Change the world

Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation

What should an archive for Nelson Mandela look like? What does it need to tell us about the man
and his life, and the way he continues to impact our society? What happens when critical information is
erased from the archive? And how can we use the archive to grapple with the great questions of our time, including the decolonising of curricula? These were just some of the questions raised and debated at arguably the most contentious session at the Dalibhunga: This time? That Mandela? colloquium at
Nelson Mandela University, which was simply titled The Archive.
On one Nelson Mandela University campus, students and recent graduates debated the positioning of
Nelson Mandela and his social justice ideals in the #FeesMustFall movement, while on another campus, a protest around fees was in full swing. That was the backdrop to the Mandela@MustFall session
at the Mandela Colloquium, held from March 6 to 8 at Nelson Mandela University. The opinions were varied and at times critical — some seeing the “dancing grandfatherly” image of Mandela they grew up with as far removed from current student activism.
There are many reasons why the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Human Sciences Research Council agreed to come on board with Nelson Mandela University to jointly establish the new Transdisciplinary Institute of Mandela Studies (TIMS) at the university. Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Director of Archive and Dialogue, Verne Harris, said the university was one of around 60 institutions
worldwide authorised to carry Madiba’s name but “it was very seldom that an institution carrying
the name comes to us with a proposal to do really meaningful work”.
 
When Nelson Mandela University dropped “Metropolitan” from its name in 2017, it was no longer
named after a city, but the person, Nelson Mandela, the global icon for social justice.
And there was a huge responsibility that went with that, a point emphasised by then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the official ceremony marking the name change, who said: “The decision to become Nelson Mandela University is not simply an exercise in corporate rebranding.