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The MRF's work showcased in Washington DC

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The MRF's work showcased in Washington DC

Published 3 May 2019

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President Obama honours Madiba’s legacy at 100th celebrations

In July 2018, South Africa and the world marked the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Mr Mandela’s legacy lives on in the imaginations of people across the world, including the US, where he had an important network of friends and allies.

A year of centenary celebrations drew to a spectacular close this weekend in Washington DC, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election. The Mandela legacy organisations – tasked by Madiba himself with the continuation of his work and mandate – were acknowledged and celebrated on a global stage. MRF Chair Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Executive Director Shaun Johnson and Operations Director Ernst Gerber attended the events representing The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital were represented by their respective CEOs.

The programme included a lunch on Friday 26 April hosted by Marriott International, which featured a panel discussion touching on the themes of inclusion, peace, equality and human rights – ideals which Mr Mandela fought for in his lifetime. The Gala evening on Saturday 27 April was headlined by a conversation between President Barack Obama and Mrs Graça Machel, and took place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture.

The South African presence at the Washington events was led by the legacy organisations, of which the MRF is a proud member. Johnson said, “We were able to report back to our wonderful supporters in the US on the terrific progress made by the Foundation and its flagship Mandela Rhodes Scholarships Programme. Incidentally I was also able to share with our American network the striking fact that the Scholarships team in charge of the Programme is made up entirely of Mandela Rhodes Alumni from various Cohorts.” The work of the legacy organisations was received positively by the audiences. “It was wonderful to be describing a genuinely positive story out of Africa, when so much of the news agenda has been negative,” said Johnson.

Founding Executive Director Shaun Johnson and Chairman Professor Njabulo Ndebele greeting President Obama

The work of the legacy organisations was further contextualised in the keynote conversation between President Barack Obama and Mrs Graça Machel, moderated by Lesley Williams, an African Leader with the Obama Foundation. President Obama left the audience with some food for thought.

“There is always a struggle between hope and fear, between the world as it is and how we’d like it to be. And during times of tumult and disruption, whether it’s technological, economic, information, migration, the danger of us resorting to fear to organize ourselves, falling back on tribe, race, ethnicity, sectarian lines, that always becomes strong.”

“The good news is that fear is typically the province of the old, and hope is the province of the young. There are occasional exceptions, like Madiba, who stayed young at heart throughout life, never succumbing to cynicism, and always believing in the possibility of human connection, mutual understanding, rational thought, all of which could contribute to a society that works for everyone,” Obama said. Watch the full video of President Obama in conversation with Mrs Machel below.

The panel discussions and keynote addresses were accompanied by music and arts performances paying tribute to Madiba. Friday afternoon concluded with a performance by star American pop duo Chloe x Halle. On Saturday night, Atandwa Kani read a selection of Nelson Mandela’s prison letters, and National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman read a poem by Maya Angelou. According to Johnson, “There was not a dry eye in the house.” Vusi Mahlasela and Dave Matthews teamed up for a joint performance, and the legendary Sibongile Khumalo also performed.

The Mandela 100 celebrations in Washington were a reminder of what a living legacy looks like, and it’s clear that Nelson Mandela’s life continues to inspire collective action. “Perhaps most gratifying for those of us given the privilege to be custodians of the Mandela legacy, is to see that the enthusiasm for all that Mr Mandela stood for has not waned since his passing,” Johnson concluded.

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