Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Sport can be used to inspire young Africans to believe in themselves, Nigerian inventor Jessica Matthews said in Johannesburg on 3 August 2018.

Matthews was speaking at the United States’s National Basketball Association (NBA) Africa Innovation Summit, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. On Saturday 4 August, the third NBA Africa Game is due to take place at the Sun Arena at Time Square in Pretoria.

“[It is difficult] to get a whole generation of people living in a world that’s just not working for them to believe in themselves,” Matthews said. She is the CEO of Uncharted Play, a renewable energy company specialising in motion-based miniaturised power systems.

Foundation CEO Sello Hatang said the Nelson Mandela Foundation had a long history of collaboration with the NBA, dating back to the 1990s when Mandela was still president of South Africa. The NBA has directly supported the Foundation over the past three years, and proceeds from the 4 August basketball game will also go to the Foundation.

Many of the NBA’s top players over the years have come from Africa, including Luol Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan; Congolese player Serge Ibaka; Dikembe Mutombo, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Senegal’s Amadou Fall, who is now the NBA’s Vice-President and Managing Director.

American investor David Gross said the African-born NBA players faced a unique moment. Basketball’s popularity had grown across the continent, and their sporting success had translated into personal financial strength. It was an opportune moment to use their celebrity and financial power to help others on the continent, he said.

The NBA has invested in improving life in Africa, predominantly through the Basketball without Borders programme, which is in its 16th year, and through the Innovation Summits of the last three years.

Innovative action that would really ignite African economies was urgently needed, said Fred Swaniker, founder and CEO of the African Leadership Academy. A billion jobs were needed across the continent by 2035, he noted.

This was because Africa had the world’s youngest population, with the average age just 19, and this youthful demographic was growing at such a rapid rate that by the end of the century, 40% of the world would be African, Swaniker said.

It sounded as though 2035 was a long way off, but there was as much time between now and then as had passed since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Arlington County, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Swaniker said.

Mandela’s values were as relevant for inspiring change today as they were when he was alive, said broadcaster Nozipho Mbanjwa. She moderated one of the three panel discussions held during the summit on 3 August, themed “The Power of Changemakers”.

The other two panel discussions explored the topics “Innovative Partnerships that Inspire and Produce Social Impact” and “How Sport and Athletes Drive Business and Community Development in a Modern Africa”.

Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela, chairperson of the Africa Rising Foundation, said education was of paramount importance in order to ensure Africa’s youth were ready to take advantage of the future.

“In South Africa we have this amazing youth [population], but often they can feel disillusioned about what the future can hold for them,” he said. Sport had the power to convey the message that great things could be achieved if people worked together, Mandela said.

It was the current youthful generation that had the power to make sure they created opportunities for themselves to succeed, he said.

Award-winning NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played 20 NBA seasons, said while innovation would be crucial for creating a viable future for young Africans, it was also important to encourage people to embrace innovation. For that to happen, they had to see how it could benefit them, he said.

“Young African people need to see that this century is the African century,” said Swaniker. “Innovations come out of constraints and the good thing is: Africa has many constraints.”

Image: NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Bismak Biyombo, both born in the Democatic Republic of Congo, at the United States’s National Basketball Association (NBA) Africa Innovation Summit, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.