“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela famously once declared.
During his time as South Africa’s president, Mr Mandela was a passionate advocate for the transformative power of education, not least because of the influence of his own schooling.
“It is through education,” he said, “that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
Not surprisingly, given the deep affection in which Mr Mandela – described as Craig Kielburger, co-founder of the US-based Free The Children charity, as “one of the world's greatest teachers" – was held by his countrymen, leading figures from the South African education sector have been queuing up to pay tribute to his legacy.
“His unrelenting and unshakeable pursuit of the vision of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist society was the oil that fuelled the struggles of the people of South Africa and elsewhere... as they knew that their freedom was intricately and inextricably linked to his,” said Angie Motshekga, the country’s minister of basic education.
Addressing the Mandela family, she added: “May you be consoled by the knowledge that your pain is shared, never in equal measure, but as sincerely by the world at large.”
The South African Democratic Teachers' Union has also spoken of its “deepest sorrow" at the news of Mr Mandela’s death in Johannesburg last night.
Mugwena Maluleke, the union’s general secretary, said: "We as teachers will forever be reminded about the passion Nelson Mandela had for children and their well-being. Our promise to Madiba`s [Mr Mandela’s clan name] legacy is to protect the education system in South Africa and to ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow their personal development.
"They are the future of this country and as Nelson Mandela made history today, children will forever be reminded of his legacy and his fight for democracy as his story will be shared in history books around the world.”
In a statement, the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa also paid tribute to “a truly great South African and citizen of the world”.
“While we all knew that it was inevitable that this day would come, we nonetheless hoped that, somehow, it never would.
“The voice of compassion and reason in a sometimes insane world is still. He trustingly placed the remaining years of his life in our hands and advised us all to ‘use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right’.
“We can only hope that as South Africans we have, collectively and individually, lived up to the expectations that he had for us and that we will continue to do so long after his passing,” the statement added.