Nelson Mandela Foundation

We live in trying times. And it is becoming clear that they will not get easier very quickly. Every day seems to bring news that wears one down. In recent days we have been reflecting on the fires which damaged the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and the University of Cape Town (UCT). The latter has received enormous media attention, and has mobilised networks around the world to fund and assist in other ways the work of restoration. Given special focus has been the loss of archival materials in the university library’s African Studies collections. This challenge has had a strong resonance for the Nelson Mandela Foundation for obvious reasons – our own archives, including Madiba’s personal papers, are of fundamental importance to everything we do; and we have collaborated with UCT on multiple projects over the years, including the Archival Platform. Right now we are in the early stages of a Mandela Memorial project in partnership with the South African National Parks and UCT’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance. The proposed physical site of this project is very close to the path of destruction taken by the fire on Table Mountain. So we feel keenly the sense of loss and the need for support.

How different has been the response to the fire at Charlotte Maxeke hospital. This tragedy hit the headlines briefly and then seemed to disappear. We don’t see the same sustained public attention, nor the same mobilising of networks and other resources. I have personally received numerous calls for support related to the UCT fire. But, until a few days ago, not a single one related to Maxeke. (The Foundation is now in conversation with Old Mutual, one of our longstanding institutional partners, exploring ways of supporting attempts to address the crisis at Maxeke.) It disturbs me. What is it saying to us? What is it saying to me? These are very similar questions to the ones I remember asking back in April 2019 when the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was gutted, triggering an enormous global response. In the days before that fire, three churches serving Black congregations in the American South had been destroyed by arsonists. Even in the United States, the Notre Dame fire blew this tragedy out of the news. Why do some things matter so much, and others seem not to matter at all? Could a factor in both instances I’ve cited here – 2019 and 2021 – be the ways in which the value of Black life and interests are registered? 

It’s a disturbing line of enquiry. One which is not unrelated to the questions which arise from the harsh fact in South Africa today that for the vast majority of people living in the country the Constitution remains an ideal rather than a lived reality. For some lives the Constitution registers in ways which it does not for others. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Constitution this year, it is imperative as a society that we find a way to make constitutionalism a tool of societal transformation. With the ravages of Covid-19 fuelling spiralling levels of despair and anger, unless we get this right the country will find itself in deep trouble. In fact, we’re already in deep trouble. One measure of this is the extent to which violence – of all kinds, in all its individual and collective manifestations – and lawlessness are being normalised. This can’t be right.

The challenges are enormous. Finding game changing interventions and sustainable solutions will require collaboration and partnership. For the Foundation, 2021 – more than ever before – will have to be about working with partners. We look forward to new collaborations with Old Mutual. We are partnering with the Constitution Hill Trust to create spaces for difficult conversations about the Constitution and constitutionalism. In recent weeks we have renewed our longstanding partnership with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, with a focus for the year on goal-oriented dialogue and advocacy interventions. We are currently working closely with the Treasury and the Department of Social Development to facilitate access to Covid-relief funding for early childhood development centres. We are in conversation with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea on a range of collaborations over the next twelve to twenty-four months.

These are a few examples of the many collaborations we are involved in currently. We are grateful to the institutions, communities and individuals who work with us or who are wanting to do so. 

In last month’s newsletter we invited readers to participate in a survey designed to test perceptions of the internal crisis the Foundation experienced in the first quarter of 2021. I want to thank everyone who participated. We are currently absorbing the inputs and connecting them to other measurements of where we are organisationally. We look forward to sharing results in due course.