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17 July 2019
WATCH: Kuils River Master’s Law student Tarryn Abrahams jets off to the Netherlands on the prestigious Nelson Mandela Scholarship

(Published - 17 July 2019)

The Mandela Scholarship at Leiden University is intended for South African students who want to study at the University for one semester in order to extend their knowledge and contribute to the development of South Africa.

When she was just eight-years-old, Tarryn Abrahams fell in love with the law - all thanks to Reese Witherspoon in the comedy Legally Blonde. Today the 23-year-old is working towards her Master’s degree in law and is preparing to leave for Leiden University in the Netherlands on the prestigious Nelson Mandela Scholarship.

Abrahams, from Rouxville in Kuilsriver, laughed as she recalled how the light hearted film lit a spark in her. In Grade 12 there was no question what she would study at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).  “At UWC I felt like I belonged, I was home,” said Abrahams. 

“I loved my studies thanks to the calibre of the lecturers. They were like good friends imparting their knowledge.”

Abrahams, who is in the Human Rights Protection stream, singled out UWC’s Professor Benyam Mezmur and Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen. Both are internationally esteemed academics and exceptional legal minds. “They are so passionate about their work, so much so that I wrote an email to Prof Mezmur thanking him for the role he played,” she said.

When Abrahams graduated with her LLB in 2017 she had decided to take a gap year and work as an au pair in the Netherlands, but returned to pursue her Master’s degree. When she returns from Leiden University in 2020, she hopes to complete her Master’s and graduate in the same year.

An email alert from UWC’s International Relations Office led her to apply for the scholarship offered to South African students who want to study at the University for one semester in order to extend their knowledge and contribute to the development of South Africa.

 In 1999 the late President Mandela received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University, and as of 2012 the Mandela Scholarship fund became available for South Africa students.

On receiving the award he shared that all South Africans would solve a myriad of problems in the coming years - from building new homes to dealing with corruption.

“A greater exchange of students will be enriching for both of our nations. On the one hand it will contribute to the development of our country and the rebirth of our continent. And on the other, we believe contact with the young people of my country will enrich and enlarge the insight that your youth has of your history, and I dare say, the multi-cultural character of your society,” President Mandela said.

Many students have graced the corridors of the public research university which was established in 1575. Now, Abrahams is determined to make her mark. She is specialising in the Human Rights Protection Law stream and looks to the late President Mandela for inspiration.

“Nelson Mandela was not afraid to push boundaries. He encouraged everyone to pursue their dreams. He lived in a different, difficult time but he persevered. I have been through my own challenges and now I have an opportunity to persevere and take a step into the unknown. But this step is about informing myself, educating myself as he taught us to do,” said Abrahams whose Master’s thesis will look at the legal framework around the au pair industry.

Hilda Wilson, UWC International Relations Manager, said Abrahams is a good ambassador and she will encourage other students to follow suit. “This is very significant for the University and we are very happy that Tarryn was awarded this scholarship,” she said.

Wilson said Abrahams will have an advantage as she is already familiar with the country, knows how to get around the city and knows how the living arrangements work.

The only prerequisite Leiden University has for young Abrahams is that she returns “to South Africa and contributes to national development after her studies.”

For more information or if you would like to interview Tarryn, contact Aidan van den Heever on 072 332 2055 or via email at