Nelson Mandela Foundation Annual Report 2016/2017

Message from the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Professor Njabulo Ndebele

The Nelson Mandela Foundation promotes the legacy of its founder by contributing to building democracy and achieving social justice. We undertake memory and dialogue work based on deep research and analysis. We work with our sister organisations, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, to achieve our founder’s mandate.

The year 2016 was a momentous year for South Africa. In this year, it became clear that our country’s constitutional democracy was under threat and its political process in crisis. We saw this manifested in every societal space, for instance:

  • Structural corruption has been more pervasive than ever. The tentacles of systemic corruption have spread throughout the economy and the public service. Even in the domain of interpersonal relations, it has replaced trustful mutuality with transactional opportunism, and public interest with self-interest
  • Mounting evidence has emerged of a “shadow state” that fundamentally undermines the integrity and efficacy of the constitutional State. This shady body thrives on secrecy in the shadows of which syndicated looting of public coffers takes place. But the secrecy and malicious intent are denied, even as they are exposed and proven
  •  Levels of violence in society have deepened, with women and children being particularly targeted. They are not safe in their homes or in our streets. New research demonstrates that one in five South African children will be sexually abused. Acclaimed academic Professor Pumla Gqola has described rape as a national crisis and pointed to a deep-seated patriarchy, which allows toxic masculinities to thrive
  • Constitutional accountability by public officers in government has been eroded. This has led to a significant decline in purposeful and responsible public service to the general population, in particular responsiveness to the needs of the poor
  • Transactional politics, such as leads to the buying of votes, has contributed to growing the broad public’s alienation from the political process. This phenomenon has led to what academic Khaya Sithole calls “the replacement of a politics of participation by a politics of ratification”, in which citizens ratify decisions taken elsewhere by others through a system now viewed as fragile
  • Massive unemployment, an increasing disease burden, low levels of social security, a failing education system, slow economic growth and persistent inequality are a toxic mix that constantly assaults public hope in a viable future
  • This entire situation has resulted from failures of leadership at multiple levels of government and across the range of social sectors. It is no wonder that, today, we have leaders who care neither for the authority of the Constitution, nor for its vision. Instead they use and abuse the constitutional state to build parallel bases of power and extract wealth shamelessly for themselves and their networks
Structural corruption has been more pervasive than ever. The tentacles of systemic corruption have spread throughout the economy and the public service.

The crisis is such that the Nelson Mandela Foundation has found itself bound to engage robustly in the public domain, intervene both publicly and behind closed doors, and issue statements on specific issues. Constitutionalism and translating South Africa’s Constitutional rights into a lived reality for our people are fundamental to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Consequently, protecting and promoting constitutionalism have become imperatives ever more central to the Foundation’s endeavour as it responds to the crisis.

Reflecting on one’s own response to crisis is essential, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Board of Trustees has asked tough questions of itself and the organisation throughout 2016. Clearly it cannot be business as usual, especially as the crisis in South Africa is part of a much bigger global phenomenon.

The articles of faith in modern democracies are visibly faltering. Astute commentators note the way in which politics is increasingly a street fight where reason and facts matter less and less. Global capitalism determines much of the shape of the modern world, including the political sphere.

People have lost faith in the ballot box. States, their sovereignty eroded, are everywhere “captured”. The media, for so long considered the fourth estate of political life, are overrun with stories of scandal, corruption and celebrity diversion, and overtaken by false news, and all is swamped by a deluge of untested information and algorithmic data.

Clearly it cannot be business as usual, especially as the crisis in South Africa is part of a much bigger global phenomenon.

These are the contexts – global and local – within which the Foundation strives to express its voice. The Board has committed the organisation to a continuing process of review through 2017 to enable it to do so effectively. Already, we have identified four priority lines of enquiry for the process:

  • How do we prioritise constitutionalism while acknowledging the shortcomings of our constitutional democracy?
  • How do we do better at facilitating understanding of the nature and extent of the crisis we are in?
  • How do we become more effective at nurturing young leadership that is capable of riding this giant historical wave; providing resources to emerging leaders that will help them make good decisions; and banking good thinking?
  • Can we accept that “what is to come” is a question that requires “open”, rather than end-driven, forms of strategic approach?

“Openness” chimes fully with the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Our existing investment in dialogue work means we already have to hand a well-developed instrument for working in an open and anticipatory way. Dialogue, in our view, is a precondition for any new form of social compact.

In many ways, reckoning with crisis and reflecting on purpose were the defining impulses for the Foundation in 2016. But to its credit – as is attested to by this annual report – the organisation also carried a punishing workload, delivered outputs of a high standard, and achieved many notable successes. For this, I am grateful to all the staff, the management team and the Chief Executive, Sello Hatang. The latter continued to bring to his office extraordinary drive, attention to detail and level-headedness in moments of severe pressure. To my fellow Trustees, I say thank you again for admirable commitment in testing times.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Madiba’s passing and the centenary of his birth, we feel with ever-increasing urgency the need to promote his legacy with insight and to work for the world of his dreams with resilience. We are grateful that we have so many partners and supporters in this endeavour.