“Slowly, slowly we climb the mountain.” No matter how small the steps we are taking, they cumulatively bring value and change in whatever we are trying to achieve.

Thobani Ndlovu



Organisation / Company

Royal Drakensberg Education Trust


Thirty-five-year-old Thobani Ndlovu is the head of the Royal Drakensberg Primary School and coordinator for the Khanyisela Project. As head of school, he sees to its operational, academic and socio-cultural running. He handles the material and staff resources as well as the curricula, so that it “continues to meet its vision of transforming this rural space through quality education”. The Khanyisela Project delivers porridge to 18 crèches in Amazizi village. Thobani monitors their needs, such as renovations and building; nutrition; provision of learning resources; training and the professional development of the staff. “In both these entities, I create and maintain spaces where solution-oriented collaborations occur and bring together possible benefactors and beneficiaries in order to bring about change in society,” he says. Thobani, who was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow 2024, is motivated to excel so he can “create a safe learning environment for as many children as I can, so that they can thrive by just being themselves”. He says of the youth of South Africa: “We owe it to them to help them develop the confidence they need, so that they realise that they are the ones who will come up with solutions to challenges, as the custodians of the future.”


Bachelor of Social Sciences in Psychology, University of KwaZulu Natal.
Hon in Industrial Psychology, Unisa.
Post-Graduate Certificate in Education: Foundation Phase Teaching, University of KwaZulu.


Being selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow 2024. Through the application and interview process, I got to reflect on the work I had done over the months since stepping into my roles. It was in telling our story that I gained entry into the programme, ready to develop the skills I require to support our organisation, as both its leader and servant. Finding reports that over 80% of South African children in grade 4 were unable to read for meaning made it clear to me that the situation is dire in rural spaces, as they are often underserved. The value of a school that provides quality education, being a centre of excellence, is undeniable. The distribution of its resources and knowledge to surrounding ECD centres as well as primary schools, through the non-profit project, allows for a sharing of means that enables the attainment of quality education. From teaching reading skills to local children after school, to providing leadership training to creche supervisors, all the way to supporting mothers who are in their first 1 000 days in their journeys with their infants, it is evident that the solution to quality education is multilayered and requires everybody to participate. Knowing that change is happening, and that we can create the possibilities for greater change, is the biggest achievement.


I have been inspired by my parents Sicebi and Baxolile, who are both educators. Seeing how they have dedicated their lives to shaping learners’ futures has been so inspiring to me. As a second-generation teacher, I always understood that the education journey is about the child first and their needs. As a leader, I am inspired by my managers, who are the founders of the organisation. Megan and Loretta have taught me to lead with compassion and grace, always seeing the possibilities for growth in every situation.