Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE) named its first group of 29 Atlantic Fellows to begin its year-long programme aimed at supporting fellows’ work to disrupt anti-black racism in South Africa and the United States.

Eleven of the 29 are South African-based leading voices for socio-economic justice and racial equity. The programme in South Africa is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

“While the racial orders of our pasts might have been buried formally, those pasts are far from done with us. Race is still a critical faultline in South Africa and generations of us remain profoundly damaged,” said Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The programme aims to sharpen the focus on the structures of racism that maintain inequality and indignity. Dr Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, SA Director of AFRE, says, “We know that the negotiated settlement brought about political equality for all through the vote, and made South Africa a ‘rainbow nation’,’’ but, she further argues, “as one of the most economically unequal societies, in which race and poverty are inextricably linked, the ‘rainbow’ is no longer enough”.

The inaugural group is comprised of activists, advocates, artists, scholars and other leaders, who will be the first of 10 groups in the 10-year programme centered on exposing and ending racial discrimination and violence that dehumanise Black people and ultimately harm all people. The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is a non-residential programme meant to support 35 fellows annually from South Africa and the United States, enabling exchange between change agents working to build a more just and equitable world. The work conducted will further deepen the understanding of anti-black racism work and its importance.

Given the shared history of racialised inequality and apartheid between South Africa and the United States, the programme aims to harness the efforts of this “new generation of leaders standing up to break this corrosive cycle of injustice”, said Dr Kavitha Mediratta, Executive Director of AFRE. “These extraordinary individuals demonstrate great courage and by awarding these fellowships, we hope to help them achieve our collective goal of a truly just and inclusive society for all.”

The fellowship will kick off with learning tours in the US and South Africa, and conclude with country-specific, immersive courses with senior leaders in the field, mentorship, and more.

Writer and student activist Brian Kamanzi expressed “excitement to join the fellowship at this difficult juncture globally when vicious anti-black racism, narrow nationalism, and the entrenchment of neoliberalism threaten historical gains for people’s relentless struggle for freedom”. Through AFRE he will help build transnational solidarity and learning communities in recognition of what that has meant historically and in hope of what it could mean for tomorrow.

“My hope is that by our final group of fellows in 2028 we will live in a society in which everyone sees and truly conducts themselves as an activist, ally or advocate,” said Obenewa Amponsah, another fellow and former CEO of the Steve Biko Foundation, “key to ensuring that addressing racism is not seen as a ‘Black problem’ but a societal concern”.

US-based fellow Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter, believes that, “This fellowship is an opportunity for us to learn from one another, share solutions and experiment – and this is critical to end anti-Black racism.”

“Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity was launched to create a space for this new generation of leaders to envision and build a future anchored in the ideals of equity and inclusion rather than the hierarchy of anti-Blackness,” said Christopher G Oechsli, President and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, and chair of AFRE’s governing board. “We are honoured to bring together this first group of fellows and support their work to create a better society.”



About fellows:

About the fellowship programme:

Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity is one of six Atlantic Fellows programmes, which together will create a global community of leaders to improve societies around the world. The programme is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, which will invest over $600M, alongside other partner organisations and governments, to support the work of the global network of thousands of Atlantic Fellows over the next two decades, and beyond. This investment – in both the Atlantic Fellows and the institutions that will support and nurture them – is the foundation’s final and biggest investment ever.

About the Atlantic Philanthropies:

The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to advancing opportunity, equity and human dignity. Established in 1982, when Chuck Feeney committed virtually all of his family’s assets to the foundation, Atlantic has made grants approaching $8-billion. In keeping with Mr Feeney’s “Giving While Living” big-bet philosophy, Atlantic invests in systemic change to accelerate improvements in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The foundation, which has operated in Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam, completed its grant-making in 2016 and will all conclude operations in the next few years.