26.2485° S, 27.8540° E
'Being the grandson of Nelson Mandela, I have a responsibility.'
Gems in this
Although it’s a blessing, bearing the most famous last name in South Africa carries with it the burden of immense expectation and responsibility.
But over the course of his career, Ndaba Mandela, grandson of the legendary Nelson Mandela — with whom he lived for over 20 years — has been more than up to the task of carrying on his grandfather’s enormous legacy. The author, speaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist criss-crosses Africa and the world, sharing his grandfather’s wisdom while also making his own contributions to South Africa and the continent to which it belongs. Patriotic, optimistic, switched-on and savvy, Ndaba represents and celebrates the past and future of South Africa all at once. We spoke with Ndaba about growing up with a historical icon, South Africa’s blossoming creativity, and his Travel Playbook for his home, Soweto.
On the early years living with Madiba
Living with my grandfather was really amazing. It was really cool. I mean, when I moved in, he was very strict; very much a disciplinarian. I remember, once he walked past my room and my room was messy, and he says, ‘Ndaba, let me show you how to fold your shirts; then you must learn how to fold your pants; let me show you how to make your bed. And then you must also exercise.’ So he took the medicine ball and he showed me how to exercise. That was the man he was. Our conversations for the first few years revolved around education, on school and what I needed for school. And when I graduated, that was a huge milestone for him.
On imparting your grandfather’s vision to the next generation of African leaders
This year, we are launching a program called 100 Mandelas. We agree that Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest leaders of the 21st century, so why don’t we dissect him and understand his values and principles, and teach them to the next generation of African leaders? Not just African leaders in Africa, but African leaders across the world. So this is a global leadership program where we’ll be taking people from America, Europe, Africa, South Africa and Brazil — people of African origin between the ages of 24 and 35. I’ve already partnered with Earl Yassa Shabazz, who is Malcolm X’s daughter, and Bernice King, Dr King’s daughter. Nelson Mandela, a black man who grew up poor by any standards, went to his first day of school wearing his father’s pants that were tailored by the mother to fit him. With no shoes, just bare feet. And he became one of the greatest leaders in the world. We want to inspire young people to look back into Africa, where humanity began.
On growing up in Soweto
I grew up in Soweto, which is a ghetto — the ‘hood’ by any standards — but I was lucky to have parents who were there, and their love. For me, it really cemented my pride in being who I am, as an African and as a Xhosa man. And of course, being the grandson of Nelson Mandela meant that I had a responsibility to not only walk in the same footsteps as greatness, but also to be a beacon of hope; a light for our brothers and sisters here, who did not have the opportunities I had.
On the spirit of Soweto
This is one of those places that makes me feel at home. And everybody’s just full of love, you know? In the suburbs, you don’t even know who your neighbour is, right? But in the hood, you know everybody on the street — both sides of the street. You run out of toilet paper? You go to the next-door neighbour. You need some ketchup? You go to the other next-door neighbour. You want your hair did? Well, you gotta go down to Maria down the block.
‘If you come here on a weekend, oh man. It’s packed with people sipping and jiving and shaking a leg. This is where it’s at. Soweto, baby — you don’t get more cultural than this.’
On one song that describes Soweto
Brenda Fassie: ‘Weekend Special.’ That’s the jam, right there.
On the best way to see Soweto
The best way to explain Soweto is on a bicycle. You gotta go on a bicycle tour and just vibe with the people.
On where to experience Soweto culture
I love the Soweto Theatre because Soweto is known for being a poor ghetto. And yet we have this theatre that is enjoyed by thespians — educated people of ‘culture.’ And it’s in the ghetto. That is what I call progress. And yes, we do it with finesse.
On where to eat in Soweto
You know, my grandfather never ate out. We’d go to a restaurant and he’d bring his own plate of food. I’d say, ‘Oh, what’s up?’ and he’d say that restaurants don't clean food properly. He just didn’t care. But I think the best thing about Soweto is the food. And if you come to Soweto, you’ve gotta go past Chaf Pozi. It’s the best food, but it’s also the vibe, you know? There are a lot of tourists coming in, so you have a nice mix of people. We also have a beautiful restaurant down here called Sakhumzi, and the owner, Sakhumzi Makhubela, brings all that African cuisine. All our delicacies. This is where it’s at. Soweto, baby — you don’t get more cultural than this.
On the importance of the Hector Pieterson Museum
The Hector Pieterson Museum is important because it shows a monumental struggle against a fierce enemy called apartheid. There’s that famous picture of Hector Pieterson dying and being carried away that went worldwide. That’s when the world started to see the evil that apartheid was, because it was truly an evil system. So we celebrate the day of that photo — June 16th, 1976 — as Youth Day, a very big public holiday for commemoration. It’s important that we remind ourselves of our history so that we don’t repeat our history. And we have to always commemorate these young people that paved the way for us.
‘It’s quite amazing that the house I grew up in is a museum today.’
On your childhood home now being a major museum and tourist attraction
The Mandela House is actually a house that I grew up in myself, so it’s quite amazing that the house I grew up in is a museum today. When you visit, you will learn about Nelson Mandela’s life: his first wife; his kids, his second wife; his progression through becoming an ANC member to a prominent member of the ANC Youth League. You will learn about Nelson Mandela’s history, basically. And it’s a very rich history. It’s in the heart of Soweto, so you feel the vibe, the energy, the people are there entertaining you. Just don’t forget to leave a tip!
‘From this place that was once darkness, out rose the beautiful.’
On the spirit of ubuntu
The spirit of ubuntu means I am, because you are, because we are. No man is an island. Like, in our communities here in Soweto, everybody has a responsibility to raise the child, not just the parents. So if a child is doing good, you praise the child. If the child is doing bad, you scold the child. It’s not just the mom and dad. Everybody who’s older than a child has a responsibility to raise a child. It takes a village. That’s the spirit of ubuntu.
On South African culture going global
South Africa and its culture inspire me in so many ways. Right now, look at amapiano music. It’s become the biggest thing out there in the world. It’s our biggest export right now. South Africa is entering now. We are entering. DJ Maphorisa, Kabza De Small — everybody in the music industry is really just killing it. I was in New York recently and I went to a club, and they played some amapiano. I was in my element, you know?
On the beauty of the rest of South Africa
South Africa is really just one of most beautiful, majestic places I know. From Limpopo to Eastern Cape, it’s rich in history. I think the Wild Coast [in Gqeberha], for me, is probably the most majestic: untouched beaches stretching over 1300 kilometres. Quaint little hotels and bed and breakfasts along the way. So the Wild Coast, for me, is the place to experience.
On window vs. aisle seat
On South Africa being home
This is my birthplace. This is where I was created. This is where I was raised. This is my home, this is who I am.
On one word to describe Soweto
Talented. Why? Because if you look at all the amazing music and culture, it comes from this place. From this place that was once darkness, out rose the beautiful — not just Nelson Mandela, not just Miriam Makeba, not just Hugh Masekela, or Kabza De Small or Maphorisa. Yo, come on. Soweto — the talent is just too much.