Change the world


On 2 February 1990, then President FW de Klerk announced the highly anticipated news of the release of Nelson Mandela from his 27-year imprisonment – a move met with mixed emotions worldwide.

Mandela’s release offset a wave of euphoria at the prospect of a new South Africa, free from racial oppression and with the promise of an equal and just society.  The imperatives were clear – to negotiate a way forward for the country and to fundamentally transform society.

The latter mandate is one that the country is still grappling with 30 years since the release of South Africa’s most famous political prisoner. While strides have been made towards effectively transforming South African society, there is still a long way to go in truly achieving this.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the former president’s release, Nelson Mandela University and the Nelson Mandela Foundation cemented a strategic partnership that seeks to take Madiba’s legacy forward into the next thirty years and beyond.

The University and Foundation – who share a common vision of entrenching Mandela’s legacy in their respective contributions towards an equal and just society – have been in collaboration on a number of projects in that regard.

On Monday, 3 February, these institutions formalised this partnership with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in the areas of social justice advocacy, scholarship and research and human rights activities, as defined by the parties.

The University’s work and consciousness mirrors that of Madiba, which is being kept alive through the Nelson Mandela Foundation that was founded after his presidential term ended in 1999, to continue his life’s work and advance his legacy.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, held at the Mandela Bench on the University’s South Campus, Mandela University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sibongile Muthwa, described the partnership as a “match made in heaven”.

“The Foundation and the University are both cognisant of the great responsibility associated with carrying the name of Nelson Mandela,” Prof Muthwa said.

“It is our duty to foster the intertwined legacy and memory of Madiba, but simultaneously to recognise that it is not a static inheritance and if we are to critically engage with that legacy, then we should move beyond the man to the multiplicity of the social figure of Mandela. The space of Mandela, the social figure, is the dense location of scholarly work where history and subjectivity make social life.”

When the academic institution renamed itself from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to Nelson Mandela University in July 2017, it was more than just about dropping the word “metropolitan” but a statement of intent, anchored in its resolve towards social justice – to which Madiba himself committed his life.

“The relationship between Mandela University and the Nelson Mandela Foundation is not merely symbolic, it is a working relationship. We are committed to a vigorous intellectual collaboration that supports research and scholarship,” said Prof Muthwa.

The Foundation’s vision, like the University, is for a just society, with a mission to “contribute to the making of said society through Mandela’s legacy, providing access to information on his life and times, and convening dialogue on critical social issues”.

It has a fundamental stake in the transformation of South Africa’s education sector and in the promotion of Mandela-related research and analysis; with leadership development imperatives informing everything it does.

Reminiscing on the last 30 years, since Madiba’s release, Foundation Chief Executive Mr Sello Hatang pondered the success of the work the former president led in 1990s.

“I believe we have to be frank. We have not fully dismantled apartheid.  We have not achieved the transformation Madiba dreamed of,” said Mr Hatang.

“Transformation has to be our watchword now, as it was for Madiba when he came out of prison.  And all of us, across sectors, wherever we are positioned in society, need to contribute to negotiating ways forward in what are treacherous circumstances.”

“These are the contexts within which the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela University are seeking to build an institutional partnership.”

“Given the urgency of the times, both in South Africa and globally, what our institutions do together must be geared to finding a way forward, bringing people together, developing good leadership at all levels, and identifying strategies, models and tools which work in practice and which empower people to participate meaningfully in transformative work.”

The collaboration between the University and Foundation has so far given rise to three projects, all geared at making a meaningful impact on society.

One such project is the Transdisciplinary Institute for Mandela Studies (TIMS), a joint project between the University, Foundation and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The TIMS idea was launched last year during a unique colloquium titled Dalibhunga: This time? That Mandela?

Explaining why the Foundation came on board to support TIMS, its Director of Archive and Dialogue, Prof Verne Harris, said the university was one of around 60 organisations worldwide authorised to carry Madiba’s name but “it was very seldom that an institute carrying the name comes to us with a proposal to do meaningful work”.

He said Mandela scholarship was in its infancy and was a space “dominated by white male voices”, most of them overseas, with the dominant narrative repeated again, and again, so there were deficiencies in scholarship.

“This offers us a fecund [fertile] place to explore what could be done there … We need to encourage robust, critical work.”

Another project is the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE), which is also in its second year of operation. It is a partnership between the Foundation and Columbia University, in New York City, with Mandela University roped into the collaboration to assist with developing curriculum content for the fellowship programme.

The Foundation, in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity, is also exploring working with the University’s Department of Human Settlements on affordable community housing.

Read VC Professor Sibongile Muthwa's speech

View photos of the event



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