Tade Akin Aina: In Memoriam — Madiba and Foundations

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Among the many qualities of Nelson Mandela (Madiba) was his deep sense of friendship, appreciation, and gratitude for all those who supported the African National Congress (ANC) and South Africa’s struggles against apartheid. As this group included individuals as well as institutions, he had relationships with both. I was privileged to be associated with two U.S. private foundations (Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation) that had special relationships with this inspiring and charismatic leader.

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Tade Akin Aina (left) with Nelson Mandela (center) and Willy Mutunga (right), in Nairobi, Kenya, 2005

Nelson Mandela never forgot those who contributed to South Africa’s fight against apartheid, and afterwards, for the rebuilding of the torn society. He always expressed his gratitude and appreciation whenever he had the opportunity. In October 2005 on a private visit to Nairobi, Kenya, with his dear wife Graca Machel, Madiba received my colleague, Dr. Willy Mutunga (now Chief Justice of Kenya) and me in audience at his hotel.

We were among the very few people allowed to see Madiba, who was frail and recovering from one of the bouts of illness that he suffered in his later life. We faced him like enthralled school boys, but like a true African Mzee (Elder), he welcomed us with inclusive serene dignity and warmth. He repeated his appreciation for the role U.S. foundations in general and the Ford Foundation in particular played in South Africa. While he talked to us about his own philanthropic interests, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Children’s Fund, he urged us not to relent in our support for social justice, the fight against HIV-AIDS, and the building of a strong Africa through support for education, science, and technology. Today I remember this brief encounter with warmth and gratitude for the opportunity it gave me to personally interact with this historical figure.