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The Audacious Experiment tells the unlikely story of the Mandela Rhodes partnership

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The Audacious Experiment tells the unlikely story of the Mandela Rhodes partnership

Published 15 July 2023

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When The Mandela Rhodes Foundation (MRF) was launched in July 2003, the combination of the names in its title was met with surprise. Why would Nelson Mandela, the renowned freedom fighter, agree to joining his name with that of Cecil Rhodes, the enthusiastic proponent of British colonialism in Africa? 20 years later, a new book tells the story of how Mr Mandela’s legacy organisation for leadership development was founded.

The Audacious Experiment: The Mandela Rhodes Story has its own tenacious backstory. The manuscript was begun by Shaun Johnson, who was the founding CEO of the MRF and a leading journalist and media figure. He was sadly unable to finish it before his untimely death in February 2020. Professor Elleke Boehmer, historian, novelist and literary scholar, stepped in and completed the book. “It was such a joy and privilege to work as co-author on Shaun's history of the amazing MRF. I'm excited now to share the audacious story and see how readers enjoy it,” said Boehmer, who is a Rhodes Scholar and a friend of Johnson and the MRF. She was supported by research assistants Iris Nxumalo-de Smidt and Makomborero Muzenda, both of whom are Mandela Rhodes Scholars. The book was generously published by Oxford University Press, a long-standing partner of the MRF.

The Audacious Experiment traces the emergence of the ‘unlikely idea’ and reveals the reasons for Nelson Mandela’s agreement to the partnership. It tracks the roles played by influential figures, while bringing to light important contributions made in unrecognised ways – often by women. The MRF emerges as an eminent African institution developing leaders for the continent’s future, born out of an impetus towards redressing historical injustices. The fruition of the Foundation’s early promise is conveyed through the stories and reflections of Mandela Rhodes Scholars.

“We are delighted to have the history of the MRF captured in this beautiful book. It gives readers a sense of the prestige and historic importance of the Foundation, while imparting a wonderful feeling of hope for Africa’s future. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, the book showcases the impactful leaders the Mandela Rhodes Scholars have become,” said Judy Sikuza, CEO of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

“It is a privilege and honour for Oxford University Press to travel on this journey with the MRF as a like-minded partner who believes in the transformative power of education and who has such a profound impact on the shaping of leadership in Africa,” added Hanri Pieterse, MD of Oxford University Press Africa.

On Friday the 14th of July, the Foundation will launch the book and honour those who made it possible. The evening will include a panel discussion which will explore the significance of The Audacious Experiment and delve into the process of its creation. The panel will feature Professor Elleke Boehmer, MRF Chairman Professor Njabulo S. Ndebele, Iris Nxumalo-De Smidt and Makomborero Muzenda and will be moderated by commissioning editor Abigail McDougall.

More about The Mandela Rhodes Foundation

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation offers young leaders from across the African continent a chance to become part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy of transformative impact. We offer a life-changing opportunity for personal growth via a prestigious postgraduate scholarship and Leadership Development Programme for those who want to use their talents to serve Africa. Since our inception in 2003, we have selected 622 Mandela Rhodes Scholars from 33 African countries. The Mandela Rhodes Foundation was founded in 2003 by Mr Mandela in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, the home of the Rhodes Scholarship based at the University of Oxford.

For further information, interview or image requests, please contact Abigail McDougall (MRF Communications & Alumni Manager) on

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