Revamped Centre for Memory a place for all to enjoy Madiba's legacy

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Nthambeleni Gabara

South Africans are proud to share the legacy of the first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela with the rest of the world. A symbol of this is the newly refurbished Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, where South Africans and the global community will view and enjoy the legacy of the formidable life and times of Mandela.

At the new centre, situated in Houghton, Johannesburg, one can spend a moment in Madiba’s post-presidential office, which has been transformed into a public and dialogue facility. The office has been preserved exactly as he left it in 2010.

The upper level of the centre has been transformed into an interactive space for visitors, with a permanent exhibition called The Life & Times of Nelson Mandela.

Visitors can also browse the reading room for research and reference work, as well as facilities to host discussions.

On the lower level, a high-tech archival storage facility has been created for the centre’s archive collections, including Madiba’s personal papers.

The centre was officially unveiled by President Jacob Zuma on Monday night. “As South Africans, we are proud to be the children of Tata Nelson Mandela, and to share his proud legacy with the rest of the world.

“Up to this day, Madiba continues to inspire all of us and remains a symbol of hope and resilience to all those striving for a better and more humane world,” he said.

Zuma also used the platform to thank the centre for making a major contribution towards integrating the heritage of the liberation into the nation’s cultural heritage.

“The resources housed at this centre form an integral part of defining where we come from as a nation. They tell an important part of the South African story; a story of a people that have overcome adversity, many years of division and conflict and have today joined hands in building a shared and prosperous future.”

The resources were also critical to stimulate dialogue, both in the country and in the world, so that humanity will remember its past and together strive towards peaceful co-existence.

The dialogue must assist in the pursuit of a better South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world, he said.

Government backs memory centre

The President said government fully supports the work of the centre to preserve Madiba’s proud legacy for current and future generations.

“We also identify fully with your stated objective of contributing to a society that remembers its past, listens to all its voices and pursues social justice in order to promote peace, human rights and democracy.

“Equally, we remain fully supportive of Nelson Mandela Day, an initiative which the centre helps in coordinating. Our primary goal in this regard is to inspire all South Africans to make every day a Mandela Day.

“Our support for the work done by the centre is informed by our understanding that South Africans and indeed the rest of humanity have a lot to learn from Madiba’s life,” he said.

Madiba Statue at the Union Buildings

Zuma said Madiba’s statue will be unveiled at the Union Buildings next month, as part of marking the National Day of Reconciliation. This year also marks the centenary of the seat of government, the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.

“As government, we will continue to honour Madiba and his generation of leaders for the massive contribution they made to our liberation. Part of the work we are doing to honour our icon is that in December, we will unveil Madiba’s statue at the Union Buildings.”

For many years, the Union Buildings stood as a symbol of minority rule and the exclusion of the majority, but today, as the seat of the democratic government, it stands as a proud symbol of a people united in diversity. 

“By mounting Tata Madiba’s statue at the Union Buildings, we are cementing the Union Building’s place among those symbols that reflect the kind of inclusive society we seek to build,” Zuma said.

CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Sello Hatang, said: “I hope you will agree with me that [the centre] now looks and feels like a dynamic public facility.

“This building, the Centre of Memory, supports an organisation which does three things. We offer to the world an integrated information resource on the life and times of Nelson Mandela. We open Madiba’s legacy to interpretation and implementation primarily through the International Mandela Day campaign and we convene dialogue on critical social issues.

“… Our mandate stretches us to the limit in many ways because Madiba is a global icon. We must reach the global audience with our work. On the other hand, his legacy demands that we must find ways of reaching effectively the systematically disadvantaged in our country.”

Chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Resource Mobilisation Committee, Tokyo Sexwale, said: “In this house of my father, Nelson Mandela, there are no visas, we are free. This is the house of reconciliation, of dialogue and where different parties come together.”

Also present at the opening was US Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard.

“Madiba’s shining moral example is one that continues to be a foundation not only for South Africa, but for the entire world.

“I am particularly pleased and proud to be able to affirm that the US government is landing its support to preserving the archives at the centre. We are pledging a contribution of $100 000 from the US embassy to go towards the centre,” said Gaspard.

Chairperson of the National Lotteries Board, Professor Alfred Nevhutanda, said they had donated a whopping R11.8 million for the refurbishment of the centre. “We will continue to give them financial support as they are playing a critical role of preserving our heritage.”

Chairperson of the Centre of Memory, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, said the centre stands as a site of a continuous reflection on the life and times of the greatest leader the world has never seen.

He said the centre was designed to explore and interpret Mandela’s broad and complex legacy, which has left few untouched around the world.

“Last month, our Board of Trustees completed our core objectives of the centre for the next five years… These would be to be the trusted voice on the life and times of Mandela; to be the preferred convener of dialogue on critical social issues; [to be] self-sustaining rather than donor dependent, but with a substantial resource mobilisation capacity for programmes.

“[We want to be] an organisation with a corporate brand identity established in popular perception and imagination and firmly connected to the Nelson Mandela Foundation physical home; to be the custodian of the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture and the International Mandela Day campaign, with an ever expanding international reach.”

Last week, the centre hosted the first of three international dialogues on post-oppression memory work, the Mandela dialogue. Twenty-seven people from 11 countries gathered at the centre, including judges, activists, parliamentarians and community elders from Argentina, Kenya, Bosnia, Canada, Cambodia, Croatia, Germany, Uruguay, Brazil and South Africa.

They were at the centre to interrogate and have a dialogue on what the Nelson Mandela legacy offers to people struggling with issues of identity, history, collective trauma and citizenship.

Entry to the refurbished centre will be free and by appointment only, as the facility cannot cater to a large number of visitors at once. -

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