Khumbulani Mdletshe was raised in KwaMashu Township near Durban, on South Africa’s southeastern coast. His parents, Soka John and Qondeni Florence, had no formal education. John had to work hard, sometimes more than 12 hours a day, to support Khumbulani and his six brothers and sisters. Soka John and Qondeni Florence taught all of their children the importance of gaining an education so they would have greater opportunities than their parents. His father often said, “The only thing that can bring equality in South Africa is education.”
Khumbulani took this message to heart, attended school, and tried his best. Because his parents were not religious people, it was at school, where students prayed, read scripture, and took religion courses, that he was first introduced to religion.
In 1980, when Khumbulani was 15, KwaMashu was an almost exclusively black community under apartheid, and few white people ever came there. One afternoon, while playing soccer in the street with his friends, Khumbulani saw a car stop nearby and two white men in white shirts and ties emerge from the vehicle. Racial tensions and legalized inequality had taught Khumbulani to be suspicious of white people. Khumbulani’s first instinct when he saw the men was to run, thinking they were policemen.
The men, two Latter-day Saint missionaries, called to the teenagers to wait. Khumbulani and his friends asked why they should listen to them—after all, white people had come to their country and taken their land. The missionaries assured them they were not there to talk about politics but just wanted to be friends. “There was no issue of black and white with them,” Khumbulani recalled. “They were different from all the white people I had met before.” Over the next several weeks, the missionaries came to the township often to play soccer with the group of boys and to teach them principles of the restored gospel. Two months later several of the young men, including Khumbulani, were baptized.
Several years later Khumbulani served a mission to England. While there he met a Church member who offered to sponsor him so that he could attend Brigham Young University–Hawaii, where he earned a degree in history and political science in 1991.
True to his father’s admonition, he made education a lifelong pursuit. He earned a master’s degree in education from Brigham Young University in 1992 and a PhD in education management from Rand Afrikaans University in 1999. Bringing his expertise to bear in the service of other young Latter-day Saints in South Africa, he worked for the Church Educational System, overseeing seminaries and institutes of religion in almost 30 countries.
Khumbulani believes his children will look back and say, “My dad joining the Church made all the difference.” He continued, “If they look before that, it was a history of uneducated people that had no hope, and the Church came and broke all of that and gave us a different hope.”