What’s in a name? For Nelson Mandela University, the only higher education institution in the world to carry the name of former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, it means a commitment to the great statesman’s values – and more.

To mark five years after the official renaming of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to Nelson Mandela University in 2017, the institution is embarking on a year-long programme to reflect and engage on what this name means.

The launch of “Advancing Mandela: Five Years On, on Wednesday, September 28, featured  History Professor Nomalanga Mkhize addressing The Mandela Name, the Person: Intellectual Legacies and Institutional Values.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Chancellor Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Chair of Council Ambassador Nosipho January-Bardill and SRC President Pontsho Hlongwane also spoke at the event on South Campus.
The University’s strategic drive to revitalise the humanities, could, said Prof Mkhize, be likened to an estuary, or hatchery, that generated an ethos reflecting the values of Mandela. 
Inasmuch as an estuary was a confluence of different streams of water uniting productively, the humanities also saw diverse contributions converge, but to build social cohesion and inclusivity.
The goal therefore was to “cultivate an African-rooted universalism, steeped in the varied humanising political and normative traditions of the country”. 
“As an African University, Nelson Mandela University is centred on African norms and values, as Mandela was,” Mkhize said. “Alienation gives way to a sense of home, ownership and accountability.”
Prof Mkhize highlighted a few of Mandela’s names, and their meanings:
• Rolihlala, the Troublemaker (Birth)
• Madiba, the Clan (Ancestral)
• Nelson, the British Subject (Colonial)
• Dalibhunga, the Xhosa Man
• Mandela, the Rebel and Political Figure
This use of institutional culture and symbols reflects the journey the University has been on since 2017. It is no longer named after the metropolitan municipality in which it is located, but after the global icon’s vision, values and commitment to a more socially just world. 
In line with this, new names for 35 University buildings and places were also unveiled at the launch. Each name has been carefully chosen in consultation with students, stakeholders and staff to symbolically signal Mandela University’s commitment to transformation.
Covering seven campuses and dozens of spaces and places, Mandela University has taken a phased approach as follows:
  • Phase1 (2018):  Student residences in Gqeberha (completed)
  • Phase 2: Started in 2019 but, due to the interruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, was delayed until 2022. It has now continued with:

o Faculty buildings and spaces in Gqeberha

o George Campus buildings

  • Phase 3: Administrative buildings and spaces
  • Phase 4: Campus names
The 2022 names include historical figures such as Eleanor Xiniwe, as well as more recent heroes such as Johnny Clegg, Pius Langa, Dulcie September and Nomhle Nkonyeni. 
Then there are those whose names were known across South Africa at a tragically young age, such as Reeva Steenkamp and Nathaniel Julius, whose deaths highlighted ongoing societal injustices.
Other buildings’ names reflect their function: George Campus student recreation centre, for example, has been renamed Sophiatown, to reflect the vibrant social activity this suburb was known for.
“Masakhane”, which is the isiXhosa word for curiosity, willingness or hunger for knowledge, is a fitting name for the Faculty of Education’s Foundation Phase building.  
Similarly, a dining hall has been named “Iziko”, or “at the fireplace”, and a music venue is now “Ingoma”, which means drum reign of kingship. 
To smooth the complex, and potentially contentious process, a Naming and Renaming Policy Guideline directs decisions in keeping with the vision, mission and values of the University. 
This specifies multiple criteria, which include:
• Redressing imbalances of the past which seek to affirm the indigenous peoples and history of the provinces in which the University is located. 
• According and resonating with the vision, values, and strategies of the University, whether this is with reference to places, historical events, geographical features, flora and fauna, or concept words.
• Names chosen should as far as possible build social cohesion at the University and inspire present and future generations. 
• Considering the function or feature of the building or space being named.
• The primary users of a building or place being named or renamed should be given opportunity to make inputs.
In considering the names of people, these need to have had an identifiable national and international significance, and include the fields of culture, politics, sport, education and scholarship. Further, they should reflect race and gender equity. 


Contact information
Mr Ryan Pillay
Deputy Director: Arts, Culture and Heritage
Tel: 041 504 2508