With just over a month to go until the end of the year, the Nelson Mandela Foundation will be rounding off 2018 with two major events.
On 29 November 2018, inspirational media personality Oprah Winfrey will deliver a keynote address and take part in a panel discussion with Josina Z Machel and Zoleka Mandela at an event titled Is’thunzi Sabafazi (The Dignity of Women): Building a Caring Society. The discussion will be facilitated by Redi Tlhabi. The event, held in collaboration with the Graça Machel Trust, will take place at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus and will focus on gender-based violence in our society.
The second event, titled Why We Remember, will form part of the centenary commemoration period for Madiba and will take place at Unisa on 6 December, the day after the fifth anniversary of Mandela's passing away on 5 December 2018. Award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will deliver the keynote speech and will talk about how history has shaped and reshaped our understanding of how societies developed and how these societies collectively imagine the future.
We hope that these two public events will inject new energy into some of the critical conversations we need to have as a country. We believe that although we may be beleaguered as a nation, we can build on this political moment and use both the pressure that is being exerted on the new administration as well as the upcoming elections to begin our collective envisioning of the future.
These talks are two of the most high-profile events we will run this year, along with the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, which was delivered by former United States President Barack Obama in July. Of course, outside these large public events we have continued with our work, finding ways to further social justice and ways for people to begin dreaming anew.
Just this month, more than 30 land activists met at the Foundation to strategise on ways to engage with upcoming Bills, such as the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill, which many argue will threaten livelihoods and democracy. We have also, over the past year, established forums for early childhood development practitioners to talk through their concerns, an initiative that we will build on in 2019.
It is our belief that we should prioritise those at the grassroots level and elevate their voices where we can. This kind of work garners very little media attention, but it is some of the most important work that we do.
However, this work requires us, particularly those of us who are in positions of influence and power, to listen. Madiba himself was known for his ability to listen, as he relayed in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:
“As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place [Mqhekezweni]. I have always endeavoured to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion.”
Madiba listened intently to his people and respected the institutions of the collective – but, at the same time, he listened to his enemies too. Listening was not a sign of weakness, he believed, but instead a move towards obtaining a genuine understanding of where we should be headed.
As we excitedly move towards our two upcoming events, which may well become spectacles, we should remember to listen to the voices, themes and messages emerging from them. After we listen intently, we can then begin our engagement with one another, starting with those who we are often first to exclude.
Our key message for the coming year is to encourage compassion, collaboration and anti-corruption. We must seek to be humane and compassionate to those around us, while at the same time holding others to account. We must learn to collaborate and to work together. Hosting Oprah Winfrey would have been impossible without us collaborating with the Graça Machel Trust.
And finally, we must prioritise anti-corruption and apply intense scrutiny to those in power, in order to never again need a probe such as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture.