By Haley Burnside, Asst. Editor
Last Wednesday, students and faculty alike gathered to hear the smooth, clear, trademark Mandela voice. Grandson of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Ndaba Mandela spoke to a wide audience in the Kelly Commons. He opened with a simple phrase.
“Today, I am going to share my story with you,” Mandela said.
From that point on he spoke about his early childhood and upbringing in South Africa before, during and after his grandfather became the nation’s president.
“I was born in 1982 in South Africa during the time when apartheid government was at the helm of a segregation system because they believed black people and white people should not be together,” said Mandela.
He then explained that he was fortunate to have been raised sheltered from the violence of apartheid, but learned about it when he became older.
Mandela shared the story of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison through the eyes of a young grandson, providing a personal viewpoint to a global event.
“[When] Nelson Mandela came out of jail, the whole country and many countries around the world were celebrating the release of this icon,” said Mandela. “I remember it was really just a joyous time. People in the streets were dancing, cars were stopped, it was incredible.”
Mandela shared some stories and anecdotes about his famous grandfather, laughing as he recounted a time when the President threatened to make him sleep outside for misplacing a school uniform.
He then segued into discussions about his current life and the projects he presently focuses on. One important issue to him is the global perception of Africa. Mandela explained the struggle of changing this perception, which he believes is falsely created by the media.
“People outside the continent of Africa don’t have much information about Africa,” said Mandela. “In the media they say that ‘Africa is a place of war, poverty, disease and dictators.’ We are not here to deny that any of these things exist, however there is much more to Africa than you see in the media.”
Mandela works with the Africa Rising Foundation (ARF), which he cofounded in 2009 to accomplish this goal. The mission of the organization is “committed to promoting Africa through a series of campaigns that address the continent’s socio-economic challenges,” according to the ARF website.
In addition to global work, Mandela spends time working for those within the country directly. He believes that “the best way to change the narrative is to empower the youth of Africa.”
“Through education, technology, and entrepreneurship development, we will empower these young African leaders,” Mandela said.
The ARF partnered with the Nelson Mandela Museum to create a program where people could learn basic computer literacy and skills. Through this program, with the help of corporate sponsors, 80 girls participated in a four day coding class.
“It’s vital that our young people have access to information in order for them to be able to fulfill their own dreams,” Mandela said.
Following the lecture was a more informal question-and-answer session, during which Mandela shared several pieces of advice for young people.
“Failure actually is your friend because if you don’t fail in life you will never really learn how to do things in a better way,” said Mandela.
He also encouraged students to follow him on social media in order to connect with ARF and to see how they can contribute to the cause. For college students specifically, he suggests volunteer work.
When asked why he spends so much of his time doing charity, volunteer, and advocacy work, he answered that his children were a motivator of his.
“In the future when my kids come to me and say ‘Dad, you were faced with these challenges. What did you do about it to contribute to change the world?’ If I don’t have an answer then I will be the fool,” said Mandela.
He also cited his grandfather as an inspiration. Of all of the quotes and sentiments his grandfather said, Mandela thinks of one as the most powerful.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that protects and enhances the freedom of others,” said Mandela, quoting his grandfather.
It was the expectation of inspirational and motivational sentiments like this that drew such a large audience to the lecture.
The crowd of students, faculty, and community members that gathered in Kelly Commons outnumbered the chairs, and those eager to hear Mandela speak lined the walls of the room.
Director of Student Engagement John Bennett was thrilled to see the turnout, as he had been working to see Mandela speak at the college for almost a year. Bennett said that the discussion to bring Mandela to campus started in December 2016 through a conversation with Vicki M. Cowan in the college’s human resources department.
Bennett was more than satisfied with the lecture event, and his only regret is that not everyone got to hear Mandela’s inspiring message.
“Glass half full – I was really happy with the audience and turn out by students, the room was packed. I can’t imagine there’s one person in the room that left not happy they attended; he was inspiring and personable, and gave a great speech,” said Bennett. “Glass half empty – He was so good, I feel bad for the rest of the campus that missed out. Maybe we can get him back to give a speech at commencement so more people could hear his message!”
Christina Mohr, a sophomore who attended the event, said that Mandela met all of her expectations of the event.
“I wanted to come because I thought it would be really inspirational, and it was,” said Mohr.
Mohr said she felt a call to action after hearing Mandela’s words, specifically when he spoke about changing the image of Africa.
“As a white person, I think white people have to work on how we see Africa,” said Mohr. “It’s really easy for us to brush it off because of our privilege, but we can’t do that. We need to educate ourselves and others on Africa.”
The next lecture in the series will feature Chris Hayes, of MSNBC, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at noon on the fifth floor of Kelly Commons.