As promoters of Mandela’s legacy, the Nelson Mandela Foundation recognises that nation building is impossible in the face of gross poverty and inequality.
Mandela himself echoes these sentiments in a 1998 speech: “While in all parts of the world progress is being made in entrenching democratic forms of governance, we constantly need to remind ourselves that the freedoms which democracy brings will remain empty shells if they are not accompanied by real and tangible improvements in the material lives… of ordinary citizens.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation was founded by Mandela in 1999 upon his retirement from formal politics. In the early years, its work centred on education, HIV/AIDS, and reconciliation. Today, the Foundation is structured around four main functions: Research and archive; communications and outreach; dialogue and advocacy; and governance and support.
As part of this mandate, poverty and inequality, identity politics and reckoning with the past are the three strategic areas of focus. The selection of these strategic areas was born out of the recognition that there remains unfinished business with respect to Mandela’s legacy.
In terms of poverty and inequality, the Foundation hosted French economist, Thomas Piketty, in 2015 at the 13th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. The relevance of Piketty’s work to South Africa is illustrated in the opening of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in which he uses the tragedy of Marikana as an allegory for violent global economic disparity. The visit of Piketty was thus aptly used as a means of announcing the Foundation’s involvement in what came to be known as the Mandela Initiative.
The Mandela Initiative, which built on the work that emerged out of the ‘Towards Carnegie3’ conference in 2012, aims to research and advocate for strategies to overcome poverty and inequality in South Africa. The Initiative comprises action dialogues, research programmes and a think tank which consists of members from academia, civil society, government and the policy sphere.
At the Foundation, it is primarily the Dialogue and Advocacy function that is responsible for engagement with the Mandela Initiative, as this function aims to involve itself in finding sustainable solutions to critical social problems through the engagement of key stakeholders.
The work of the Initiative will conclude at a workshop in Cape Town from the 12 – 14 February 2018. While the Initiative will no longer exist in its current construct, the Foundation will be advancing the work beyond the Initiative’s lifespan and has expanded its capacity in order to meet this challenge. The work that the Foundation embarks on beyond the February workshop will be influenced by both a desire to advance the legacy of its founder, and the views expressed by the attendees of the workshop.
Greater advocacy and public engagement will undoubtedly form part of the strategies adopted, which will leverage off the research, dialogues, workshops and colloquiums that have been done to date under the Mandela Initiative.
The Foundation is mindful of the many formations which also have poverty and inequality as part of their core mandate. We do not seek to replicate existing initiatives nor do we claim to replace them. Instead, we endeavour to use our unique position in society – both locally and globally – to play our part in combating the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and inequality.
Mandela once urged global leaders, “Do not look the other way; do not hesitate. Recognise that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.”
As the Foundation, we draw courage and inspiration from these words, and are committed to advancing the unfinished legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. It is a challenge which we are especially determined to achieve as we celebrate the centenary of our founder’s birth.
(Photo credit: (Gallo Images/The Times/Daniel Born)