Maclaren Coetzee, who goes by the nickname Macron Maclaren, is a young South African social activist and scholar. Born in Cape Town, Maclaren moved to Oxford in April to study English literature at the prestigious University of Oxford as an overseas commoner fellow. Maclaren’s journey from the streets of Cape Town to Oxford was not an easy one.
His parents struggled with addiction, which left him homeless and without a support system for most of his teenage years. But he refused to give up on his dreams, instead relying on his passion for education and inspiration from historical figures such as Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai to chart a path forward. In this interview, Maclaren shares how he was able to persevere and achieve his goals:
Becoming a social activist
Maclaren’s path to social activism runs through his love of literature. He grew up reading literature from all over the world, from works by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin to African authors like Chinua Achebe and W. G. Sebald. His love of language and reading led him to become passionate about communicating with people and helping others see the world through different perspectives. At 16, Maclaren got involved with the Rhodes Must Fall movement, which called for the removal of a colonial-era statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Maclaren helped organise protests and speak at public events. He said the experience showed him the power of organising, as well as the importance of standing up for what you believe in. The movement was successful, and the statue was removed in April 2018, but the experience also left a lasting mark on Maclaren. He said it taught him how to problem-solve, stand up for himself and think critically. It also showed him the power of having a strong sense of identity. “The movement was built by black people, and by black people it was sustained and brought to victory,” he said.
Oxford and the path forward
Maclaren was educated at the University of Cape Town, where he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at Oxford. He said the experience feels different from what he had imagined, but in a good way. He said Oxford is not a monocultural space, but one that is part of a global community. Maclaren is studying English literature, but he plans to pursue studies in African Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. He said he hopes to pursue a career in academia and help build a more diverse and inclusive sector. His ultimate goal is to be a professor and help build a system that is more inclusive and diverse. He said he wants to use his experiences and knowledge to help other students from disadvantaged backgrounds realize that education can be a path for liberation.
Recommendations for Aspiring Scholars
When asked about his advice for aspiring overseas commoner scholars, Maclaren said they should focus on what they can control. He said they should study hard and spend time on their applications. He also said they should not be afraid to reach out to universities and seek advice. “Student life is very lonely and can be quite isolating,” he said. “There are few people who will understand what you’re going through so you have to rely on yourself.” He added that it is important to take care of themselves and recognise when they are struggling.
“Education is fundamental to our emancipation; it is our liberation,” Maclaren said. “Knowledge is power, and if we don’t have access to it, then it’s not just a missed opportunity, it’s a missed possibility.” He added that education is important for everyone, regardless of their background or identity. He said it empowers people to change the world because it allows them to see things from different perspectives and understand different cultures. Visit Jevemo today for up-to-date scholarship offers