CAIRO – 11 August 2018: “As the grandson of Nelson Mandela, it has been an overwhelming experience to sit side by side with this global icon, the twentieth century’s man of peace. I don’t think that we will ever have another Mandela but I believe that it’s our duty now as a young generation to continue saving our communities and ensuring that we strive for peace.”
On his first visit to Egypt, Chief Mandla Mandela narrated to Egypt Today in an exclusive interview stories about his grandfather’s life and the day of his death. Moreover, he expressed his opinion regarding the political situations in Egypt and its role among African countries.
1. Q: Have you visited Egypt before?
Mandela: No it’s my first time here in Egypt but I have read a lot about Egypt and its historical monuments such as the pyramids. I have also learned [about Egypt’s history] from my grandfather, since he visited 16 African countries in the early 1960s to mobilize the struggle for liberation. He looked into two top key areas, Egypt and Algeria. Actually, the Egyptians are the ones who advised him that the proper military strategy to be adopted for our struggle for liberation would be from Algerians and that’s why my grandfather attended his military training in Algeria. So we are forever grateful to Egypt and Algeria for the assistance given to the revolution movement across the continent.
The grandson of Nelson Mandela, Chief Mandla Mandela, during his debut visit to Egypt. Photo by Egypt Today
2. Q: Why do you visit Egypt at this time?
Mandela: In October last year, I became a member of the Pan-African Parliament and I was appointed in the Committee of Rural Economy, Agriculture and Environmental Affairs. I have come together with that committee to learn from Egypt and the Egyptian government what they have done in terms of climate change adaptation as well as their agricultural program.
3. Q: As a member of the Rural Economy and Agriculture Committee, how can we reduce Rural-urban migration in African countries?
Mandela: Today, we have the benefit of meeting the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Ezz Eddin Abostait, who told us about how Egypt is doing a lot to ensure that young people from rural areas are given the opportunity to study agriculture and have agricultural job opportunities.
As you know, rural-urban migration is not just an Egyptian or African problem but a global problem. So for us, it’s quite enlightened to see programs like that the Egyptian government has been able to implement in order to attract young people into this industry. A career in agriculture is always regarded as a retirement career for the elderly and there is a perception in the world that young people don’t regard agriculture as cool.
4. Q: What do you think Egypt can offer to the rest of the African countries in the field of Agriculture?
Mandela: I think Egypt has a lot to offer to the rest of Africa; Egypt is able to adopt climate change. It has the advantage of teaching African countries how to adopt into climate change. Egypt is able to convert desert into urban land.
The grandson of Nelson Mandela, Chief Mandla Mandela, during an interview with Egypt Today's Jehad el-Sayed on the sidelines of his debut visit to Egypt. Photo by Egypt Today
5. Q: Can you describe the political relationship between Egypt and South Africa?
Mandela: I believe that both Egypt and South Africa are formidable powers in the continent. I consider that the leaders of the two countries need to play a crucial role in ensuring the stability and peace of the whole continent because it’s only when we truly aid the formerly-colonized countries in the continent can our economy survive.
I also believe that Egypt can continue playing a role to ensure that it assists Africans in attaining stability and peace in the continent. As to what we have seen in terms of the rural economy, Egypt has been able to ensure sustainability and food security and that is something that all of us as African countries can learn from Egypt.
6. Q: Since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took power in Egypt in 2014, he has been working on ending years of lack of communication with African countries; do you think that he managed to do so?
Mandela: It’s the first time for a committee in the Pan-African Parliament, which is situated in South Africa, to visit another country and that’s only because of President Sisi. Egypt is really extending its hands to assist Africans and to enable them to become self-sufficient because Sisi wants to see Africa as one of the continents speaking with one voice. We are here thanks to the Egyptian presidency and Parliament.
7. Q: If you have the chance to meet Sisi, what would you discuss with him?
Mandela: For me, I come from a rural village where my grandfather was born so a lot of my work and effort revolves around rural development. So, if I have a chance to meet with Sisi, I will try to understand exactly what the Egyptian government is doing in terms of assisting rural villages.
As you know, Africans, particularly those who live in rural Africa, are living in extreme poverty with no clean drinkable water, no proper sanitation, no school facilities or housing, so we learn from countries like Egypt what they have done to improve the rural community. As a proud Muslim also, I want also to know what Egypt is doing to ensure that Islam is reachable and accessible to people in rural areas. I know that I talk a lot about rural villages; I am very passionate about rural economy and people living in rural areas because that is where I’ve come from.
8. Q: How would you describe Egypt’s relations with other African countries?
Mandela: Egypt is part of Africa and it’s regarded as an African country. We as African countries don’t see it as a separate country. It’s a member state in the African Union, and we appreciate the role that Egypt plays in leading Africa. Egypt is a strong country amid all African countries.
9. Q: What do you think of the January 25 Revolution and the June 30 Revolution?
Mandela: The two Egyptian revolutions were really a benchmark for other revolutions that erupted through the continent.
10. Q: Apart from politics, what did you learn from your grandfather, Nelson Mandela? What do you want the world to know about him?
Mandela: I want the world to know about the simplicity of my grandfather and the real person that he was. I grew up in a small village as a 9-year-old boy, I used to hear people shouting in the street “Mandla, Viva Mandla” so I used to think that I’m a very popular kid and that everyone was shouting my name.
I went to my home and told my father, “Everyone in the street is proud of me and they’re shouting my name.” He laughed at me. One day, he sent me to go and meet the real man whose name is “Mandela” and what the people meant when they shouted his name.
So I went to a prison in Cape Town where I met my grandfather, and a hundred questions started to pour into my mind about what he was doing in prison and why people shout his name in the streets. I was ashamed of him for being in prison, thinking he must have done something wrong.
When I came home, my father was anxious to know what I had done when I met my grandfather. Mandela was wise ein writing a letter to one of his assistants, Helen Joseph, where he said: “Dear, I just had a visit from my grandson and I feel bad because his English needs development.”
Joseph then invited me to her house and ordered me to read the letter and tell her what I understood from it. I understood that my grandfather thought that my English was bad, but she said, “No, this is an encoded letter; your grandfather said you went to visit him. You had no clue about who he was in terms of the policies and his commitment to our struggle for liberation and therefore he asked me to educate you about the man he is.” The irony here is that he asked a white woman to educate me about him.
My grandfather dedicated 67 years of his life to save humanity. He is a man of service. This is why for me it’s important to work in the parliament for rural people in South Africa. I will continue sharing those memories of my grandfather with all people of all walks in life. “We should be in the service of communities and areas in which we are from,” that is what I learned from him.
11. Q: How long have you lived with your grandfather?
Mandela: I saw him for the first time when I was nine years old. I was only allowed to see him once a year in prison but after his release, I was able to live with him. In 1992, I moved on to stay with him up until he passed away in 2013.
12. Q: Tell us about the day of his death.
Mandela: It was Dec. 5, 2013, an unforgettable day for us when we bid farewell to a father, a grandfather, a husband and a father of our nation and a global icon. I remembered when my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer and I had to visit him in hospital while he was in prison. I thought he was going to die. In 1990, when he was released, I thought he had come back to die in his home. None of us ever imagined that Mandela would live to be the president in 1994 and he would live to retire in 1999 and step down to hand over power to the next president.
None of us ever imagined that Mandela would establish the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. We have learned a lot from him and we have a lot of rich experiences and memories with him. This was a man that had lived his life fully to save people and humanity. So, “I am grateful to call this global icon, my grandfather”.