Protecting Madiba's legacy: The passion of Mandla Mandela

Thursday, June 20, 2013
Chris Bathembu

When it comes to protecting Nelson Mandela’s legacy, no-one is more passionate than his grandson, Chief Mandla Mandela (real name Zwelivelile).

SAnews  was granted a private audience with the 38-year-old Chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, which rules over the Abathembu clan that the Mandela’s are part of.

No-one could ever doubt Mandla’s enthusiasm for rural development and seeing the legacy of his grandfather in education and health protected. This is what I discovered during an hour spent with the young traditional leader and member of South Africa’s parliament since 2009. 

As he emerges from the lavish and heavily guarded Mandela residence, situated in Qunu along the N2 outside Mthatha, Mandela quickly asks the police officers at the gate to let me in and jokingly says “Usuka epalamente (he’s from parliament let him in)”.

This interview happens at the time Mandla’s grandfather, former President Nelson Mandela, spends his second week in hospital, trying to recover from a recurring lung infection. 

Tall and intimidating, outspoken and fearless, so when I was granted this interview, I knew I was in for a tough ride. But, like his grandfather, Mandela is clear about the development of his people and seemingly he could talk about development the entire day. This is what we talked about.

Since tata was admitted to hospital more than a week ago, the family has received messages of support from people across the country and the world. What would be your message to South Africans during this difficult time?

We have been grateful and humbled by the many prayers we have received as a family for my grandfather coming out of people in the Eastern Cape, South Africa at large and the global community. We are grateful and will always be appreciative of their input and I think as my grandfather slowly recovers, it is because of that input he is receiving from the people of South Africa and the global community. But I must also give a word of appreciation to the nurses and doctors that have worked effortlessly to look after him in hospital particularly the medical team from the South African National Defence Force as well as our Presidency who have done a stunning job in ensuring that the public are continuously informed. We therefore as the Mandela royal family want to give thanks to the government for their support.

How has life changed for the people in this rural area since Madiba and his comrades liberated South Africa?

Well there are still many challenges like in many other places in rural South Africa. There are people with no access with clean water, sanitation and health facilities. But we have seen Mvezo being identified as a site for development by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, jointly working with the Presidency. They have built a bridge between Mvezo and Ludondolo villages. Our government has felt it necessary that a bridge be built in Mvezo with an access road.  That bridge and access road has brought many opportunities for the locals, our food gardening projects will now have quick and easy access to markets. The Department of Public Works and Health is also busy building a clinic in Mvezo which will be the first clinic we will have.  The Department of Environmental Affairs as well as tourism have initiated a project of building a multi-purpose centre, a tribal court and a cultural centre that is coming to completion now; it was started in 2008. The Department of Environmental Affairs has also embarked on a landscaping greening project while Tourism has now decided to build a backpackers’ lodge, a self-catering lodge, so that we draw tourists both local and international into the area.

Nelson Mandela has always described education as a powerful weapon the poor can use. Has this been his message in your home?

Within his family, my grandfather has always led by example as far as education is concerned, under the harshest conditions he was able to excel in his studies and went from a school here in Qunu all the way to Fort Hare University and eventually got a Law Degree at Wits University. He also ensured that my father followed suit so my father also became an attorney. So education has really been one of the major foundations for one’s success. His view on education has always been that education is a weapon that one can utilise to change the world and it became one of his main pillars when he founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation.  So you can see from his role of building schools and clinics throughout the country that he felt that our society in order to develop, it needed to embrace education and excel to the highest level. He continuously says to us as the family that to compete at the global level we are facing people who have double doctorates and that is the level he would want to see, and not just his family but South Africans, taking themselves to.

How would you assess Madiba's influence and his legacy on education in South Africa and particularly in this area?

The Mvezo Traditional Council, through the Mvezo Development Trust has initiated the Mandela School of Science and Technology which is funded by Siemens. So we are trying to uphold that legacy of my grandfather towards education.  It is the first high school of its kind in our area. This will ensure our youth don’t drop out at early grades and are able to complete their schooling. This high school addresses many challenges…If Mvezo has been able to produce a global icon, we hope that through this school, we will be able to produce future pilots, doctors, lawyers and again future political leaders and leaders in government and in the private sector.

Are there any programmes focusing on early childhood education and development?

We have worked with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in building an early childhood development centre and it’s just about complete and [we are] hoping to complete it in August. It will enable kids from 0-4 years old to be able to be groomed and prepared for school. So we really beginning to address some of our challenges and we are grateful to government for ensuring that early childhood development is a priority.

What are you doing for Mandela Day in July? What programmes do you have?

Well, we have always embraced July 18 as it was pronounced as the Nelson Mandela International Day by the United Nations. For us, particularly people of Mvezo, where Madiba was born, this day is about us calling to the global community to give 67 minutes of their time to contribute to their communities and society. We will be looking at various programmes. I know we are currently in discussions with the Presidency to have the (Mandela) legacy bridge handed over on July 18. We will also be having other programmes like planting trees at the Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology. We are also looking at other possible things we could do at our clinic, so there are going to be a number of small events that we will be doing in the community to give back.

What do you think would be tata’s message to the youth of South Africa in this Youth Month?

The 1976 youth were very disciplined; very strategic in their thinking and stood their position and once they came into the struggle for liberation, my grandfather’s thinking is that, they fast tracked our cause by pouring out into the streets and even going outside the country and joining the armed struggle. So his message to today’s youth would be at looking as some of the valuable lessons we’ve learned from the youth of 76.

Tell us more about the Mandela Youth Football Tournament - what is the idea behind it?

The tournament was initiated by the Mvezo Traditional Council as early as June 16 in 2007 as a means of trying to gather the youth and give them direction into having things that would have a positive impact in their lives. Each year we have a different theme that aims to encourage the youth to aspire to positive thinking and this year’s focus was alcohol and substance abuse.

How has the tournament influenced the youth in the area?

As you know in this part of the country, being rural South Africa, the former Transkei, a lot of our communities here are living in extreme measures of poverty with very little access to a lot of things. So as a means of empowering of our people and help them escape their plight, we identify on June 16 a sporting tournament which is a commemoration of the heroes and heroines of 1976 who were very disciplined and very structured in their behaviour.  This tournament seeks to instil that pride in the youth to say they should be structured…that whatever is happening they should embrace the challenges they have and be able to engage with them. Last year, we were able to draw about 56 teams but we had to choose only 32 teams because of the limited resources. We were fortunate this year to be able to work with the Department of Sports and Recreation through Minister Fikile Mbalula who invested in this tournament after seeing its potential.

Why is the tournament named after tata?

Well Mvezo is the birthplace of Mandela and where the royal house of Mandela and chieftaincy is based. So that identity is really anchored in Mvezo and around the importance of his name. -

Most Read

SA News on Facebook

SAnews on Twitter