Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre will make significant contribution to scholarship

22 May 2024 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Lerato Maduna. Video Production Team Ruairi Abrahams, Boikhutso Ntsoko and Nomfundo Xolo. Read time 4 min.
Attendees at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre and School of Public Governance.

The proposal to build a new home for the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre and School of Public Governance broke new ground on Friday, 17 May, as a grant of US$21.5 million from Atlantic Philanthropies was announced.

The proposal is to create a vibrant convening space located within a memorial centre curated with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre and School of Public Governance will serve emerging leaders from across the African continent.

Vice-Chancellor interim Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy paid tribute to the late founder of Atlantic Philanthropies: “Chuck Feeney [was] a modest man, who lived frugally. He was humble and he believed in ‘giving while living’. He devoted his life in service of humanity.

“The Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre will promote the ideals of Feeney. It will educate, train and develop ethical leadership that serves communities, nations and the world. I thank the Nelson Mandela Foundation for its steadfast support and guidance to ensure that this partnership honours Madiba’s legacy. We are conscious of the responsibility of using Mandela’s name,” said Emeritus Professor Reddy.


“We took a nuanced approach which looked into the appropriate, respectful and contemporary memorialisation of Mandela.”

He added: “It is a significant contribution to the world of scholarship. We are aware of lapses in good governance, failures of good governance and the absence of good leadership worldwide. What better time, then, to take positive action to build a new generation of leaders. It will be a place to teach, learn, and engage in dialogue.”

Dr Luyanda Mpahlwa, the convenor of the external advisory board to the Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre project, said the panel assembled to bring life to the architectural framework vision of the centre had to go through several criteria to satisfy themselves.

“There were conversations on the imperative of public accessibility versus an inaccessible one; on concepts of memorialisation, we took a nuanced approach which looked into the appropriate, respectful and contemporary memorialisation of Mandela by way of an impactful living memorial.  Heritage is [also] a key consideration to restore people’s dignity which was lost to centuries of disenfranchisement,” he said.

The vision for the Nelson Mandela Memorial Centre and School of Public Governance is to serve emerging leaders from across Africa.

The acting chief executive officer at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Verne Harris, listed five “layers of significance for this project”. These include the history of partnerships the foundation has with the institution. “The second is the mountain [Table Mountain], which loomed over Madiba’s life for 27 years; third, the many linkages and connections Madiba and his family have with the university. Fourth, the potential for another critical line of inquiry continuing the Mandela–Rhodes conversation – or contestation. Finally, the leadership at the school.”

Last act

As the programme drew to a close, the president of Atlantic Philanthropies, Christopher Oechsli, said that this donation was one of their last acts. “It was a fitting way to conclude our work and to advance the principles and values we have supported globally over four decades and almost US$9 billion of work funded by Chuck’s entrepreneurship.

“In our view, philanthropic support for a building is a tangible investment. It is practical, concrete and long term. Buildings stand as visible icons that create the foundation for change. Good public governance is a science, a craft and an art that is informed by knowledge and history and is best when imbued with empathy and humility that place the community it serves as its prized constituency. We have high hopes for the work of the school,” said Oechsli.

Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, UCT’s chancellor, was glowing in her assessment of the work still ahead for the school. “The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance will carry forward his [Madiba’s] commitment to social justice through education and scholarship. It will shape future leaders who will uphold democracy. To minimise the impact of challenges, we must harness the power of people for prosperity, and to get this right, we need ethical, high-quality, democratic leadership,” she said.

The precinct, which will be designed through an architectural design competition, will offer interactive public art installations, contemplative walkways, and meeting areas designed to facilitate catharsis, reflection and spiritual resonance, and provide for reflection on the life and times of Mandela.

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