Remembering Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela with Global Fund for Women board member Gay McDougall

Nelson Mandela with Global Fund for Women board member Gay McDougall on election day 1994.

“…For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela, 18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013

We at the Global Fund for Women celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela: a great leader, human rights defender and one from whom we have learned the cost of defending ones beliefs. He has profoundly influenced why and how we undauntedly persevere in our mission to ensure human rights for women and girls. We are part of a movement grounded in Mandela's belief in a freedom that “…respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Global Fund board member Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was born and raised in South Africa and lived the grinding racism at the core of apartheid and the struggles to defeat it and its legacy. She says, Mandela embraced the cause and struggles of women and children. “When he opened the first democratically elected Parliament he said, 'Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.' He was true to his word as women took their place in Parliament and his cabinet.

Phumzile was appointed deputy minister of Trade and Industry during Mandela's presidency. “Some of the key policies enacted during his presidency were free prenatal care postnatal care to mothers in the public health system and free health care to children up to the age of six. He also introduced a social wage in the form of a child grant paid to children of poor and unemployed mothers, as well pensions for older persons and a social grants paid to for disabled unable to work.”

“If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”

Nelson Mandela is remembered as a leader of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1993) and the first Black president of South Africa. However his legacy is broader than that. Though the path to Goodness and Forgiveness was fraught with brutality, racism, and long stints in prison, he traversed both roads with dignity and purpose. One outgrowth of that was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It's purpose: to help South Africans “…come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and advance the cause of reconciliation”

Global Fund President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro, whose activism today was shaped by the anti-apartheid and U.S. Civil Rights movements, says the ability to forgive is one of Mandela's most enduring legacies for all struggles, including women's rights. “Nelson Mandela showed us what it means to stand for human rights. In not seeking revenge, he showed that justice is not just us. Justice is about us all, black and white and yellow and brown.”

For Global Fund board member Gay McDougall, the connection to Mandela and anti-apartheid is intensely personal and professional. She served as the Director of the Southern Africa Project for 14 years and was the only American to be appointed to the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). She was with Mandela when he voted for the first time and says she feels fortunate to have been able to play a substantive role in the struggle, which dismantled an oppressive governmental system and replaced it with one of the world's most progressive constitutions.

“For nearly two decades, I was privileged to have a front-row seat to one of the greatest human dramas of the twentieth century: the defeat of apartheid,” said McDougall. “Since then I have worked in some pretty tough places: Rwanda right after the genocide, the killing fields in Cambodia, scenes of mass slaughter in Sierra Leone and Bosnia, and the remote battlegrounds of the civil war in Colombia. All of my later experiences have reinforced the lessons I learned in Atlanta and South Africa: that the true forces for justice come from inside each society; that real change is never achieved by one individual, although individual acts of courage and determination are essential. But it is vital to link those individual acts of valor into a strategy and a movement.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that Mandela was keenly aware of the need for men and women to work together to fight gender based oppression. “He pointed out that, 'as long as we take a view that these are problems for women alone to solve, we cannot expect to reverse the high incidence of rape and child abuse.' This is why, Madiba (his tribal name) has remained a mentor to me.” Gay McDougall adds, “He has taught the world that it is important that you be true to your principles. And that when you work with other people who have the same commitment, you can even make a powerful regime, like the apartheid government was, to fall.” If committed groups of individuals and organizations can dismantle apartheid, surely we can bring an end to the oppression and discrimination of women and girls around the world.”

In his case we can say his life has touched and enriched many people,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, “he is quick though to point out that it is not him but the collective that has made difference and the ANC for what he has achieved saying, 'If I have been able to help our country a few steps forward towards democracy, non -racialism and non-sexism, it is because I am a product of the ANC'.

As Dr. Martin Luther King once said when asked when civil rights leaders would be satisfied, he replied, “…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” So let us use Mandela's wisdom and actions fuel us as we drive our agenda for women and girls around the world.


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