Verne Harris: Nelson Mandela & the Nelson Mandela Foundation

nelsonmandelaverne

Verne Harris is the Head of the Memory Programme at the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Centre of Memory and Dialogue, Verne Harris has been Mandela’s archivist since 2004. He is an honorary research associate with the University of Cape Town, participated in a range of structures, which transformed South Africa’s apartheid archival landscape, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and is a former Deputy Director of the National Archives.

About this Conversation

We chat with Verne Harris about the work that he is doing to create a living legacy for Nelson Mandela. It is not an easy task, as Mandela is meaningful to all of South Africa. Verne insists that Mandela cannot be remembered as a single narrative intended to portray an authorized view of himself, but rather that all of South Africa has a narrative to share of him.

The Foundation steers away from the image of Mandela as an icon, instead they try to reflect him as a man who has flaws and is fallible, but who has done extraordinary things with what he was given. Mandela, himself has authorized that there be openness in the sharing of information about himself. “You do not have to protect me” was the instruction from Mandela. Verne shares some stories and examples of Mandela’s “evolving” ideals. As well as a few highlights from his life, including his focus on understanding Afrikaner history, language and culture- as a means of learning the language of his enemy, at the time. It was also the thing that allowed him to act with great awareness and respect, when leading the negotiations during CODESA.

In documenting Mandela’s life, the Foundation also wishes to show the changes and growth in Mandela as person and leader. Political positions were reflective of what was seen to strategic at the time. Therefore not cast in stone.

In recognizing the legacy of Mandela, the Foundation has created a number of programmes, which are intended to be more than memory. Instead they focus on the future and how to make relevant the life of Mandela to the present, instead only to the past. Key initiatives discussed are, the Integrated Resource Centre- which is a comprehensive resource on Mandela that also responds directly to queries from the public; dialogues on critical issues- which creates a safe space for people to discuss matters of importance. Verne also tells us about the soon to be launched Nelson Mandela Digital Archive. Often held between civil society and the state; and Mandela Day- where the public is encouraged to do whatever action they feel is appropriate to recognize the legacy of Mandela.

Points of Discussion

  • How to you record the life of a man like Mandela and who is Mandela for South Africa?
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  • Why does Mandela want the world to see him “unfiltered”, as the man not the legend?
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  • Can you give an example of a personal “flaw” that Mandela overcame?
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  • What do we (South Africans/The World) need from Mandela? Is he our binding point?
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  • Should we try to live up to the ideals of Mandela and what are those ideals?
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  • What does Mandela represent for you personally?
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  • Since we can’t go back to the place and time of the early 1990’s – where everything seemed possible, when Mandela was “active” in our lives, how does the foundation try to continue that point in time uniqueness?
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  • What are some of the projects that are run at the Nelson Mandela Foundation?
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  • The Nelson Mandela Foundation was involved in the awareness and dialogues around trying to resolve the xenophobic attacks that took place in South Africa in 2009, what lessons did you learn from that experience?
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  • Why did Mandela not follow the same path as other “Big Men” in Africa and remain President for life?
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  • How has your opposition of these actions by Government been received by Government?
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  • What do you think Mandela saw as his most important role, a highlight in his public life?
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  • Where does education fit into the life of Nelson Mandela?
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Intro Music

The intro music for the video is from Trenton and Freeradical, the song is Mr. Mandela off their new album Giant Step. They were gracious enough to allow us to use their music, thank you fellows. You can listen to the full track below, or at Soundcloud.