Nelson Mandela Foundation

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(Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Let me begin by thanking those of you who supported the Mandela Day campaign this July so fulsomely. It was moving to see so many people, in South Africa and internationally, responding to the call “It’s in your hands”.

Our campaign, focusing on the nexus between food security and climate justice, seemed especially significant in the contexts of record high temperatures in the northern hemisphere through July and sobering new information on the scale of human migrations – both international and intra-national – connected directly or indirectly to the climate crisis. These migrations, together with those associated with conflict and oppression, will pose fundamental questions to the concepts of ‘border’, ‘belonging’, ‘nation’ and ‘nation-state’.

For thousands of years, human beings have adapted to changes in climate and have moved geographically in response to changing environments and contexts. Adapting and moving are things human beings should be good at. In my view, humanity is being called to remember its longer histories. It is being challenged to think outside the conceptual boxes that Western positivism has entrenched during the centuries since the Industrial Revolution. It is being challenged to revisit indigenous knowledges and histories. We have to do differently. We have to embrace transformation. And we have to understand that the Earth is in our hands now.

But how to do differently becomes the question. In the last week, I have been reading a paper by the feminist scholars Ana Agostino and Julia Schoneberg in which they argue that ‘sustainable development’ is a contradiction in terms and that “the notion of ‘sustainability’ has become a fit-all concept co-opted to justify a green-washing of an extractivist lifestyle.”[1] They point out that in the global sustainable development discourse, economic growth is simply assumed to be desirable and achievable at the same time as pursuing environmental justice and a good (and sustainable) life for everyone. Disagreeing, they insist that we must confront the ways in which the drives for wealth accumulation and growth are placing at terrible risk the sustainability of human and other forms of life.

We need provisioning economies rather than growth economies. We must explore what ‘the state’ might look like and how it might work outside of a ‘nation-state’ framing. And, they argue, we have to understand that climate justice is inseparable from gender justice. Patriarchy is an apparatus of power which, fundamentally, is about extraction, accumulation and subjugation.

Agostino and Schoneberg, I believe, give us an important and timely provocation. They remind me of why I feel so good about the work that the Nelson Mandela Foundation is doing in the areas of early childhood development and food security. Our praxis in these areas has become all about provisioning and the sustainability of life - in contexts, let it be said, where the nation-state is failing vulnerable communities. Also, no surprise, most of our work in these areas relies on women.

[1] Agostino, A. and Schoneberg, J. “(How) can public policies enable transformation? – Theory and practice of post-development in relation to the state”, DPS Working Paper Series 12 (April 2023)

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Gallery: Mandela Day 2023

A gallery of images from the Foundation's Mandela Day 2023 activities at Afrika Tikkun's Green Acres Farm, Diepsloot, Johannesburg.