Learning should not be a privilege, it should be something everyone has equal access to; I believe that education is a tool for change, and that it empowers. For this month, we have decided to pay homage to just a few South Africans who stood up for the right to education, even when it meant putting their lives on the line.

Archibald Campbell (AC) Mzolisa Jordan

Appointed the first black African lecturer at the University of Cape Town, AC Jordan strongly believed not only in education for all, but education that did not favour one point of view. Making his mark in the School of African Studies, Jordan was a scholar of vernacular black languages and the first black African to be awarded a PhD in African Languages at UCT.

His mission was to open the doors of learning to all

“I am going to UCT to open that [UCT] door and keep it ajar, so that our people too can come in. UCT on African soil belongs to us too. UCT can and never will be a true university until it admits us too, the children of the soil. I am going there to open that door and keep it ajar.”

While Jordan was sent into exile in 1962, following the ratification of the Extension of Universities Act under apartheid law in 1959, his legacy remains at the institution to this day. The AC Jordan Chair in African Studies was established in 1993, as a commitment to integrating African Studies into all levels of learning at UCT, including research and teaching.

Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko

Remembered as the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko was a community educator and activist. He maintained that the manipulation of the mind was the most powerful weapon of the oppressor, and that in order to be truly freed, the oppressed needed to be liberated of their minds and offered a new-found pride in themselves and their identity. Through this, Biko expressed the deep value in education, how it can open the mind. Biko died as a martyr, yet will always be acknowledged as the father of a movement which spoke to the right to knowledge and education for all.

Ahmed Timol

Ahmed Timol was another soul who dedicated his life to teaching and knowledge sharing. Growing up in a poor home, Timol too believed that education was the way to achieve liberation. His own schooling was often interrupted by apartheid rulings and obstacles, where the schools he attended were either closed down, or inaccessible due to travel bans for non-white students.

Despite these difficulties, Timol matriculated and went on to pursue a teaching diploma which he completed in 1963. He became not only a loved educator among his students, but also a mentor his siblings looked up to. Similar to Biko, Timol believed in thinking for yourself, often deviating from prescribed school texts to teach students to think beyond these things. His passion for this kind of consciousness led him to become politically involved in the liberation struggle, finding ways to distribute banned texts to help students understand the full picture of the country’s politics.

This led to his tragic murder in October 1971.

Timol is remembered for his commitment to education. As a tribute, Azaadville Secondary School in Krugersdorp was renamed the Ahmed Timol Secondary School on 29 March 1999 by Former President, Nelson Mandela. Everyone should have free access to knowledge and information. In a time where this right was heavily violated in South Africa, these men fought to ensure that those who were being oppressed still had access to learning.

We commemorate them and their love for education!