Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s Grandson, Speaks at Harvard Law School

Last week, Professor Charles Ogletree’s ‘Understanding Mandela’ class welcomed guest speaker Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, to campus. Ndaba Mandela offered a candid look into his grandfather’s legacy—and also how he was creating his own with the Africa Rising Foundation.

“For him, it was really important that everyone who lived in South Africa felt like a South African,” Ndaba Mandela said of the country’s former president.

He remembers meeting the anti-apartheid leader for the first time when he was 8 years old: his parents told him he was going to meet his grandfather in jail. Amidst negotiations with the government, Nelson Mandela had been transferred to a private house inside Victor Verster Prison. Ndaba Mandela recalled that the house was nice, and after leaving he even told his parents that he too wanted to go to jail when he grows up.

Weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years and reached out to his grandson, who later moved into the Presidential Palace. Ndaba Mandela told stories of his grandfather’s routine concerns about how he was doing in school, and even the occasional scolding for having a messy room. Ndaba Mandela also talked about Nelson Mandela’s compassion for people—he treated all people the same, whether meeting with state leaders like George W. Bush and Fidel Castro or talking with the woman cooking dinner.

After constantly hearing about the negative perceptions of Africa, Ndaba Mandela decided it was time to do something about the continent’s perception—just the motivation necessary to establish a new non-profit organization: Africa Rising. The goal was to shift international conversations from violence and disease to economic development and cultural celebration.

“For us, we needed somebody—we needed an entity—to say I am African, and know what it means to be an African, and I am proud of it,” Ndaba Mandela said.

The talk was part of a new course offered by Professor Charles Ogletree this semester called ‘Understanding Mandela.’

“In my opinion, it would be myopic—and almost too formulaic—to merely study apartheid law in South Africa, the effects of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela’s life and work,” said second-year student Shay Johnson, who is also a teaching assistant for the class. “The course seeks to go beyond the surface of each of these aspects, and considers history, culture, and current events in South Africa, among other topics, to provide a full context to the work of Nelson Mandela. I love being able to see this course come to life during every class meeting—watching the readings and course media unfold through class discussion so far has been truly exceptional.”

Other members of the community also attended the talk. Opening the class was Caroline Hunter, a former research bench chemist at Polaroid who organized the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement (PRWM) after learning her employer was behind the production of South Africa’s oppressive passbook system. After Hunter’s talk, a group of high school students from Boston’s Young Man’s Success Series, a life management program that teaches young men skills for success, introduced themselves. One student eloquently remarked how impressed he was that people from Harvard Law come together—regardless of differences in background—to effect change in the world.

Despite the normalcy with which Ndaba Mandela spoke of his grandfather, it was clear that he carried much admiration for Nelson Mandela’s important role in history.

“For you to spend 27 years in jail and come out and say peace, it’s time to build, goes against human nature,” Ndaba Mandela said. “For me, I really don’t know if I would have been able to do that.”

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