Mandela’s grandson celebrates King’s legacy at UMass


Staff Writer

Published: 01-20-2023 9:24 PM

AMHERST — The light from the torch for social justice burned bright as the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated at the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday morning.

The inaugural “Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Racial Healing Community Brunch” was the first event the institution has held to celebrate the historic civil rights leader on campus, according to Alaina Macaulay, senior director for inclusion and strategic engagement.

In illustrating that legacy of social justice, the university hosted activist Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, the legendary South African anti-apartheid activist and the first democratically elected president of South Africa, as its featured speaker for the event.

“Nelson Mandela had a long walk to freedom, yet his footprints still remain. Following in the footsteps of his beloved and iconic grandfather, Ndaba Mandela has taken the torch and ran with it,” Macaulay said. “Today, Nelson Mandela’s legacy lives on in Ndaba and continues to keep this beacon of hope bright, fueling an inspiring message that one person can indeed make a difference.”

Ndaba Mandela is the co-founder and co-chairman of the Africa Rising Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting a positive image of Africa around the world and to increasing its potential for growth in the areas of education, employment, and international corporate alliances for profit and partnership.

He is also the longest-serving global ambassador to UNAIDS, which seeks to end discrimination around HIV/AIDS.

During the event, Mandela shared moments from his early life under apartheid, the legal system at the time for racial separation in South Africa that lasted from 1948 until 1994.

“The system was so brutal and vicious that if they found out that a child was born from a mixed-race couple, they would remove that child from both parents and put the child in a separate area of just mixed-race people,” he said. “I was very lucky not to experience some of the harsh realities of our day.”

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He also spoke of how he came to live with his grandfather, who spent 27 years in jail for opposing South Africa’s apartheid system, while his father went to school. Much of that experience, he said, is detailed in his book, “Going to the Mountain.”

“My father went to school at the age of 45 to study law, graduated when he was 50 and then he died at the age of 55, HIV/AIDS. And two years prior, my mother had just died of HIV/AIDS,” he said.

He described how his grandfather addressed the death of his parents with the public, disclosing the actual reason for their death.

“That began a very important discussion in and amongst the families of our country, so we could be able to tackle this disease head-on,” he said. “People were dying in isolation, because this was seen as a ‘dirty’ disease … sexual orientation was put into question … This began a conversation where people were able to disclose and actually put it on the table so that we could fight it like any other disease.”

In addition to historic struggles, Mandela also spoke of the current struggles. He spoke of how social justice action was taken with international protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd, who was killed in May 2020 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. He has advocated for continued efforts to change the system.

“Nineteen other nations around the world stood up in solidarity with America, because injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. But I asked myself two weeks ago, Kenan Anderson was murdered by the police in the very same manner, but obviously he was tased. And I don’t see any protests here in America today,” he said.

Anderson, a 31-year-old schoolteacher, died earlier this month in Los Angeles after he tried to get help following a traffic crash when he was “chased, held down by multiple officers and tased for over 90 seconds as he begged for help,” according to a Jan. 14 article by NPR.

“In order for us to be able to reform the criminal justice system, we need to be consistent in our efforts. …They need to know that we will stand at every juncture where they are killing our people and our people continue to be seen and treated as slaves and continue to be incarcerated for silly reasons,” Mandela said.

Also at the brunch, Macaulay introduced two new annual awards to be given to members of the UMass community: the Chancellor’s Transformational Leadership Award and the Chancellor’s Emerging Leader Award. These awards will honor UMass students, faculty, and staff who are actively cultivating an equitable and inclusive community on campus. The awards will come with a $1,500 prize and will be conferred to the recipient at the 2024 community brunch.

In addition to celebrating the work of King and Nelson Mandela, the event, which was held on the National Day of Racial Healing, Macaulay said it was important to let students, faculty and community members know that UMass Amherst is vested in the work of social justice and has been for some time.

Joye Bowman, professor of history and senior associate dean for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, said the university didn’t sell Coca-Cola on campus for years because the company did business in South Africa.

She also spoke of the medical school’s part in developing the drug nevirapine as a treatment for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“This drug has made a real difference not only in South Africa but around the world,” she said.

On a personal note, Bowman said she served on the doctoral dissertation committee for Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, aunt of Ndaba Mandela and daughter of Nelson Mandela.

Bowman’s son was in preschool with Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah’s son, KwekuAmuah, while she finished her degree.

“Today, we really celebrate two giants. I think Dr. King and Mr. Nelson Mandela, who in many ways were bigger than life. They were human beings who were willing to give up everything including their lives in the fight for justice, we continue to take inspiration from their actions,” she said. “This day, racial healing is particularly significant, given the state of our country and the world today. The struggle to build the world they envisioned is not over. In fact, sometimes it feels as if the fight is just beginning.”