Athol Williams is also the first person to receive Master's degrees from five of the top universities in the world

A South African poet who grew up during apartheid in Mitchells Plain has earned a distinction from Oxford University for his Master's thesis.

Athol Williams is also the first person to receive Master's degrees from five of the top universities in the world, including Harvard, London Business School and Oxford University.

Williams, who endured many challenges in order to better his education, wrote exams with soldiers in the room during apartheid.

“I was determined to get through high school, so I did what I could,” he said.

At the age of 15 he started a diary and eventually his diary-writing turned into poems, as he began reflecting on the situation and the society around him.

His craft as a poet developed over the last 10 years.

“I read every single day, whether it's a novel, poetry or a philosophical text.

“I didn't just attend these universities I excelled there.”

Oxford University awarded his thesis a distinction for its innovative contribution to literature.

The inspiration for his poems comes from reflection on his life experiences.

“My poems come from my experiences of the world, observations of the world around me, the beauty and ugliness and my dreams for humanity.”

His new book of poetry titled Invitation is a collection of poems that reflects the beauty of the human experience that is found in silence, in personal endeavour and in relationships.

He is also the co-founder of Read to Rise, a literacy project, which has distributed books to over 40 000 pupils in and around Cape Town.

“Just like Wayde van Niekerk showed us, you can start in the outside lane and still win gold. In most of my academic endeavours I started in the outside lane, apartheid education did not prepare me for Oxford I had to educate myself.”

His next step is to complete a PhD at Oxford which, given his high marks he will be able to complete in one-to-two years rather than the typical three-four years.

After investing most of his savings in the social upliftment of South Africa, Williams is hoping that he can find someone willing to sponsor his studies. 

“Oxford is like Disneyland for nerds, it has such richness of intellectual resources and access to amazing minds, but Cape Town is home and where my heart is, and that will never change.”