Magdalene College recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Mandela Magdalene scholarships which support graduates from South Africa in pursuing postgraduate study at Cambridge.


Our country is in dire need of skilled men and women to service our new democracy

Nelson Mandela (1995)

Honoured by the presence of His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene of Ghana, the event celebrated the increasing strength of Cambridge’s relationships in Africa and the exciting prospect of establishing the University’s first Professorship in African Archaeology. 

The Mandela scholarship scheme supports South African graduates of outstanding academic ability and leadership potential to take up a place at Cambridge. Successful applicants are expected to return to South Africa to work or study after completing their course to ensure that their knowledge is shared at home.

In 1995, Nelson Mandela wrote to Magdalene to approve the use of his name for the scholarship: “Our country is in dire need of skilled men and women to service our new democracy. We are deeply grateful that Magdalene College took the initiative to assist." 

Among those who have benefited from the scholarship scheme is Dr Jongi Joseph Klaas, a shepherd boy from South Africa’s Eastern Cape who went on to become an academic, government advisor and diplomat. Dr Klass received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge as a Mandela Magdalene Scholar and later returned to South Africa to teach at Rhodes University. He then joined his country’s government, serving as an expert to the United Nations Security Council in New York and as a diplomat in Ethiopia.

To mark the scheme’s twentieth anniversary, the Master of Magdalene College, Dr Rowan Williams, received the Asantehene and his entourage, together with leading scholars of the African continent. Together, they participated in a pivotal discussion about the achievements and future of African archaeology. In his keynote speech, the Asantehene expressed his support for further initiatives to bring African students to study in Cambridge, and the importance of developing a history of Africa by Africans. 

Professor Cyprian Broodbank, Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge, then invited Dr Catherine Namono (University of the Witwatersrand), Professor Adebayo Folorunso (University of Ibadan) and Professor David Phillipson (Cambridge) to present their visions for African Archaeology. Dr Namono drew on her personal experience as Uganda’s first female archaeologist to discuss the transformation of African archaeology and the importance of reclaiming knowledge production for Africans, a message reiterated by her fellow speakers. 

Nelson Mandela gave his blessing to the idea of establishing a Professorship in African Archaeology at Cambridge. Of all the world’s inhabited continents, Africa, the crucible of civilisation, is the least well understood in terms of its archaeology. Cambridge has a long tradition of working with African archaeologists but a lack of senior academic leadership in the field poses an obstacle to further advances. 

The Mandela scholarship anniversary therefore provided an auspicious occasion to launch an endowment campaign which, it is hoped, will make this Professorship a reality.

On 16-18 October, Cambridge launched its largest philanthropic campaign to date. The University and Colleges are seeking to raise £2 billion to support investment in research, education and resources to ensure that Cambridge continues to have a global impact for generations to come. For more information on the campaign and the initiatives it supports, see

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