Mandela Initiative to multiply its reach with NMF partnership

Mandela Initiative newsletter (Issue 1, Nov 2016)


Central to the Mandela Initiative approach are collaborations and partnerships around the common goal of investigating and developing innovative strategies to overcome poverty and inequality in South Africa. Key to this endeavour is the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), a non-profit organisation focused on memory, dialogue and legacy work, founded by Nelson Mandela himself. The Foundation joined the initiative as a key partner in 2015 and, to reflect this association, the initiative’s name was changed from “Towards Carnegie3” to the Mandela Initiative. The MI communication manager, Charmaine Smith, spoke to the NFM CEO, Sello Hatang, to find out more about their role in the initiative.


What, in your view, is the value of the Mandela Initiative?

The Mandela Initiative serves multiple purposes.


Sello Hatang

Firstly, the MI will collate a body of knowledge of both empirical research by top researchers and academics in South Africa as well as the indigenous and grassroots knowledge of people who are involved in keeping the economy going; be it farmers and farm workers or mine bosses and miners. Secondly, MI provides a space to leverage this knowledge and to create spaces where active knowledge transfer can take place but also to create safe spaces in which deep content and action dialogues can take place. Instead of existing in silos, the MI allows various spheres to interact and work toward sustainable solutions.

Thirdly, the MI will work toward creating a national conversation on poverty and inequality that looks to inform policy and develop suggestions for new policy where policy is lacking. At the heart of it is to do differently. What we have tried has not worked so we need to find a way to do differently.


Tell us about the value and benefits of having the Foundation on board as strategic partner?

The Foundation serves as an interlocutor between various groups and individuals as both a convenor and facilitator. The Mandela name and the work that has been done by the Foundation for nearly 20 years have given us both the reputation and the networks required. For many conversations we serve as the honest broker and provide the safe spaces.


What we have tried has not worked so we need to find a way to do differently

We also run our own dialogue and research programmes that use a multidisciplinary approach to various questions. Therefore, unlike academic programmes which may often be confined to a certain discipline, we are able to reach out across the board and use a number of unconventional strategies.

Finally, the Mandela brand and outreach remains significant, and we are able to spread across the country to inform and engage with people, across the economic and political spectrum. As the MI essentially requires a “buy-in” from the citizens of the country, we will be able to use our platforms to reach as many people as possible.


What aspects of the Foundation’s work will feed into the Mandela Initiative?

As poverty and inequality is a key focus area for the Foundation in our strategic purpose, the NMF work will feed into the MI in a number of ways. As referred to earlier, the NMF can provide a facilitation role but the NMF also can create space for critical dialogue. When we brought Thomas Piketty down in 2015, there was a fundamental shift in public perception of the problems related to inequality. We have also begun to work in areas that tie in directly, such as land reform, youth alienation, understanding institutions that support constitutional democracy and researching and working with active citizenry.


The Mandela Initiative is a key focus area for the Nelson Mandela Foundation


Beyond this, our work in the memory space allows us to reflect deeply on the post-apartheid period as well as the implications of the Mandela Presidency, be it positive or negative. We also engage directly in outreach efforts through our Mandela Day and Trek4Mandela campaigns.


Any other reflections in relation to the MI’s work and the NMF partnership?

The MI is a key focus area for the NMF. As our greatest challenge as a country, the need for sustainable broad-based growth is integral for stability and there lies a moral and ethical duty for those with privilege and power to use this to alter the unequal structures of power that underpin our system. In order to do this, our policy and endeavours must be based in fact as the consequences of placing rhetoric and populism before informed decision-making can be disastrous.

The task is enormous, as Mandela stated in 1993: “This challenge of transformation demands that we reassess the whole framework of our political, social and economic life and root out every vestige of inequality and racism that was imposed by apartheid. It is the only way we can build a new society and realise the vision of peace and prosperity for which innumerable men, women and children were detained, displaced, imprisoned, tortured and murdered.”

Within this framework we begin our efforts in earnest and within time we will hopefully be part of the solution in creating the South Africa that our founder dreamt of.


With thanks to Sello Hatang for his contributions to this article.
Photo: Nelson Mandela Foundation