Nelson Mandela Foundation

What a year 2021 has been! We end it confronting yet another Covid-19 wave before we’ve had a chance properly to absorb the results and the implications of the recent local government election. 

It has been good to observe the South African state’s dignified, measured and flexible response to the fourth wave, in contrast to knee-jerk Covid nationalism and protectionism evident in many countries, especially in the global north. On the other hand, it has not been so good following the horse-trading by political formations in the wake of the election. Municipal stability and effective local service delivery are going to be difficult to achieve in these circumstances. 

What was most notable about the election was just how few people voted, and how many voters demonstrated a loss of confidence in the governing party. Levels of alienation and despair in our society have reached alarming levels.

The impact of Covid-19 on both society and economy has been intensified by the long-term effects of the wave of public violence which rocked parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July. These effects have been such that for the Foundation business-as-usual just was not an option. Our response has included:

  •  Short and longer term contributions to peacemaking initiatives in affected communities. We have worked behind the scenes and in public arenas, and are currently conceptualising a project which will be focused on the needs of deeply divided communities in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • Making sense of the phenomenon. Drawing on research and analysis as well as on-the-ground experience, we have looked to understand underlying causality and to communicate that understanding to our stakeholders and constituencies.
  • Harnessing the Each1Feed1 campaign to meeting the immediate emergency food needs of affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. This has meant a reframing of our plans to transition the campaign into longer term research and advocacy work.
  • A sustained engagement with the challenges being posed to the rule of law. We have, for instance, partnered with the Hanns Seidel Foundation on a country-to-country exchange between South Africa and Germany on policing and prosecutorial best practice. We have to find ways of enabling our most vulnerable communities to have confidence in our law enforcement systems. We must avoid descending into gangster state scenarios.

For the Foundation, processes of learning and adapting through 2021 were enormous. We would name four key areas of learning strongly related to Covid-19:

 During 2020 we did very well at using technology and other means to enable staff to work remotely and virtually, as a critical adaptation to Covid realities. In 2021 we have continued to explore this space and expand our capacity. This will give the Foundation a flexibility and a suite of tools available to the organisation long after Covid-19 is over.

  • With multiple Covid-19 waves and concomitant lockdown level changes, the Foundation has developed a medley of options (with rules and regulations) for the physical use of facilities by staff, interns and visitors, and has crafted a variety of hybrid physical- virtual options for events, meetings and other gatherings. It is not yet clear to what extent these options and tools will be utilised in a post-Covid world, but it seems clear that office work will not quite be the same again. We are already exploring the introduction of hot-desk and related infrastructure.
  • Last year we noted evidence of staff and interns being worn down by isolation, loss, anxiety and other Covid-19-related realities and manifestations. This, if anything, has deepened through 2021. Being a soulful organisation which prioritises care and well- being becomes ever more important.
  • Fundamental changes are taking place in the NMF’s funding environment, with significant implications for our sustainability strategy. Understanding the environment and adapting timeously and nimbly is critical.

The Foundation’s Board is taking all these learnings into account as it works on a new 2022-2024 strategic plan, which we look forward to unveiling early in the new year. 

It remains for me to thank our friends, partners and other stakeholders for their support to the Foundation during 2021. Stay safe and take care. And very best wishes for 2022.