It was a symbolic moment for internationally acclaimed educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker when he was awarded an honorary doctorate at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) yesterday.
Passionate about Africa and its leadership development, Swaniker – who was inspired by Nelson Mandela to help produce leaders of the iconic statesman’s stature – co-founded the African Leadership Academy, African Leadership Network and, ultimately, the African Leadership University.
“Today is truly symbolic for me because it is remarkable how things come full circle. An idea inspired by Nelson Mandela, which has grown into a network of universities with leadership development at their core, with a chancellor—Graca Machel—who is Nelson Mandela’s widow, and now, today I am receiving an honorary doctorate from a university named after the great leader himself,” he said.
Ghanaian Swaniker, Zimbabwe-born philanthropic entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa and South African former Public Service and Administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi were the University’s honorary doctorate recipients, lauded for their immense contribution to leadership, entrepreneurship and social and economic transformation.
In his acceptance speech yesterday morning, Swaniker told how he had come from humble beginnings in Ghana, before his family moved to the Gambia in a bid to escape political instability, only to find themselves in greater political strife.
“Such experiences – at an early age – showed me how Africa’s leaders were sadly holding back the progress of the continent and that unless we could develop better leaders, the continent would never fully realize its potential,” he said.
“I find today particularly symbolic because the single greatest influence during those formative years of my life was Nelson Mandela. Madiba’s example showed me how just one person could change an entire nation, and indeed the entire world. I remember thinking—all Africa needs are a few more good leaders like Nelson Mandela.
“I thought to myself—do we just sit back and hope more leaders like Madiba appear by chance? Or could we do something practical to actually develop such leaders in a systematic way?
“And that is what gave me the inspiration – 14 years ago – to start the African Leadership Academy, African Leadership Network, and ultimately African Leadership University – three institutions that collectively will groom 3-million leaders for Africa over the next 50 years.”
Swaniker’s sentiments are in line with the vision of the University – which will later this year officially relaunch as Nelson Mandela University – to produce the calibre of leaders needed to lead the country, continent and world into a highly uncertain future. This was captured in NMMU Vice-Chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz’s opening remarks at the first of the Port Elizabeth campuses’ graduation sessions on Tuesday.
Swaniker said the honorary doctorate was a challenge and encouragement for him and his team to do more.
He rounded off by thanking the University for awarding him a title that many expect the founder and president of high-profile university, which has been dubbed ‘the Harvard of Africa’ by the media, to hold.
“You see, when I go into meetings … people automatically assume I have a PhD or I am a former professor. I can see the disappointment in their eyes when I say ‘actually I’m just Fred Swaniker’. So now, thanks to you, when people call me ‘Dr Swaniker’, it will actually be an accurate title and will give people the comfort that a ‘Dr’ is actually in charge of this university with such lofty ambitions,” he quipped.
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Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
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