Nelson Mandela Foundation

As a young, passionate, and active archivist deeply immersed in the vibrant tapestry of South Africa’s democratic journey, I find myself reflecting on the profound importance of archives, especially during this season of elections in our country. In the heart of this dynamic landscape, the Nelson Mandela Foundation stands as a guiding light, not only preserving history but actively shaping the present and future of our democracy.

For me, archives are not just dusty shelves filled with old documents, they are living repositories of our collective memory, holding the stories of the struggle, resilience, and triumph that define our nation's identity. As I sift through the preserved artifacts in Madiba’s Archive, I am reminded of the sacrifices made by courageous individuals like Madiba and countless others who fought tirelessly for freedom and justice. Their voices echo through the corridors of history, inspiring us to uphold the principles of democracy and equality.

As we come out of this season of elections, the role of archives takes on a new significance. As citizens prepare to exercise their democratic rights, access to reliable and trustworthy information becomes essential. The archival materials housed within the Foundation provide invaluable insights into South Africa’s political evolution, offering a window into the past that informs our present choices and future aspirations. From Madiba’s historic speeches and interviews to personal correspondence such as prison letters and desk calendars, these documents serve as a testament to the struggles and triumphs of our democracy, empowering us to show up and make informed decisions at the ballot box.

Beyond preserving history, the Foundation plays an active role in driving critical conversations around promoting civic engagement and voter education. Through outreach programmes such as the upcoming “Making Reading Fun” programme for school kids between the ages of 12 and 14 happening on the 25th of May 2024, critical dialogue, and advocacy series such as the “2024 elections: The role of civil society” that was held on the 12th of October in 2023, the Foundation has made it a point to create space that empower South Africans in creating a democratic culture driven by accountability and critical conversations.

On the 27th of April the Foundation in partnership with researchers from Loughborough University celebrated Freedom Day by hosting onsite and virtual workshops with students from the University of Johannesburg, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria, Vega School, Inscape and Loughborough University. The workshop explored Design Inquiry as a research methodology through the lens of Graphic Heritage. With a focus on six locations in Gauteng that are named after Madiba, the workshop explored how graphic heritage reveals as much about absence as it does about presence. Participants were also introduced to archival practice and the role of the Archive at the Centre of Memory (ACoM) that preserves Madiba’s legacy and provides access to it.

These workshops were a build-up of the latest exhibition that was launched by the Foundation and Loughborough University on the 25th of April 2024 titled “Named after Nelson” which incorporates interactive graphic elements and educational archival materials that not only educate youth about Madiba’s legacy but also encourages the importance of civic participation. In addition, on the 16th of April 2024 the Foundation in collaboration with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation screened a special documentary titled “Tomorrow’s Freedom” produced by Sophia Scott on Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader and political prisoner, who is entering his 23rd year of a prison term of 4 consecutive life sentences plus 40 years.

By fostering civic literacy and political awareness, the Foundation played the role of a platform and space that ensured that the voices of all citizens were heard and respected, laying the groundwork for a more inclusive and responsive democracy.

As I navigated the busy streets of Soweto during the 2024 election season, I was filled with a sense of purpose and possibility, and this was amplified as I took part in the making of history as I lined up to vote. Armed with the knowledge acquired from our archives and inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela, I am committed to playing my part in shaping the future of our nation. For me, being an archivist is not just a profession, it is a calling, a responsibility to preserve our past, inform our present, and inspire our future.

The Archives and the Foundation are mandatory pillars of democracy in South Africa. As a young and active archivist, I am proud to play a role in preserving our nation’s history and shaping its democratic future. Together, we will honour the sacrifices of those who came before us and build a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.