Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated annually on July 18th on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, honors the legacy of his dedication to community and social justice. David Reiersgord, Director of the IES Abroad Cape Town Center, and Hernando Sevilla-Garcia, Senior Diversity Relations Manager at IES Abroad, connected for this Fireside Chat focused on Mandela Day. The chat begins with Hernando remarking on his first trip to Cape Town as “magical,” a theme that carries throughout the remainder of their enriching conversation. Read more about the chat or head straight to the video to hear from David directly.
David Reiersgord provides historical context for Mandela’s influence as a figure to emphasize the environment that Mandela grew up in. He details the history of South Africa, beginning with the first half of the 20th century and the British Empire, the Second Anglo-Boer War (spanning 1899-1902), and the inception of racial South African identity politics that set the stage for the tense sociopolitical environment that Nelson Mandela was born into. This environment included the hierarchy, subjugation, and supremacy that laid the groundwork for Apartheid.
The chat focuses on Mandela’s pre-prison framework and the importance of his consistently powerful and transformative work while leading up to the era of his life for which he is more prominently known. Reiersgord highlights formative experiences for Mandela including where Mandela lived, Sophiatown, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophiatown, a famous Black cultural center, was destroyed under Apartheid and rebuilt as a “whites-only” suburb. It was the home of many renowned writers, politicians, musicians, artists, and activists. Sophiatown’s demolition became a significant marker for Mandela’s developing political voice and presence.
Courses within the IES Abroad Cape Town curriculum are discussed, namely “Post-Apartheid South African History & the Rainbow Nation," to emphasize the influence of Pan-Africanism and African geography, and “The Narrative of the Rainbow Nation,” juxtaposing the identity politics of the “melting pot” within the United States and the Rainbow Nation within South Africa. The two further explore individual identity vs. national identity calling for consideration of illusions and the creation of ideals such as “The American Dream.”
The enthralling conversation ends with an important note on the individual’s power to bring about revolution by seeing that, as David states, “Great changes take a lot of time, and great changes can unfold from smaller beginnings.” Mandela’s legacy to students lives on in various ways, as he is memorialized as a student of life and the world, emphasizing belief in self, change, and influence, seeing through the storm to the rainbow.