Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela earned his first degree, a BA, through Unisa in 1942. He studied through Unisa during his imprisonment on Robben Island and at Pollsmoor. Unisa awarded him an LLB in 1989 and an Honorary Doctorate in Law in 1995.


Mandela was democratic South Africa’s first President and remains a global icon of peace. His history with Unisa began in 1939 when he arrived at Fort Hare University, whose students were then Unisa-registered. “For young black South Africans like myself, [Fort Hare] was Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, all rolled into one,” Mandela later wrote. He left without graduating, however, after a principled disagreement with the University authorities and completed his BA through Unisa. In 1943, Mandela enrolled at the law faculty of Wits University, but his studies were hampered by his political activities (which included helping to establish an ANC Youth League branch at Fort Hare) and escalating police harassment. He would go on to become the world’s most famous “prison graduate” and receive innumerable honorary degrees. Throughout his life, he was a passionate advocate for the role of education in national and global change.