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Nelson Mandela Foundation

Nelson Mandela Foundation


Leadership has for so long been a major sore point in the political life of Africa. It is a crisis of pandemic proportions that sweeps across the entire continent like an intractable plague. Very few African leaders can be said to pass muster with any objective measuring scale. The one exception in recent times was Nelson Madela whose personality, philosophy, and leadership style were a complete departure from what Africans had come to expect from their leaders. Today, he stands as Africa’s answer to the leadership crisis that bedevils the continent, a beacon of hope that the continent’s leadership struggles are not genetically inscribed. The Nelson Mandela Foundation was founded to institutionalize the Mandela leadership model in Africa, a model characterized by openness, trust, and visionary sensibilities.


The Nelson Mandela Foundation was established in 1999 as Mr Nelson Mandela’s  Post-presidential Office, which served as the base for his advocacy, charity work and leadership development. Upon being sworn in as President of South Africa in 1994, Mandela had indicated that he would spend only a term in office and seek no further mandate. He kept to his words and vacated office in 1999 for Thabo Mbeki to step in as his successor.

Realising that he still had a lot to do for the development of South Africa in particular and Africa in general, Nelson Mandela decided to champion causes that could propagate his ideals and values in South Africa and the continent. Consequently, the foundation was founded to promote Mandela’s ideals of advocacy and dialogue as a methodological alternative for conflict resolution to violence and confrontation. Yet, overall, the overarching goal of the foundation is to preserve the Mandela legacy.

An exhibition of Mandela’s photos

The founding principles are captured as “the creation, establishment, protection, and preservation of a Centre of Memory about Mr Mandela, which contains an archive of the life and times, works, and writing of the founder.” Through the archiving of materials and other documents written by Nelson Mandela, the foundation hopes the reader or any who encounters these materials would be able to identify the undoubted greatness of Mandela and the ideas that he enunciated.  Through critical discussions around critical social issues involving individuals, agencies, bodies and other stakeholders, the foundation further spreads the founder’s ideals of human rights and democracy.  The minds of great leaders are usually shaped and influenced by great thoughts. Hence, in addition to its other principles, the Nelson Mandela Foundation promotes philosophical thoughts on leadership, good governance, human rights, and democracy. It also raises money to pursue continued engagement with public issues in South Africa and Africa and to execute its own objectives.

Vision and Mission

A fundamental mandate of the foundation is  to crave  “a society that remembers its past, listens to all its voices and pursues social justice.” This implies that aside from its passionate concern for the preservation of legacy, the foundation also pursues social justice with equal intensity. Mandela was a strong advocate of social justice as the bedrock of democracy.  The foundation’s archival resource on Mandela enables it to propagate not just the values and ideals of the late charismatic South African, of which social justice was a major part. It also provides a platform for the sharing and disseminating of knowledge contained in the writings of the great leader.

Of primary concern to Mandela all through his lifetime was the need to choose dialogue over violence as a means of resolving conflict. This ideal also sits at the core of the foundation’s activities, and it seeks to institutionalize its elements of dialogue and intervention as a default mode for conflict resolution in Africa. The role that memory plays in all of this is critical. Memory constitutes the keystone and fabric of society’s identity, according to the foundation. It appropriates history as a memento of useful gone-by experience, evaluates its significance, and predicts how it relates and connects with the future.

Mode of Operations and Activities

Nelson Mandela’s office

Making available to the public access to the life and times of Nelson Mandela and his work is another of the ways in which the foundation seeks to entrench the Mandela ethos in the social lives of peoples and societies. It also does this through formally convened dialogues and discussions on critical social issues. Its key objective is to find sustainable solutions to the problems facing Africa and humanity by looking back in time.

In the thinking of the foundation, dialogue, research, analysis, and evaluation help to provide solutions to Africa’s many leadership and developmental problems. Through such engagements also the continent can hope to change many cultural practices that impede its growth, as well as adopt a more discriminatory attitude towards Western values bequeathed to it by colonialism.

A very important virtue for which Mandela was distinguished was his willingness to listen to the other party. A wise man listens more than he talks. Speaking and letting the other speak is a useful model of engagement adopted by Mandela as he sought to transition Apartheid South Africa to a democratic society. The foundation seeks to engrain this principle of conversation and dialogue on the African mindset as a standard template for dealing with conflicts on the continent.

Stakeholder dialogues are regularly convened to discuss ways of finding lasting solutions to problems afflicting the continent and its peoples. For South Africa in particular, this is paramount, given the nation’s recent history. Armed with the hindsight afforded by its inglorious Apartheid history, South Africa can rely on the abundant resources of its memory bank to create a better society for its people.  The foundation believes that this sense of shared experience in South Africa can galvanize citizens of that country as well as other African nations towards a more egalitarian society, the ugliness of that history notwithstanding.

Visitors viewing documents containing some of Mandela’s writings

Using technology, the Nelson Mandela Foundation archives documentary information about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and makes it accessible to the general public wherever they may be located. A multilayered archival system that is accessible online becomes the one-stop-shop for all information relating to Mandela and his legacy. And of course, the materials on display are the products of the foundation’s relentless research and analyses of the continent’s socio-environmental issues and the solutions thereof.

The ethical framework that the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela provide for Africa and the global audience has warranted the foundation’s clamour for a Nelson Mandela International Day. Such international recognition, it believes, would go a long way to activate and honour the legacy of Mandela globally. Mandela’s great sacrifice in pursuit of freedom would thus become a model for the global community. In November 2009, the United Nations declared 18 July as Nelson Mandela Day, thus giving global sanction to the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.


About Us.” Nelson Mandela Foundation. https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/about-the-centre-of-memory1. Accessed 15 July 2019.

Nelson Mandela Day – 2019.” South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs. https://www.environment.gov.za/event/international/2019nelsonmandela_internationalday. Accessed 25 July 2019.

What We Do.” Nelson Mandela Foundation. https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/about-the-centre-of-memory. Accessed 15 July 2019.


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