Nelson Mandela Foundation

Not surprisingly, 2018 was a momentous year for the Foundation as we joined with partners around the world to mark the centenary of our founder’s birth.

Here in South Africa, we also supported projects designed to mark the simultaneous centenary of Ma Albertina Sisulu’s birth. I am grateful to everyone who gave of their time, energy and other resources to make the year a special one.

To trustees, staff and donors, we send a special word of thanks. Only they know how fully stretched we were to meet the expectations of a global audience, which still honours Madiba passionately more than five years after his passing. The support of the United Nations, African Union and European Union went a long way towards ensuring global traction for the centenary campaign.

Giving impetus to the campaign, and arguably its anchor too, was the social justice work we strove to foreground throughout the year.

One of these events saw the culmination of the Mandela Initiative on Poverty and Inequality, inaugurated in 2015 as a collaborative endeavour between the state, the academy and civil society. We unveiled a seminal report from that project that promises to do for South Africa what the Carnegie reports of the 1930s and 1980s did for the United States.

The Mandela Initiative process has spurred on our work in the fields of land reform, early childhood development and the combating of structural racism, all issues we have identified as potentially game-changing in addressing intergenerational patterns of poverty and inequality in South Africa.

Throughout 2018 we convened dialogues aimed at connecting community-based organisations with high-level public policy initiatives relating to land and the nurturing of our children. Also, the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a partnership between the Foundation and Columbia University in New York aimed at generating more effective strategies for combating racism, delivered its first cohort of South African and American fellows dedicated to exploring transnational approaches.

Given the complex realities of the early 21st century, partnerships and other forms of collaboration are critical to success, especially in a country like South Africa.

As 2019 unfolds, I have been shocked by what seems like a tidal wave of violence in our country – in domestic spaces, in our schools, in our universities and on our streets. What should be sanctuaries have become war zones.

We welcome President Cyril Ramaphosa’s close attention to this challenge in his State of the Nation address, and are encouraged in particular by his determination to find ways of protecting our children and our women from what has become a scourge.

While we must bolster capacity in the policing and criminal justice systems, I believe that it is time to address far more robustly the root causes of the abuse. Preventative initiatives and services need to be elevated.

Among others, our social work sector needs to be rebuilt, early childhood development must be prioritised and rehabilitation programmes have to be bolstered. And, of course, poverty and inequality must be combated with imagination and courage. It can’t be simply about doing more; we have to do things differently. And we have to change the structures that ensure the vast majority of our people cannot thrive.

We face a singular test. As the challenges mount, the stakes are rising fast and the time available to us seems to be running out, locally and globally. We dare not linger.

In February the Foundation’s trustees adopted a new three-year strategy (2019-2022) for the organisation. It is designed to take the Foundation to the next level, both in terms of our impact in the world and the way in which we work (see below). We aim to become a respected change agent in South Africa and beyond, with a global audience, a strong focus and an embedded practice of deep dialogue informed by robust research, analysis and evaluation.

The call of justice rings loudly in our ears as we strive to honour Madiba’s legacy by ensuring that the Foundation’s contributions are meaningful. Partnership and collaboration will be vital, as will an unswerving focus on the need to transform our society fundamentally.

This time last year, I used my newsletter message to reflect on the significance of the end of what has been called the Zuma era. The wasted years. Subsequently, the Zondo and other commissions have been revealing the full extent of what can only be called a shameful mess. While cleaning up and fixing what went wrong will preoccupy leaders at every level for some time to come, the imperative to transform structures of power and privilege that have been centuries in the making looms large. Responding to this imperative is the responsibility of every South African.