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About Us

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation is one of Nelson Mandela’s three official legacy organisations, founded in 2003 in partnership with the Rhodes Trust.

Our purpose is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa. We find, fund, and empower young Africans who aspire to use their talents to serve their societies and our continent. We do this by providing a postgraduate scholarship for young leaders to study in South Africa and participate in a residential Leadership Development Programme.Our programme is built on Nelson Mandela’s belief that leadership begins with inner transformation, and our founding principles of reconciliation, education, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Our Story: Nelson Mandela and the Rhodes Trust

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation was founded in 2003 by Nelson Mandela in partnership with the Rhodes Trust. Forming the partnership was a considered act of reconciliation and, specifically, reparation: a way to return some of Cecil John Rhodes’s wealth to its origins in Africa. Mr Mandela’s intention was to “close the circle of history” by utilising Rhodes’s resources for the advancement of Africa, helping to address the inequalities that result from the grave legacies of colonialism and apartheid.

“We see The Mandela Rhodes Foundation as a significant initiative within the broader framework of South Africans taking responsibility for the transformation of their society, so grievously skewed by a history of colonialism and apartheid. We shall once more take hands across historical divides that others may deem unbridgeable.”

— Nelson Mandela

Image above: Mr Mandela at Rhodes House in Oxford, 2003

The idea to create a partnership between Nelson Mandela and the Rhodes Trust was born in 2002. Professor Jakes Gerwel, the Chancellor of Rhodes University in South Africa and a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Dr John Rowett, the CEO of the Rhodes Trust, had a historic idea. They considered how to mark the centenary year of the Rhodes Scholarships and the start of a new millennium with a growing sense of global responsibility. Together they envisioned an agreement between two seemingly opposite parties: the Rhodes Trust and the man synonymous with South Africa’s new era of freedom - Nelson Mandela. The Rhodes Trust approached Mr Mandela with a proposal for a partnership: to return some of Rhodes’ wealth to South Africa and Africa in a symbolic act of reconciliation and reparation.

Mr Mandela agreed to the partnership, fully conscious of the tension between his own life and legacy and that of Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes was an imperialist and a pioneer of the mining industry in colonial South Africa. For Southern Africans, Rhodes’ name is linked to some of the harshest realities of colonial rule. Mr Mandela proceeded with the partnership because he deeply believed in setting aside ideological differences to pursue a more inclusive society of equal opportunity for all. The partnership with the Rhodes Trust underlined Mr Mandela’s approach of reconciliation and reparation. The eternally provocative name of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation is a call for the beneficiaries of colonialism to participate in and contribute to repairing the damage of colonial times and building a more just society. Mr Mandela’s message, expressed clearly in the Mandela Rhodes partnership, is for all parties to work together to strive for social justice.

“We shall be truly honoured if all who use our name in praise do so in full recognition that what is accorded Mandela should stand for every single South African and African. We would feel demeaned if adulation paid to us is to set us apart from the masses from which we come and in whose name we achieved whatever it is we are deemed to have achieved.

Ours is the name of the labourer who toils on the African farm, fighting for a life of dignity; the girl child battling against great odds for an opportunity to realise her potential; the poor AIDS orphan bereft of family or care, the rural poor eking out a subsistence, deprived of the most basic services and facilities. It is in their names and those of others like them, and in the name of all South Africans, that we lend our name to this initiative, seeking that a better future be built for all of them. ”

— Nelson Mandela, founding speech at Westminster Hall, July 2003. Read the full speech.

Image above: Madiba and Lord Waldegrave, Chairman of the Rhodes Trust, announcing the partnership in 2002

The MRF today

The purpose of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa. To this end, we find, fund, and empower young Africans who aspire to use their talents to serve their societies and our continent. We develop leaders who pursue the realisation of true equality, of dignity and equal opportunity, and who have the courage to unite people to achieve a better life for all.

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation provides a highly competitive postgraduate scholarship for young African leaders to study in South Africa and participate in a residential Leadership Development Programme. We offer our scholars a life-changing journey of personal growth, built on our founding principles of reconciliation, education, entrepreneurship and leadership.

To date we have awarded over 500 Mandela Rhodes Scholarships to talented young leaders from 28 African countries. The impact of the MRF is best seen in the actions, achievements and ideas of our scholars. We therefore aim to support our alumni throughout their journey by providing ongoing leadership development opportunities and a public platform for thought leadership.

Nelson Mandela's legacy

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was South Africa’s first democratically elected president. As a young man he was a freedom fighter who played a key role in launching the armed struggle for freedom, after attempts at negotiations with the apartheid government failed. He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison during the Rivonia trial in 1964, becoming one of the world’s most revered political prisoners. Mr Mandela returned from prison on the 11th of February 1990.

Mr Mandela returned to the people with a call for reconciliation and reparation, uniting the country behind a shared vision of a new South Africa. He led the process of negotiation with the white minority government and opposition political parties, culminating in the first democratic election in 1994. Mr Mandela served one term as President of the Republic of South Africa. He stepped down in 1999, and remained actively committed to the cause of achieving fundamental freedoms and dignity for all. Mr Mandela passed away in 2013 at the age of 95.

“Nelson Mandela – his life, his work, the corpus of his words, deeds and actions – embodies and manifests so much of what is good and noble in the human spirit that as a symbol he answers to the representational needs of an infinite range of human quests and yearnings. Some of us will remember him above all as one of the greatest, bravest and most courageous freedom fighters history has known: a person who was prepared to lay down his life in pursuit of the ideals of peace, progress, human solidarity and a better life for all people.

It was that courage that could see him choose to take up arms when all attempts at negotiating a just dispensation were dismissed and ignored; make him open negotiations with his oppressors while incarcerated in their jails; let him hold together and heal a deeply divided nation in one of the most inspirational acts of reconciliation and forgiving. The fighter and the peace-maker were never at odds with one another; they were integrally part of the same outstandingly courageous searcher after a better life for all people irrespective of social and other differences.”

— Professor Gerwel, Founding Chairman of the MRF, 2005

Image above: Madiba addressing crowds from the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall on 11 February 1990

After concluding his term as President in 1999, Mr Mandela continued to work as a mediator of international conflicts. He also dedicated considerable effort to raising money for his charitable work aimed at improving the lives of children and destigmatising HIV/AIDS. Mr Mandela retired from public life in 2004, announcing that his work would be continued by his three official legacy organisations: the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

“This does not mean that the work that we have been involved in, supported, and promoted, comes to an end. It has been our practise to establish organisations to do certain work and then to leave it to those organisations to get on with the job… our work will continue, perhaps in an even more focused way now that the attention shifts from the individual to the organisations.”

— Nelson Mandela, 2004

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