By Dennis Shaughnessy

Each year for the past six summers, forty undergraduate students studying global social enterprise at Northeastern University have had the privilege of privately meeting with Nelson Mandela’s close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner, Dr. Ahmed Kathrada. This past year, students also met with the retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a colleague and confidant of Mandela and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner.

As a sign of reverence in South Africa, Mandela is called Madiba, in reference to his clan name. Dr. Kathrada has taken our students each year to visit Madiba’s prison cell. In the infamous prison that housed so many of today’s anti-apartheid leadership of South Africa, he talked of Mandela’s dream of a moral, just and non-discriminatory society for all of South Africa. Archbishop Tutu also shared the view he shared with Mandela for the need for forgiveness and reconciliation with the apartheid enemies of freedom and equality. Only with forgiveness, Tutu advised, can people live peacefully together in pursuit of a better and more just society.

We work side-by-side with college students enrolled in a unique “free” university for poor black and coloured students. Our students study alongside South African peer students who have suffered from deep poverty and the isolation and suffering that it brings to young people in one of the world’s most unequal countries. The relationships built between NU students and their new South Africa friends are often the highlight of their time at our university.