Nelson Mandela Foundation Colloquium

21 Jun 2019 - 09:00
Photo of "The Archive" panel discussion at 'Dalibunga: This Time? That Mandela?' event. Photo courtesy of Nelson Mandela University.


In March 2019, Carolyn Hamilton, South African Research Chair in Archive and Public Culture, took part in a three-day colloquium held at the Nelson Mandela University and jointly organised by NMU, the Human Sciences Research Council and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The colloquium, Dalibunga: This Time? That Mandela? was organised around the themes of rights, democracy and justice; cultural memory and the politics of the present; inheritance, legacy and commemoration; and representation, signification, iconism and hauntology. There were three main panels: Mandela@MustFall; "On 'Making' Mandela and "The Archive."

At the heart of the colloquium was a consideration of the complexity of the ongoing legacy of Nelson Mandela. For the University, which has recently changed its name from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to Nelson Mandela University, the key challenge, as expressed by the speakers from the institution, is to consider what it means to take on this legacy and an associated commitment to social justice, captured in its proposal for "Mandela Studies" and what that might entail. But the legacy is, of course a contested one, with concerns increasingly raised in public discussion about the kinds of concessions made in the transition to democracy in the early 1990s and their implications for the confounding of a post-apartheid social justice. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, charged as it is with the protection of its founder's legacy, indicated that it interprets its charge as involving open and ongoing engagement of the legacy, open access to the archive, the creation of fecund spaces for critical work and the pursuit of unfinished business. The HSRC, it seems, was a co-organiser in order to promote an agenda of engaged scholarship.

Wide-ranging discussions followed often provocative inputs from panelists, some of it focussed on the person of Mandela — the focus of multiple biographical endeavours — distinguishing, for example, the young revolutionary from the lawyer and from the first democratic president. Some of it focussed on the cultural phenomenon - Mandela in inverted commas- a phenomenon with a history, or biography, of its own. The discussion also encompassed the future and its possibilities : that of taking the archive seriously, as Thembeka Ngcukaitobi put it, digging deeply in what is there, beginning the work of reconstructing the archive that is absent, and repopulating the black archive; protecting open access to the archive in the face of dominant interpretations and authorised histories; and responding to what Pedro Mzileni termed the rhythm and the "pull" of ongoing decolonial critique.