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Giving back: Ndaba Mandela on celebrating Madiba

Khuthala Nandipha

Nelson Mandela's grandson Ndaba is steering clear of the family feud, taking the Madiba legacy back to basics with innovation and a fair bit of charm.

Ndaba Mandela. (Gallo)

Being Mandela "opens doors, and it opens them wider", but with it comes the pitfalls of living up to Madiba's values and taking ownership of a global brand which embodies among others values discipline, human rights and self-respect.

Over the past few weeks, as the elder statesman recovers from a lung infection which has seen him hospitalised for 40 days, those ideals have proved harder to publically live up to for the Mandela family. 

Makaziwe Mandela and half-brother Mandla have emerged as the pugilists in a vicious feud over the family burial sites. In 2011 Mandla exhumed and moved the bodies of three family members from Qunu to Mvezo. Earlier this month a court forced Mandla to again exhume the bodies and return them to Qunu, the original place of burial.

Ndaba Mandela is the quintessential Mandela. Tall, good-looking and ambitious. At 30, he already resembles his grandfather Nelson in his quiet and respectable demeanour. When he speaks, his tone commands an audience.

Ndaba has made it his personal mission to steer clear of the family drama and claw what respectability was lost during the unsavoury confrontations between his quareling relatives.

He has reimagined the Mandela family legacy by finding more innovative ways to honour Madiba's memory; a move that has seen him establish the Africa Rising Foundation and launch a Nelson Mandela social network called Mandela.is

"I'm not going to pretend that being a Mandela doesn't open a lot of doors for me, it does, and it opens them wider," he admits very early on.

'Embrace my heritage'
"For the next couple of months, I am trying to bring the focus back to my grandfather. Celebrate him in ways that hopefully he can also see," he said.

"People look at me differently because I have a prominent name. I've inherited a lot of opportunities and challenges that I will not complain about. I am just going to embrace my heritage," said Ndaba.

The family feud weighs heavy on Ndaba and has made him wary of the pitfalls of representing a universal brand like Mandela; a global icon who many believe belongs to South Africa and the rest of the world.

Makaziwe has been particularly vocal when it came to the international media and other "chance-takers' claiming that some people are intent on a "free-for-all" access to his intellectual property for their own commercial gain. Earlier this year, Makaziwe and her sister Zenani Dlamini sued the Mandela Trust for the rights to his artworks and control of his millions.

Ndaba, the second son of Makgatho Mandela, is adamant that, contrary to what AbaThembu King Bulekhaya Dalindyebo has been alluding to, he has no intention of taking over the reins as Chief of Mvezo, a position currently held by Mandla.

After achieving his Bachelor's degree majoring in Political Science and International Relations Ndaba has worked for the Japanesse Embassy as a senior Political Consultant, focused mainly on South Africa.

He says this was part of getting a foot in the global market in order to promote his company, Africa Rising Foundation, which he co-founded with this cousin Khwekhu Mandela with the purpose of bringing tangible development to Africa. 

African Rising has been organising and assisting with multiple projects around the celebration of Mandela's 95th birthday. Part of his plans includes the establishment of a garden of 95 trees to be known as "The Mandela Garden of 95 Trees" in Nigeria on July 18. The trees will take up 134 000 square metres of land and will feature a Nelson Mandela playground and park for children. 

"A lot of people around the world have a lot of affinity for the old man. I have been very much influenced by my grandfather. So it's really a continuation of the work that he used to do," Ndaba said.

Through his travels all over the world, Ndaba linked up with Matthew Michelsen, chief executive and founder of Backplane, a Palo Alto-based startup that has $5.8-million in venture captial backing and is responsible for the popular Lady Gaga social network LittleMonsters.com.

Giving back
The social network is meant to operate as a hub built around the idea of giving back to the community. "Mandela.is will be an organic movement that people can engage with and take ownership of. That's the real legacy of my grandfather: empowering people, and allowing people to empower others," he said.

There is also a planned a concert in London, a boxing match in Monaco, a soccer match in Johannesburg – all tied into the theme of giving back to the community.

The Beeld newspaper recently reported that the Mandela family wealth is linked and invested in foundations and trusts. The Mandela children and grandchildren have over the past two decades been involved in about 200 companies across a wide spectrum of sectors: property, investment, railway-engineering, minerals, medical firms, fashion and entertainment.

Their massive wealth is hidden inside a network of at least 24 trusts drawn up by the family's ex-lawyer Ismail Ayob. Some of these trusts own various expensive properties in some of Johannesburg's most luxurious neighbourhoods.

Ndaba insists that his foundation has a high level of transparency and that money raised will pay for the renovation and refurbishing of rural schools in Qunu. He has already chosen the schools and some work has already begun.  

He claims that through his own unique style of work, he has been successful in luring international investors for his identified projects. His work is made easier by the influential people associated with the foundation; Thabo Mbeki, Tito Mboweni and Jesse Jackson who are honorary trustees.

Ndaba is also the managing director for Rebel Soul entertainment, a record label in its third year.  His cousin Bhambatha is one of the first artists signed under under the label.

When Ndaba is not plotting the future of Africa around the world, he enjoys going home to Qunu. He says he is not much of an Mvezo man, but rather has a vested interest in making Qunu a world-class stage.


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