in different sectors. The Mandela Rhodes Community is comprised of students and professionals from various backgrounds, fields of study and areas of interest. Their commonality is the set of guiding principles instilled through The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship program: education, leadership, reconciliation, and social entrepreneurship. All members of The Mandela Rhodes Community have displayed some form of involvement in each of these domains. The Community has the purpose of mobilising its members and partners to collaborate in establishing a growing network of engaged and active leaders through dialogue and project support [The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship is open to all African students and allows for postgraduate studies at any institution in South Africa. See The Mandela Rhodes Foundation for further details.]


Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members...

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