NAIROBI, KENYA: There is no way you would have missed him. Standing ramrod straight at 6’3 feet, he towered over the other people. But may be you would have dismissed him on the account of his clothes, a checked-shirt, untacked over a fading blue jeans. And slip-ons.
Slip-ons, at the sparkling postcard-like Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel on Chiromo Road where designer suited wear is common as soil. Just who pulls such a stunt?
Yes, the iconic Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, was in town and he seems poised to carry his grandpa’s legacy down to a comma, posture, and humility. The people with him whispered that due to the famous surname, people take Mr Ndaba seriously, and perceive him as unapproachable and thus he has to tone down.
But Ndaba, a Nelson Mandela look-alike disarms with a boyish smile and barriers broken people scramble for a piece of Mandela, going for photographs and selfies. At the Kempinski, even Ndaba’s bodyguard is not to be left out and he smiles into the camera, arm on to Ndaba’s shoulder.
Celebrate ordinary people
A few moments later, Ndaba is at the Makini School on Ngong Road, where Mary Okelo, the founder and iconic figure in her own right, greets him reverently, with a hug. At the assembly line, the primary school children are only stopped shot from mobbing Ndaba by their uptown upbringing and schooling.
When he speaks, it is like a younger fashion of Mandiba, of pan-Africanism, and patriotism and sacrifice, qualities that made him accept the Standard Group’s invitation to its inaugural Transform Kenya Awards (TKA) without a second thought.
He was the special guest at the awards ceremony at Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club last Saturday, an event he says “is very important, not only for myself or for Kenya but for the youth, to celebrate ordinary people, who are actually not ordinary people for they are doing amazing works for the community.”
Ndaba, who speaks his mind slowly but with a strong voice feels that we cannot just get excited by the likes of MTV awards where we shake, gyrate and dance, “but we must also recognise and celebrate the good work that is being done on the continent which will cultivate a positive image of Africa.”
Organised in partnership with Deloitte, TKA honoured individuals and institutions doing remarkable things which positively transform livelihoods.
For Ndaba, TKA is also very important as it is in line with a foundation he started that has earned him recognition from the South African and international media.
In 2010, Ndaba and his cousin started the African Rising, a phrase that is bandied around nowadays in high places. In 2011, The Economist, had a cover story titled Africa Rising which ignited much debate especially following its dismissal of Africa in 2000 as a hopeless continent. In the article,
The Economist noted that in the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest growing countries were African, and that in the past ten years, Africa had grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. To prove this point, Ndaba points to the infrastructural development, a metaphor and symbol for the transformational growth in all of Africa, and Africans now more than ever “taking destiny into their own hands.”
“I believe Transform Kenya Awards, seeing Deloitte has a huge presence in Africa should be in every African country.” “Africa has so much potential starting from its creative and hardworking people. At the Awards, I was inspired by all the winners and nominees including the 12-year-old nominated for planting thousands of trees.” And he has a congratulatory message to the organisers of TKA. “It was a well-done event. Great hosts. Amazing. (Jeff Koinange and Nancy Kacungira).” He adds that the Kenyan ladies were looking good; gentlemen looking sharp- tuxedos were out. He hopes to be invited next year, but for now he is working to actualise Africa Rising, a platform that seeks to change the negative image of Africa.
“The idea for Africa Rising basically was motivated by the fact that international media has painted us in a bad light. Also, when I travel and introduce myself as from South Africa, people ask me how big our lions are, I tell them ‘I don’t work in a Zoo, dude, I live in Johannesburg, probably a bigger city than yours,” he pauses, “we are tired of always explaining.” Africa Rising is moulded by the youth, for the youth with three key pillars education, entrepreneurship development and celebrating African culture.
Ndaba says they are in the process of establishing a computer centre and a library in Qunu, where Mandiba grew up and was laid to rest.
So how is he hoping to change the world’s view of Africa? “Through the African Media Campaign. We all know about the American dream, what is the African dream? We need to carve our dream.”
The African media campaign is a long-term plan which will include a documentary and a feature film. Starting with Southern Africa countries, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa, the African Rising team will in two years gather content from students to professionals, business people to presidents on how they would like to see Africa five generations from now.
“The documentary will feature this content from which we will also create a fictional feature film portraying the African dream,” he says.
Inspired by his grandfather who brought independence to South Africa after decades of oppressive white rule, the young Mandela says the problem of Africa today is that we are divided along self-interests and Me agenda.
“Look at our forefathers who fought for independence, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, they had each other’s backs. For us, a businessman in Nairobi doesn’t know what a businessman in Cape Town is doing.”
The leaders, he says are also divided. “See, my grandfather always said of how Muammar Gaddafi helped us in our liberation. But our leaders signed the dotted line of the document that allowed Nato to move in and kill the Liberian leader.”
He speaks passionately about gaps in African leadership, and what should be done. Asked whether he would run for political office he smiles and says he participates as a member of the ANC and as the deputy president of the Pan African Youth Council.
But how can he resist the pull of politics, having lived almost his life with the most famous politician and president of all time?
Ndaba started living with his grandfather at the age of 11, in 1993, a year before Mandela became president and three years after he left prison where he was incarcerated for 27 years.
He remembers a strict disciplinarian, who never accorded them luxuries. They did not have security or private drivers. “Even with grandfather as president, we lived in a private house in Johannesburg. He insisted on good grades, and was particular on being neat and orderly.”
But Ndaba and his siblings and cousins, of whom Mandiba writes in the Long Walk to Freedom as giving him great pleasure strived to live a normal life like other kids.
“On weekends, we clubbed, I mean nothing dramatic, but having fun like everyone else.”
Even so, Ndaba’s life has not been all smooth. Life in his early years was unpredictable that at seven years, he demanded to live with his parents like other children.
Born in Soweto in 1982, to Mandela’s second son Makgatho (read Mahato), they soon moved to the Eastern Cape where he stayed with his parents and grandmother, Mandela’s first wife Evelyn Mase. At some point he lived in Durban with Walter Sisulu’s family.
Later, he lived with his other grandmother, Winnie Madikizela in the famous Orlando West house now a museum.
Ndaba attended Sacred Heart College, a catholic school and later University of Johannesburg and University of Pretoria where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2009.
He has worked at the Japan Embassy as a political consultant focusing on South Africa and also in a bank but retired from employment after two years’ to pursue entrepreneurship and speaking Engagements around the world.
Ndaba is a single father of a three-year-old boy, and a nine-month-old girl.