The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

HKS Faculty Reflect on the Loss of a Remarkable Leader

December 6, 2013


The death of Nelson Mandela is prompting an outpouring of emotional and heartfelt tributes from around the world, as citizens of South Africa and beyond remember the courageous and inspirational leadership of a very special man. Below is a sampling of thoughts from several Harvard Kennedy School faculty members who remember the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Matt Andrews, associate professor

It is not a shock to hear that Nelson Mandela has passed. I have been expecting the news every day since he was admitted to hospital in June. But this does not make the news easier to take. Madiba means a lot to me, and to my country, and to most people who are engaged in the kind of work we do at the Kennedy School. It is incredibly sad to think that he is no longer on this earth, where we need him so much: as a reminder that broad public good can triumph over narrow private interest, perfect courage can come from people who are still working out their imperfections, one can be both strategic and good, and passion and patience can triumph over the many poisons we confront in this world.

In the coming weeks I expect we will hear many stories about Madiba's great influence. My story is hardly as interesting as most you will hear, but I do have one. It was in 1993 and I was an undergraduate student at the (then) University of Natal in Durban. Mr. Mandela was visiting the university to give a speech in advance of the elections that were due to be held in 1994. I had not signed up to attend the speech, mostly because I was not sure how I fitted into the picture of a changing South Africa. Given the country's history, I wondered what right I had to even attend such a meeting as a young and privileged white male who had benefited from a social, political and economic order that had hurt so many others. And I guess I wondered what role I could expect to play in trying to make things right.

I was waiting outside the student's union building, however, and managed to locate myself close to the place where the official motorcade arrived. To my surprise, Mr. Mandela exited his car, walked in my direction, held out his hand, and said "Goeie dag, ek is Nelson Mandela" (introducing himself in Afrikaans, the language of many white people in South Africa). He moved on quickly, as people do when they are in demand, and I expect mine was one of a hundred hands he shook that day. But it was a once in a lifetime moment for me, and I remember it as a key point in my journey: If Nelson Mandela could accept me as a white male, then maybe I did have a right to engage and a role to play in my country's future (and, it turns out, in the future of the African continent).

This was the magic of Mandela: to cross boundaries and inspire, and to heal and include. I imagine there are many people in public service and beyond who can share similar ways in which the great man affected their lives, and I know that there are many in my country who wonder what we will do without him. He may not have been in public life for the last decade, but he made a difference 'just being here'. But he is now no longer here. This means that we who were inspired by him need to step up and take upon ourselves some of the moral responsibilities he carried; in South Africa and in the many areas of regional and global policy where his voice often spoke for those who were silenced by poverty and repression. He showed us that we all have a role to play, and his example suggests that we should dream about the possibilities of development and not be scared by the constraints, and that we should dare to work hard and with others to make those dreams real. The best way to honor his memory is to continue dreaming and ensure that we work in this way, across boundaries, to keep making the world better.

Before pushing up my sleeves in this effort, however, let me join my fellow South Africans in saying a final goodbye: Hambe kahle, Madiba, and thank you.

Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development, from The New Scientist

For much of the world Nelson Mandela was the icon of the age of modern liberation that started with Mahatma Gandhi and reached its height with South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.

What is less well known is that the struggle for political freedom was closely associated with the desire to develop scientific and technological capacity.

Apartheid did not just separate races. Probably the most destructive of its legacies was to restrict non-whites from getting technical training. What is more, this exclusion was not unique to South Africa but part of a wider political culture that defined Africa as a region with low levels of technological expertise.

Mandela understood that exclusion from education was a major limiting factor to development. He said education was "the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world".

Motivated by this concern, Mandela lent his name to the creation of a new generation of African Institutes of Science and Technology, seen as the beginning of a new generation of African research universities. Two have already been established, in Tanzania and Nigeria, and a third is planned in Burkina Faso....

The institutes will need to be part of an educational agenda that starts with children. As Mandela said: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."

Mandela will be remembered as one of the greatest leaders of all time. One of the best ways to live up to his loftiest aspirations for Africa is to give future generations science and technology education that gives them the skills to expand their economic opportunity.

The next age of liberation will involve enabling Africa to play its rightful role in the global knowledge economy. Many battles lie ahead, but we can draw inspiration from Mandela's moral and political courage. In his own words: "It always looks impossible until it is done."

Associate Professor Matt Andrews

Matt Andrews, associate professor

"Madiba means a lot to me, and to my country, and to most people who are engaged in the kind of work we do at the Kennedy School" -- Associate Professor Matt Andrews

Professor Calestous Juma

Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development


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