Friday, 20 December 2013

An Extraordinary event - IDS' tribute to Nelson Mandela

By Melissa Leach  

On 11 December a tribute to Nelson Mandela was co-hosted by IDS and the University of Sussex. This turned out to be an extraordinary event.

The inspiration of one of our students, Noloyiso Tsembeyi, the lecture was extraordinary partly because it was put together in less than two days, yet managed to garner the deeply-thought reflections of some very key and very busy people. It was also extraordinary because amidst the hectic busy-ness of the last pre-Christmas weeks, it made a space in which the bigger, longer-term picture of what we do at IDS and Sussex suddenly became vividly clear.  

As incoming Director of IDS, Noloyiso asked me to host this event. What initially felt like a duty – albeit a vital one – rapidly became a huge pleasure. And a poignant one, reinforcing to me why I feel so privileged and excited to be about to lead this very special Institute at this very special university. 

The short talks recorded here contribute to the vast mass of tributes around the world that reveal Nelson Mandela as a moral giant; an extraordinary man and a very special kind of leader. But they also reveal the particular entanglements of Mandela’s life and legacy, vision and values with IDS and Sussex. The transformations that Mandela inspired, led and came to symbolise in overturning apartheid’s epitome of evil have not been equalled in our lifetimes and have come to stand, in important ways, for struggle against extreme injustice everywhere. 

Those who came together last Wednesday were reminded anew of the close connections between such values, and the radicalism, justice-orientation and internationalism inscribed in our institutions here, past, present and future. And we also unearthed little-appreciated details of the people and relationships involved in those connections. It is not for nothing that on Sussex campus here we have Mandela Hall and a set of Mandela scholarships for South African students. 

Speakers talked eloquently and personally of the different eras in which South African life and politics, IDS, and Sussex, have been inscribed in each other.  

Raphie Kaplinsky, who came to Sussex from South Africa in the 1960s as a political refugee and student in the 1960s and was one of IDS’s most distinguished Fellows until 2006, tracks through these different eras very clearly. The first encompasses the close and direct  support for the anti-apartheid struggle from Sussex, as part of the early days of its radical activist traditions.  

As Dorothy Sheridan, now emeritus professor of History but then a founder member of the Sussex student anti-apartheid movement describes, this extended to marches, sit-downs, demos and the purchase of a vehicle for the ANC.  Subsequently, many ANC leaders and spokespeople, including of course eventual president Thabo Mbeki, were trained at IDS and Sussex; a tradition that continued post-apartheid, interlinked with highly influential policy advice to the new South African government. Indeed at times, much of the cast of characters and sectors involved with running the country drew, in one way or another, on Sussex connections.  
As Richard Jolly’s talk also makes clear, research in South Africa itself as well as in neighbouring countries, feeling the fall-out from the regime over its borders, were part and parcel of these engagements. Researchers in IDS and in the then School of African and Asian Studies addressed questions of poverty and livelihoods, trade and industry, politics and governance in ways that shaped both policy agendas and made key intellectual marks. 

This photograph, taken in 1991 of former IDS Director Mike Faber with Nelson Mandela both illustrates and underlines such connections. The photograph was taken during a trip to Johannesburg by Mike Faber and visiting fellow Roland Brown.

The talks by JoAnn MacGregor and Marcus Williams bring us up to the present. 

JoAnn, a professor in geography and Director of the forthcoming Sussex Africa Centre, reminds us of Mandela’s commitment to revolution – economic as well as political and social. This is a spirit still inscribed in the orientation of Sussex- based work on Africa, now in interaction with far greater networks of scholars and students in the country and region. Indeed, a justice focus cuts through current IDS-based research with South African sites and partners, whether around questions of land and livelihoods, commodities and conflicts, gender and identity, or HIV, health and disease. 

Mandela’s legacy is there, albeit sometimes implicitly, and deeply intersected by the complexities, contradictions and new inequalities of today’s South Africa. Marcus Williams, speaking from the University’s International Partnerships office, links Sussex’s past connections with South Africa and Mandela’s leadership to the university’s aspirations to develop an enriched set of international partnerships focused on regional centres; plans to which IDS’s fantastic partnership networks surely have much to contribute.

So what of the future? 

Perhaps the most inspiring contributions at this event came from the students -  Noloyiso and her heart-warming closing speech; the Nelson Mandela scholarship holder Khayalethu Tshiki, who spoke brilliantly of how Mandela’s example – a humble rural boy who rose to change the world – motivated his personal journey; and the many who talked from the floor of the insight, commitment and hope they drew from Madiba’s leadership. 

This is the generation that will shape future struggles for justice – in South Africa, the wider region and the world. IDS and Sussex are privileged to welcome such students here, and may we continue to attract, nurture and inspire them, heart and mind. 

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