By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
“Always stay humble. Be a leader. Don’t drive a Jaguar because you don’t want people to know how wealthy you are.” Those are some of the critical lessons Ndaba Mandela, 35, learned during the 20 years he lived with his grandfather, Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa and a global humanitarian.
On June 26, Hachette Books released those teachings as Ndaba Mandela’s memoir: Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather, Nelson Mandela.
The Washington D.C. stop of his book tour took the younger Mandela to the Library of Congress on June 27, where Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden interviewed him about life with the human rights icon.
Going to the Mountain in the book’s title refers to two things: male circumcision, which marks the transition from a boy to a man in South Africa, and a famous quote from Nelson Mandela. “As Nelson Mandela said, ‘After climbing a great hill, and you reach the top of that hill, you realize there are so many more mountains to climb,’” Ndaba Mandela said.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for political activism against apartheid. Following his release in 1993, he was elected South Africa’s first Black president the following year in the country’s first democratic election. Following that, he led his country through its peaceful transition from apartheid.
The younger Mandela was 11 when he moved in with his grandfather in 1993 and had only met him once — in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was still in prison. They lived together until 2013 when Madiba died at the age of 95. Before moving in Ndaba Mandela was living with his parents in what he called a “Soweto ghetto.”
One day, Nelson Mandela’s driver dropped by unannounced in a “big, black BMW” to take him to his grandfather’s mansion. The mansion, located in a leafy White suburb north of Johannesburg, was a world away from Soweto. The palace was filled with drivers, a chef, security guards, and other servants, leaving Ndaba feeling like he was the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Nelson Mandela raised his grandson as if he was his own child and was a strict disciplinarian. When Ndaba lost his school jersey for the second time, the elder Mandela told him to sleep outside. For the first hour, things were fine, but after that, the weather turned cold and dark. Twenty minutes after Ndaba Mandela started making a bed out of grass, his grandfather called out to him, saying if he lost another jersey, he would definitely sleep outside. Then he told him to get in the house, grab some dinner and go to bed, Ndaba Mandela recalled.
In another anecdote his grandson shared, Nelson Mandela, who hung out with Michael Jackson and beauty queens, was fully aware of his royal pedigree. Once when Queen Elizabeth called Nelson Mandela’s home, he referred to her as “Elizabeth.” When he got off the phone and was questioned about why he didn’t call her your majesty, his response was “But why? She calls me Nelson. We always call each other by our first name. Do you forget that I’m a prince?”
One reason Ndaba Mandela penned the book was to educate the next generation about his grandfather, also known by his traditional name, “Madiba.”
“I just wanted to connect to a young audience basically because we know the value of Madiba, but young audiences really don’t know the value of Madiba,” Ndaba Mandela told the AFRO. “So, I wanted to connect to the audience.”
He also wrote the book to celebrate the centennial of his grandfather’s birth, which falls on July 18. That day is celebrated around the world as Nelson Mandela Day, a time to honor his achievements in democracy, peace, human rights, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.
He’s fully aware that much is expected of him as a Mandela. So, he’s carrying on his grandfather’s legacy as cofounder and cochairman of Africa Rising. The nonprofit promotes a positive image of Africa around the world while developing entrepreneurs and training 60 African youths to code so they can secure entry-level jobs in technology.
“You know, [people] constantly want to put you in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and want to know what are you doing for your community. Luckily, I am doing something for my community.”