Madiba legacy lives on in his foundation

Nelson Mandela speaks at the Burundi peace talks in Arusha, Tanazania, work made possible by his foundation. /Rick Wilking/Liaison
Nelson Mandela speaks at the Burundi peace talks in Arusha, Tanazania, work made possible by his foundation. /Rick Wilking/Liaison

It was a singular honour to serve as the first chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The assignment was simple but challenging - put in place all the systems Madiba's post-presidential office would require and turn into institutional programmes the work Madiba wanted to do in the years ahead.

The chair of the board of trustees was Professor Jakes Gerwel, who had been the director-general in the presidency from 1994 to 1999.

He told of how in the weeks after Madiba had stepped down as president he and other former staff members in the presidency had continued to receive calls from Madiba giving instructions for continuing work.

Eventually, he had to tell Madiba that they weren't employees of his any longer.

And so discussion began on the establishment of the foundation to provide Madiba with an institutional platform for his work.

The foundation started out as a trust with an extremely broad mandate in human rights, democracy-building and peacemaking and operations began in what had been Madiba's house in 13th Avenue, Houghton.

In those early days, four passions preoccupied Madiba - the building of schools and transformation of SA's education system, the challenge of HIV/Aids, the peace process in Burundi and the writing of a memoir about his presidential years.

To support these passions, we put in place education and HIV/Aids programmes,built a support structure for the peace process which Madiba was heading in Burundi and hired a historian to work with him on his memoir.

My tenure at the helm was relatively short but it gives me satisfaction that the foundational work which the team did in those early days has proved to be enduring.

Twenty years later, the foundation is a strong structure of civil society.

The education programme has developed into an independent institution - the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development.

Madiba's HIV/Aids work contributed enormously to the transformation of South African public policy in dealing with the scourge.

He oversaw successfully the first phase of peacemaking in Burundi. While he never completed his memoir, he contributed fundamentally to the foundation's book on the presidential years, Dare Not Linger, which was published in 2017 and has become a critical resource to the foundation's continuing archival programme.

And it pleases me that the house in which we started the foundation is now being turned into a multipurpose public facility.

Small beginnings have turned into enduring processes.

The legacy lives on.

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