Musa Mbele is not part of the “born free” generation. Instead he embodies the patient, fighting spirit of the man freed in the year of his birth — Nelson Mandela, whom he gave as a character reference when interviewing for a place at St Stithians College. To understand this you have to understand where Mbele was coming from: a Soweto high school he describes as a place where learners went to sleep, not to learn.
But unlike his fellow learners, Mbele didn’t equate free time with freedom. At 14 he started educating himself on ways to secure a better education, calling companies to ask for scholarships to study at his “dream school”, St Stithians. In 2006, he worked his way into the VIP section of Youth Day celebrations and a conversation with then-education minister Naledi Pandor, saying “Mama, I’ve been looking for you.” It gave him another door to knock on until, eventually, with support from the Mandela Rhodes Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, one finally opened when St Stithians offered him a full scholarship.
The two years that followed were among the toughest and most rewarding of his life, and encouraged him to start the Sandisa Ubuntu Foundation to help high- potential, under-resourced schools to become true centres of learning. In 2010, the foundation adopted Mbele’s old school, Kholwani Primary, as its pilot; it runs the school and raises funds for a school hall, media and arts centre. Mbele has secured R20000 from Nedbank, convinced the Soweto Gospel Choir to donate food and equipment to the school feeding scheme and even got Roedean school to adopt the Grade R Centre for a year. With newly painted classrooms and a renovated library stocked with books donated by Morning Live, you can see Mbele’s touches everywhere. It’s all part of his belief to “lift as you rise”.
— Cat Pritchard