Tribal Chief. Politician. Dignitary. Humanitarian. Grandson. Husband. Father.
It is our honour to add ‘Proudly Muslims Ambassador’ to the long list of Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela’s pursuits, as he is a true testament to the Proudly Muslims of South Africa initiative.
While he would prefer to be known as ‘Nkosi Zwelivelile’, he is more popularly referred to as Mandla in the public eye. No matter what you may call him, one cannot doubt that he’s an inspirational human being who perpetuates the honour and pride attached to his renowned surname. Nkosi Zwelivelile seamlessly follows in the indelible footsteps of his grandfather, Nelson Mandela, whose worth, virtue and contribution to our country can never be repaid.
His younger years were scattered across the land; born in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (Soweto) in June 1974, growing up in Cofimvaba in the former Transkei, moving to Mofolo in Soweto and then across the border to Swaziland, after which he returned to SA in 1992. The next decade was spent in Houghton, Johannesburg with his grandfather. When the family chieftaincy beckoned in 2002, Chief Mandela moved back to Mvezo in the Eastern Cape, where he was coronated in April 2007.
Nkosi Zwelivelile’s most remarkable childhood experience was a life-changing journey that took him from Bloemfontein to Cape Town, where he first became acquainted with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as well as a world outside the boundaries of apartheid. Here, he had a notable encounter with Abdullah (Dullah) Omar and his wife, Farida, who accompanied them to Pollsmoor prison. Being only 9 years old, Chief Mandela was bewildered as to why he was brought to a correctional facility. In the distance, he heard someone greeting the warden and merrily conversing with other inmates. He recalls: “All of a sudden, a giant leaps into the room”, and tells him, “You must be my grandson.” The young Mandlesizwe was utterly shocked to find out that he had a grandfather who was in prison. He was distressed by this fact, thinking prison is a place for people who have done wrong in society. He became bitter and withdrawn, completely unaware of the reasons behind Madiba’s incarceration.
Nelson Mandela, understanding the dismay his newly-acquainted grandson was feeling, wrote a letter to his colleague, Helen Joseph, asking her to assist in the development of the young Mandlesizwe. Helen adhered to Madiba’s request and invited his heir to her house to educate him about his grandfather’s ideals for the liberation struggle. He thought it was profound that a white woman taught him who his grandfather was. He will forever be grateful to Helen Joseph and the Omars for playing a crucial role in introducing his grandfather’s character to him.
His passion for education is evident when perusing through his long and impressive list of studies. Nkosi has diplomas in both Marketing and Business Management, a Political Science degree from Rhodes University and a post-grad diploma in International Studies. His academic instruction fully prepared him for his current role as a deployee of the African National Congress (ANC) serving in the National Assembly in parliament.
Chief Mandela balances his busy career and chiefly duties with a well-rounded family life, keenly supported by his wives; Nodiyala Mbalenhle Mandela and Nosekeni Rabia Mandela, the latter of which recently gave birth to a baby boy, Mntwanenkosi Mandela Ikraam Mandela.
Nkosi Zwelivelile’s 2015 reversion to Islam may have sparked controversy amongst traditional leaders and the media, however he handled the unsolicited press and negativity with resilience, expressing that one’s religion is a matter of an individual and his God. Showing the true strength of his upstanding character, he was never perturbed by the criticism and instead said: “One’s religion is not vested upon any other person.”
He was first drawn to Islam by living through his grandfather’s own life experiences. Nelson Mandela grew up in the predominantly missionary-based Eastern Cape province, however, when he arrived in Johannesburg in the early 1940s he was exposed different religions. It was when Madiba travelled to the rest of Africa, that he came to the realisation that the continent was dominated by Islam. Along with the teachings of Maulvi Cachalia, Madiba understood that Islam is as intrinsically entrenched in its Muslim community as Christianity is to Christians, if not more. This broadened Mandlesizwe’s own perspective on religion. He found reverting to Islam easy, as with his prior traditional African beliefs, he notes that it’s most paramount to ‘pray to God’.
Nkosi Zwelivelile’s unfeigned praise for Islam and its influence on his life is inspiring, marking that through the hustle and bustle of life, it instils a sense of humility and slowness in one. It allows one to try and make sense of each day’s worth. Islam has given him a feeling of balance and belonging.
Chief Mandela gives back to the community in Mvezo Komkhulu, well known as Nelson Mandela’s birthplace, by restoring the Royal House of Mandela (RHoM) after 87 years, and also establishing and democratising the Mvezo Traditional Council. He created the Mvezo Development Trust in August 2008 which works with government to improve living conditions in the village; sponsoring Jojo tanks to harvest rain water, fencing off household gardens to ensure food security, and teaches inhabitants to be self-productive by utilizing the land. He has also created a bursary program to send over 30 learners from Mvezo to university.
His humanitarian work with Al-Imdaad includes helping to build the Nolusapho Kindergarten, an early childhood development center in Madiba’s birthplace, and he is grateful to the Muslim community for providing the R5 million funding. He was also involved in the building of a R30-million primary school named after his father, Makgatho Lewanika Mandela, which was funded by the Dr Chung Foundation. Chief Mandela also founded and established the R100-million Mandela School of Science and Technology, funded by Siemens. Due to the immense interest and demand, he plans to source funds to build accommodation for future students. Nkosi Zwelivelile hopes to cultivate tourism opportunities in his grandfather’s birthplace, which will assist with the socio-economic development of the village and alleviate the plight of the people living there.
His proudest charity venture was the Winter Warmth project with Al-Imdaad, where blankets were donated to the elderly. He was touched by the impact that something as simple as blankets could have on them. Mandlesizwe is very compassionate towards the older citizens of rural South Africa, warmly regarding them as the founders of society. “We as the younger generation have much to learn from our elders.”
His own impact on the village of Mvezo is lauded by its residents, as he has made a veritable change to the education system there. Teens who were prone to social ills such as teenage pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse can now go on to complete high school and some, the first in their generation, have went on to study at university. Nkosi Zwelivelile says: “Rather than giving handouts to people, education is a game-changer in rural South Africa. No one can take that away from a child.”
Mandlesizwe advocates the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative, stating that all the good work Muslims do around the country is unknown and underplayed. He explains: “Even during the time of apartheid, no one knows how much the Muslim community contributed to the struggle for liberation. Currently, they do a lot of relief work, especially in disaster-stricken communities like Mthatha, where most interventions have come from Muslim-based agencies over government. We need to tell those stories.”
He lives by the motto: “Education is freedom.” Three simple words vehemently sewn together with integrity and grace, its meaning so profound that he wishes for it to reverberate through the very soul of our country’s youth.