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South African Leader to Serve as Commencement Speaker

Charlotte, N.C. (April 21, 2011) -- Johnson C. Smith University welcomes Nomzamo Nobandla Winnifred "Winnie" Madikizela-Mandela as the keynote speaker for its 139th Commencement Exercises Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 8 a.m. in the University's Irwin Belk Complex. Madikizela-Mandela is known by her supporters as the "Mother of the Nation" for her life-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa and work on behalf of the poor.

"Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela is a transformative leader with incredible life experience to share. Our students will be richly blessed by the opportunity to hear her speak," said JCSU President Dr. Ron Carter, who met the South African leader during his work there with the student movement to abolish apartheid.  

Madikizela-Mandela's life has been marked by personal hardship and loss. Born one of 11 children in Bizana, Transkei, she grew up with constant harassment under the oppressive regime of apartheid, a system of legal racial segregation enforced in South Africa from 1948 to 1993. She endured multiple imprisonments and was separated from her then husband, the first presi­dent of a democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison.

Against the odds, Madikizela-Mandela earned a social work diploma at the Jan Hofmeyer School in Johannesburg and com­pleted her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and international relations at the University of Witwatersrand. Since then, she has received numerous honorary doctorates from universities in Africa and in the United States. She is former presi­dent of the African National Congress Women's League, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and a current Member of Parliament. 

Madikizela-Mandela was the first black social worker in South Africa. While working at Baragwanath Hospital, she became acutely aware of the abject poverty and appalling conditions under which black people were forced to live. That sparked her involvement for nearly 50 years in the South African liberation movement through her work with the ANC, the ANCWL, the Federation of South African Women and the Federation of South African Black Women.

With South Africa's democratic breakthrough in 1994, Madikizela-Mandela became a Member of Parliament and a Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture. She continues to use her energy working with different communities, including those affected by HIV and AIDS, poverty and suffering.  


Founded in 1867, Johnson C. Smith University is the premier independent urban liberal arts university located in the heart of Charlotte, N.C. It offers a progressive liberal arts curriculum with 26 fields of study to nearly 1,500 students. The University prepares students for success through excellent academic programs with a focus on servant leadership, civic engagement and global responsibility.          

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