CEO Sleepout patron Dr Makaziwe Mandela: How business leaders can find their inner Madiba

LONDON — In this moving interview, patron of the 2018 Nelson Mandela CEO SleepOut™ Movement Dr Makaziwe Mandela, explains why she became involved and what she believes the CEOs who participate will take home with them. The eldest surviving child of democratic South Africa’s first president, Makaziwe is a Phd graduate from the University of Massachusetts. As we hear in this interview, unlike her father Nelson Mandela, she has stayed away from politics – but like him, she has deep empathy for the poor and strives to be a living embodiment of his values. – Alec Hogg

Hello, I’m Alec Hogg. The 2018 edition of SA’s annual CEO SleepOut™ is the most exciting one yet. On Wednesday, 11th July, a maximum of 200 SA CEOs will show us how their values align with those of the country’s iconic leader, Nelson Mandela. That night, these corporate leaders, many returning for the umpteenth time, will expose themselves to the winter’s elements as a reminder of what homeless people go through every night.

This year’s CEO SleepOut™ is being held at the historic Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, which was a haven for Madiba, and his fellows, who were also charged with treason, and many other struggle heroes during the darkest days of apartheid’s oppression. It was these Liliesleaf gatherings that earn them the title of the Rivonia Trialists in that watershed court case where Mandela and others were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

Dr Makaziwe Mandela

The millions of Rands, which will be raised this year by the CEO SleepOut™ will ensure the future of Liliesleaf as an inspirational symbol of SA’s turbulent past. Patron of the 2018 CEO SleepOut™ movement is Dr Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest surviving child of democratic SA’s first president. A PhD graduate from the University of Massachusetts, like her father, Nelson Mandela, she strives to be a living embodiment of values of empathy and support for those less fortunate. As the July 18th Centenary of Madiba’s birth approaches, global attention is being focussed on his life and his beliefs with everyone around the world seemingly wanting a slice of Makaziwe’s time. So, I asked her what it’s like, right now, being his daughter?

It has been a busy time but it’s also, I think for me, a moment of having to pause and reflect on who my father was and the role he has played in this world. So, it gives me great joy that SA and the world are celebrating his contribution to the world, really, and in creating a better society.

It’s been so interesting, here in London, on Wednesday night I was at SA House where there was a celebration leading up to the 18th July and your father’s, what would have been his 100th birthday. Last night there was another celebration of his life where 260 South Africans got together for fundraising for South African charities, Afrika Tikkun. It appears as thought the momentum is growing.

Yes, there’s a lot of momentum building also here, in SA with I think, Obama coming as the Centennial Speaker invited by the Mandela Foundation, and there are other activities that are lined up until the end of the year.

Do you think that his legacy is still appreciated by South Africans, given the difficult time the country has come through?

Yes and no. They didn’t see the full fulfilment of what he was fighting, which is the total emancipation of the oppressed, especially the black majority of this country because the gap between rich and poor have exacerbated, unemployment raised, the youth unemployment rate is very high in this country so, the economy is not doing that well. Yes, we are politically aligned but economically the gaps are still very wide. There’s still a lot of poverty in this country so, we have major challenges. They didn’t realise that their generation could do so much and the generation that took over had to fight to make things better for everybody. By the time my dad came out of jail he was already an old man and that’s why he decided he wanted to serve one term, and I think their generation really, his focus was to free SA politically, and change the laws so that the laws could create an environment that would be better for everybody and that SA could start redressing the atrocities of the past and the injustices of the past.

Struggle icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela

Dr Mandela, you are the patron of the 2018 Nelson Mandela SleepOut™ Movement. Why did you decide to take on this role?

Well, I was approached by two dynamic ladies, Ali and Dee and I couldn’t say no, to something that was honouring the legacy of my dad. I didn’t even think a lot about it. I said, ‘yes, I will do it.’ It’s great and the Sleepout Movement is really a movement that raises money for philanthropic causes so, it’s right up the ally of what my father was all about, creating a better life for other people who were less fortunate than him. He gave away a bit of his salary to the poor. He built schools, he did a whole lot of things for the poor, both urban and rural, out of his own money. So, what the CEO Sleepout Movement – there’s a lot of synergy in terms of what they’re doing and in terms of my dad’s legacy.

And the SleepOut™ being at Liliesleaf that is, well, surely something that makes it very special this year?

Yes, it makes it very special. Most of the Rivonia Trialists spent their time there. I know we used to visit my father at Liliesleaf so, it makes it special.

Just tell us a bit about those visits.

Well, when you are young, between 6 and 7, at that time I didn’t understand the full extent of apartheid because I was going around on an adventure because we were told not to tell anybody where we were going and my dad would meet us in town dressed as a municipal policeman and we would go throughout all those detours and really, for a long time, I thought Liliesleaf Farm was in Pretoria. I didn’t know it was Rivonia because at that time most of Johannesburg was just forest.

And when you returned there, happy memories?

Well, happy/sad memories, you know. There were happy memories in the sense that one could spend time with da-da. We would walk through the forest and these were sweet-stolen moments. But also, there are sad memories because one had a father who was not there.

As you got older how did you feel about sharing your father with a whole nation?

For me, for a long time, I had been very bitter and I’ve talked about it. When my dad was incarcerated I wished every day that he would get out, hoping that we could resume a relationship as father/daughter. But that wish was never realised because when my dad came out of jail he was just thrown into the mushroom of the ANC, politics, and he was a very busy man.

Dr Makaziwe Mandela at the media launch of the 2018 CEO SleepOut™.

Did you ever get the opportunity to visit him on Robben Island?

Yes, I remember when I turned 16 and I had what was then called a ‘dom-pass’ an identity document, I could apply to visit. So, from when I turned 16 I could visit my dad.

Given that she has a PhD in anthropology, Makaziwe’s focus on education is hardly surprising considering her father’s beliefs that learning is the key to personal and national progress, but in the broadest possible sense.

My dad was a great believer in the role of education in life so, he pressed upon all of us as children that we should all get the best of education. Well, I think education plays a big role in one’s life, really. It’s not just about a desk. Education is also getting education that at schools enriches people’s lives and it can teach you a lot of things about empathy and compassion, and is important that we also focus our minds on that because we live in a world that, for most, holds more hate and division, than cohesion.

Makaziwe’s mother, Evelyn, was introduced to a young Nelson Mandela by her cousin, the other struggle icon, Walter Sisulu. They married in 1944 and had 4 children. The first-born son, Thembekile, died when Madiba was in prison, that was in 1969, in a car crash. The second, a daughter, died as a baby. Makaziwe’s other brother, Makgatho, died of Aids in 2005. After her parents divorced Makaziwe remained close to the Sisulu’s, especially Lindiwe, who is a member of the SA Cabinet.

Me and Lindi, who is now Minister of International Relations, we are very close. We grew up together. We went to school together so, really, we are like twins so, I’m very close to the Sisulu family.

She went into politics and you decided not to?

No, politics is not my forte, not where I was. I grew up in politics. There’s the good side and the bad side of politics so, politics is not for me.

What are you hoping will come out of the CEO SleepOut™ and the impact that it can have, both on the heritage for the country of Liliesleaf and broader?

Nicholas Wolpe’s father fought to end Apartheid and his uncle was on trial with Nelson Mandela. He now runs anti-Apartheid memorial Liliesleaf Farm and is the CEO of the Liliesleaf Trust.

Look, the CEO SleepOut™ has already had a great impact in this country. I think they’ve been able to raise a lot of money, which has gone into philanthropic causes that are really amazing, like The Tomorrow Trust, which is a trust that really takes children from disadvantaged backgrounds and sends them to university. They’ve really done exciting things there so, I think for Liliesleaf it will be making sure that Liliesleaf belongs as an important part of our history. As an educational centre, and that it educates the new generation about what has happened in the past and that you shouldn’t forget the past.

Dr Mandela, at the end of 2018, the world will move on, what are you hoping that they will remember from all of these celebrations of your father’s Centenary?

I’m hoping that whatever celebrations – these are not a once-off thing. For me, whatever I’m doing this year, and I’m hoping the benefits of the CEO SleepOut™ is that it be a lasting impact on society and understanding that the values that my dad held dearly and actually lived by, and his character and personality is something that we can all emulate in our lives because da-da always talked, not just himself. He didn’t do this alone. There was a glorious ‘we’ that he talked about all the time, and that each and every one of us have to do our little bit to make life better for the next person. If we do that we can begin to create a much more harmony and a much, more compassionate and empathetic world.

Is that a way of life?

Yes, it is a way of life. It has to be our way of life, as human beings on this earth otherwise this world will perish.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, did a wonderful commencement speech at Phoenix University, shortly after he arrived back in America from opening his branches in SA, where he discovered ‘ubuntu’ and he was trying to give the message of ubuntu to those thousands of students who were there. Now, for those who’ve never come across ubuntu, could you just explain it? Is that something that the world could learn from?

Yes, ubuntu is about the fact that for us, we say you are because of other people, and basically, the basic tenets of ubuntu is that in a village there will be no child who goes hungry, or family who goes hungry. If a child, the parents passed away and was an orphan, then another family would take in the child and bring up the child as their own and offer them all the other opportunities that are forwarded to their own children. Ubuntu is truly about compassion. In actual fact that’s the experience of Africa. If you come to Africa even in the worst countries were people don’t have anything. If you go to a village people will allow you into their house, they will give you water, they will share the little food that they have with you. Africans are, just by their nature, very resilient people, they are very warm and nurturing people.

And these CEOs, who are going to participate in this sleepout, what are you hoping that they will take home into their lives?

Well, I think for this year – the intent and purpose of the CEO SleepOut™ Movement is to make the CEO experience what it is to sleep outside and be homeless, and I think the hope is that they take away the issue of bringing compassion and empathy into their own institutions. It’s not just about making money, but it’s also about caring about other people.

When I drive around Johannesburg and stop at the robots, and see people asking for food and a little bit of money, it’s very difficult to say no.

Look, I think even if you don’t give the homeless people, where they are begging on the street for money, but if you look at them in their eyes and acknowledge that they are a human being. There’s no doubt that some of the people who are begging on the street are just sheer drug addicts, whether they went into drugs because of poverty and hunger, I don’t know. Maybe the better way is not to give them money but to give them food. But there are others who you see are making an effort and you can give them money so, it’s really a personal judgement call. But I think for me, what is most important is not to ignore them – not to look the other way because some of those people are down and out. In this country there’s mostly a whole lot of graduates who can’t find jobs, and a whole lot of people who are retrenched from work and they have very little skill sets and they have no other alternative but to be on the street.

The historic Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia will host the annual CEO SleepOut™ on 11th July 2018.

When I talk about compassion and empathy, I’m talking about that because I drive a lot around the streets of Johannesburg, I go to Builder’s Warehouse and I see a lot of our people, painters and all kinds of people, just sitting there the whole day on the road looking for a paint job. So, it’s not that the people are lazy. I think they’re just desperate. There’s a lot of desperation and you can see it in their eyes. I know being an African woman, I know what it feels like for an African man not to have money. I’ve seen a lot who have come to my shop who say, ‘I can do just any work, just for me to put food on the table for my children,’ and that’s heartbreaking. That’s really heartbreaking and I don’t think we should ignore other people. Even if you don’t have money on you on that day, but just acknowledge and smile at them, and say, ‘tomorrow I will make sure that I give you something,’ it’s enough for them.

As the patron of the CEO SleepOut™ clearly, you’re hoping that people are going to open their wallets and support the cause. But as a South African, those CEOs who come and experience sleeping out with the elements in the open at Liliesleaf in the cold of winter. What do you hope goes into their heads, and the way that they will act differently in the future?

Well, I think that hopefully they’ll be more giving, and I know a lot of them already do give. I know that a lot of them have philanthropic causes that they support so, we’re just encouraging them to do more because we have so many challenges in this country.

Well, plenty of food for thought there from Dr Makaziwe Mandela, patron of the CEO SleepOut™ Movement, being held this year at the historic Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia on 11th July.

Thanks for joining us, until the next time, cheerio.

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