Nelson Mandela Foundation

April was a very busy month for the Foundation. Special attention was paid to continuing to mark the centenary of Madiba’s birth, while pushing hard on our sustainability strategy.

In mid-month, we hosted our key stakeholders at a dialogue on a new strategic plan (see below) and honoured the donors, sponsors and other partners who have supported our sustainability drive during the centenary period. Donor recognition and care are key elements for us, of course, and we are grateful to the many partners who are committed to walking with us as we implement the new strategic plan over the next three years. Collaboration will be critical to successful implementation.

These were also key messages we conveyed at a fundraising event we co-convened in Washington DC on 27 April with our sister organisations the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, and the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development.

The evening was hosted by the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and its highlight was a conversation between Graça Machel and former US President Barack Obama, in which they reflected on Madiba’s legacy in current global contexts.

We are profoundly grateful to our institutional partners, the participants and our guests for making the event the success that it was. Special thanks to Mary and Jeff Zients, who were central to the organising process and without whom it wouldn’t have happened.

Work at the coalface continued apace. In the public domain, grabbing the headlines was our Equality Court application to have the display of the old national flag outside art and history declared a form of hate speech. Argument closed on 30 April, and judgment was reserved.

The case has been many months in preparation, and it might still be a month or two before judgment is delivered. The nub of the matter is our determination to see gratuitous displays of what is a symbol of apartheid declared to be a form of hate speech, so that the protection of the dignity of black South Africans is prioritised and the means put in place to hold individuals accountable for displaying the old flag.

AfriForum and the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge are opposing us, on technical grounds and because they believe that our application puts freedom of speech at risk.

We believe public opinion is overwhelmingly behind us, and that our legal team has demonstrated compellingly that our Constitution’s provision for freedom of speech is defined precisely by its robust protections of dignity and equality.

A big thank you to the team, advocates Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Ayanda Msimang and Ben Winks, instructed by Rupert Candy Attorneys. All of us at the Foundation appreciate their outstanding pro bono work on the matter.

In relation to the flag issue, we have encountered the criticism that the issue is not a central one, given the many challenges facing our country and that “there are bigger fish to fry”. For us, in contrast, the flag issue is a manifestation of what is arguably our country’s central challenge, namely the resilience of apparatuses of power and privilege that exclude, demean and oppress black South Africans.

For the Foundation, contesting the flag matter is part of a broader strategy to combat racism, both in the country and internationally. Our flagship endeavour in this regard is the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity programme, inaugurated last year and aimed at developing more effective strategies for combatting racism in South Africa and the United States.

In April, Foundation staff were heavily involved in selection processes in New York and Johannesburg, as we identify and begin mobilising our second cohort of Atlantic Fellows. Racism, fundamentally, is structural – it has to do with underlying patterns, systems and networks. The Foundation is committed to fighting racism structurally, even while it combats outward manifestations like the hateful waving of a flag in support of what the United Nations declared a crime against humanity.

As with our work on racism, in everything we do now our priority is to address systemic challenges at the same time as addressing the immediate needs of the most vulnerable. In this, we share common cause with a growing number of civil society institutions, locally and internationally.

In April, it was a special delight for us to have a senior staff member visit the Obama Foundation in Chicago to share our experiences as a legacy organisation grappling with these questions. In May, we will be unveiling a repurposed Mandela Day campaign aimed precisely at achieving multilevel impact.

While we intend to retain the broadest and most open call to action globally, for the campaign work we support within South Africa there will be a determination to create direct links to the Foundation’s dialogue and advocacy work, and an aim to have an effect in communities through direct support and public policy interventions.

In practice this will mean, among other things, that the campaign focus areas will articulate directly with critical social issues emerging either from research and analysis or from dialogue and other forms of community-level engagement.

It will also mean that campaign work will support activism against injustice and advocacy for appropriate public policy shifts and that, increasingly, we will be seeking to enable the support of communities through pilot projects and the testing of models that carry the potential for scaling up to the benefit of broad society.

We wish our readers well for the month of May. It is an important one for South Africa, of course, with the sixth general election of the democratic era taking place. We urged South Africans to register as voters and to exercise their right to choose those who would govern them.