By Hiroko Sato


GROTON -- Temba Maqubela looks at decades-old photos lining the top of a bookcase in his office whenever he's having a bad day. He then asks himself, "How bad can it get?"

Smiling in those photos next to a young Maqubela, now headmaster of Groton School, are Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews, Maqubela's grandfather, who taught Nelson Mandela in college, and Albie Sachs, a human-rights activist whom Mandela later appointed as a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Maqubela said the men risked their lives in the face of brutal persecution by the apartheid regime to join Mandela in his fight to achieve one thing: inclusion.

"Apartheid literally meant exclusion," Maqubela said, remembering walking miles to a black-only school each day as a child and studying by candlelight in the South African village of Nonkobe, which had no electricity or running water.

Liberty, freedom, love, peace -- people may use different names for what's important to them, Maqubela said. But in the end, he said, they are always looking for inclusion.

As the world mourns Mandela's death, Maqubela, a former South African anti-apartheid activist who moved to U.S. as a political refugee in 1986, said Mandela has served as a guiding light all his life.

"He was always at peace and knew who he was. He had his own identity located from within and extended it to others," added Maqubela, who took the helm of the prestigious private boarding school in Groton in July.

Born in King William's Town on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Maqubela comes from a family of teachers -- the only ones educated enough to read in his village. His father, who was an accountant, would bring mail from a post office seven miles away from home and read letters for the villagers. Children in the family also helped.

"You grow up with that sense of duty" to share what you have to help others, Maqubela said. It's also a sense of responsibility to acquire education and lead others.

"You have to be ready to lead when called upon to lead," he said.

Maqubela believes the fact that Mandela also grew up in a village, not far from Maqubela's, had a lot to do with the leadership he exhibited.

Although Maqubela left the country while Mandela was still in prison and the two never met, Mandela has always been part of his life. Maqubela's grandfather taught social anthropology at the University of Fort Hare and his students included Mandela. Later, Maqubela's grandmother, Rita Matthews, visited Mandela in prison and exchanged a series of letters with him.

As South Africa's only university for black people back then, Fort Hare educated many who later became world leaders, and the university remains the entire African continent's pride, Maqubela said. And those who are segregated in black-only villages looked up to people studying at the university.

"Those were the bright lights of the village, even though they didn't have electricity," Maqubela said.

Exposed to the outside world, many of those bright lights also fought to end apartheid. Many of his family members were detained or put on trial. It was only natural for him to become politically active, Maqubela said.

His grandfather, who served as provincial president of the African National Congress, was later exiled, becoming Botswana's ambassador to the U.S., and Maqubela emigrated to America and with his wife, Vuyelwa, began their careers, he as a chemistry teacher, she teaching English. She teaches today at Groton School.

People in South Africa express themselves through songs more than in words, because that's what they have done all these years to work around the lack of freedom of speech, Maqubela said. As he watches his countrymen and women sing to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Mandela, Maqubela is certain his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.

"It's going to unite people more than ever," Maqubela said.