Nelson Mandela Foundation

The dismissal of our Chief Executive and the public discourse which has swirled around it has been distressing for everyone associated with the Foundation. We are hurting as individuals and as an institution. The work of repair and healing will take time, but we are committed to the long haul with this multi-layered process.

One of our first steps along the path is to begin gauging the impact on our stakeholders of everything that has happened in the last eight weeks. We are requesting all of you who read the Newsletter to take a few minutes to engage with this preliminary survey

Through it all, we have been mindful of the particular weight of responsibility carried by those who exercise leadership in the name of Nelson Mandela. And by the institutions they lead.

I am an adjunct professor at the Nelson Mandela University, and over the last 12 months we have been listening closely to the views and the needs of key University stakeholder groupings and constituencies. Last year we ran a social media survey open to the whole University community. We’ve been in meetings at different levels of hierarchy, convened scholarly seminars, and run deep dialogue focus group sessions with students and with faculty. These focus groups have explored the possibility of a disciplinary significance for the name Mandela – does it signify (or register) differently, for instance, for law students as opposed to architectural students? Is a political science student more likely to engage with the name than a graphics design student? We were delighted to encounter a group of sociology lecturers exploring an ‘African Sociology’ inspired by the name; equally by the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies deconstructing Mandela patriarchies through research of the multiple women’s voices erased in and by the dominant Mandela narrative; and by the transdisciplinary course Social Consciouness and Sustainable Futures, which begins with a module by Professor Nomalanga Mkhize titled Mandela Name, Value, Person, Intellectual Legacy and Institutional Culture.

Of course, we’ve heard voices which either indicate no interest at all in the name Mandela, or who argue that it is increasingly irrelevant to a generation grappling with the multiple challenges of today. And there are voices espousing the view that Nelson Mandela sold out Black South Africans, so that the name is profoundly problematic. And there are those just fatigued by the referential repetitions.

But for most there is both opportunity and responsibility attached to the name, with, to my ear, four compass points:

  • For both individuals and institution, it is not about living up to a name. Rather, it is about living a singular responsibility before that name.
  • Individuals within the institution are called to be engaged fully in building just spaces.
  • The institution itself is called to make its spaces just (liberatory) and to contribute to the realisation of a modern African post-apartheid university.
  • Research and learning, across all disciplines and fields, should be geared to the making of a just society, and should be shaped fundamentally within an ethics frame.

I think all institutions carrying Nelson Mandela’s name have lessons to learn from this exercise and from this line of enquiry.

As we enter July this year, ten years after Madiba died, let us remember him by committing to support the 2023 Mandela Day campaign, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue of the Newsletter. Madiba challenged us at the inauguration of the campaign many years ago – “it’s in your hands now.” And, given the impact of climate change, the very Earth itself is now in our hands.