Nelson Mandela Foundation

The legacy of Nelson Mandela has proven to be complex, and, in this complexity, there has been undeniable contestation. It is important that we understand there is no one way of interpreting what he stood for and what he left behind. His legacy is not singular, and this is what makes his impact enduring. It has and will always be multitudinous. This is mainly because as human beings we rarely ever just simply receive legacies, we pick them apart, we question and interrogate both the man and the public figure. “Legacies are only ever made and re-made.”­ Verne Harris acting CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

People all over the world have been able to interpret Nelson Mandela’s story from different angles - as the public figure who was the first black president in 1994, an exemplary leader who led South Africa’s political transformation. But also as a man who has made numerous mistakes and has forced us to confront our humanity, a man who lost a portion of his life to the struggle for freedom, a father, a grandfather, a husband, a man able to confront his mistakes, both personal and political. Nelson Mandela’s legacy is deeply woven into the very fabric of our history and arguably our identity as a people, this is irrespective of age, race, or background. The complexity of his legacy is found in how complex and diverse we are as a people.

When we speak of his legacy, it is imperative that we touch on four areas that have shaped the work we do at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, namely the memory work supported through archives. This has played a crucial role in how we make sense of the world today. When he donated his personal archive to the Foundation, it was to create a public resource. The core of his legacy has shifted from simply romanticizing him to meaningful critique that comes with lessons. When we speak of the pursuit of justice, freedom, and equity, we continue to draw on his wisdom. From his historic interviews and speeches to the more personal prison letters, we constantly find ourselves looking at his insights into South Africa’s political revolution. These insights often translate to us the journey that he walked and the journey that still lies ahead. These past few years have been difficult, plagued by disease, war and loss, a time of uncertainty in South Africa’s government, but even in these times, we are reminded of the significance of looking back and learning from our past to move forward.

“The mark of great leaders is the ability to understand the context in which they are operating and act accordingly." – 

Nelson Mandela, I Know This To Be True.

    Amid leadership crises, Nelson Mandela’s leadership continues to be a template on which authentic and transformative leadership models can be formulated. Key leadership lessons are taken from him to solve multi-sectoral leadership failures. Madiba’s leadership ethos was rooted in the interconnectedness of all people and focused on what unites us, our shared humanity.

    Nelson Mandela’s leadership is a hallmark of his legacy. What comes to mind is how relevant his teaching continues to be..

    The third major cornerstone of his legacy is his undying pursuit for justice. He continues to inspire social justice movements all over the globe. He continues to inspire social justice movements all over the world from the likes of Black Lives Matter to the free Palestine movement.

    Nelson Mandela’s legacy, no matter how contested, is that of hope. He remains the picture of a dream not yet realised, a model of justice, servant leadership and reconciliation. His legacy forces us to confront ourselves, our flaws, our mistakes and to hold ourselves accountable. This is what underscores our fallibility and shared humanity. But more than that, Madiba teaches us that we can, and we must, make this world a better place regardless of our shortcomings.