The state of gender relations: Interview with Ndileka Mandela

Interview with Ndileka Mandela, eldest grandchild of Nelson Mandela and CEO of Thembekile Mandela Foundation. Published in the August edition of the SDG Bulletin South Africa. The SDG Bulletin South Africa is a collaborative product of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the United Nations in South Africa and the South African SDG Hub.


Rhulani Lehloka (RL): In the context of celebrating Madiba’s Centenary: do you think that the state of gender relations has improved in South Africa?

Ndileka Mandela (NM): Although there has been a lot of improvement in policies, I don’t think the state of gender relations on the ground has improved. I am saying this based on the recent spate of gender-based violence. I was reading a post where a 27-year old man raped and killed a 9-year old and put them in the rubbish bin – a girl that he was familiar with! The perpetrators of Gender Based Violence (GBV) are becoming more brazen an it is my opinion that the law is being soft on them. There is another case where a man was grooming an eleven-year old child by exposing them to pornography. This man is out on a R1000,00 bail – this shows that the justice system is not serious about ending GBV. The perpetrators get away with a slap on the wrist and they are released to go out and rape and kill other women.


RL: So, what do you think should be done to curb the scourge of GBV

NM: There are several things that should and can be done:

  1. It starts with us in our families – We need to balance the scale, whilst we are bringing up a strong girl, let’s bring up a strong boy – raise boys and girls in the same way. For instance, in my household, there is nothing that my son can do that my daughter cannot do. I give them the same chores because it starts there, the smallest unit of society is family, we need to change the mindset in families and that will translate to the community and from the community to society.
  2. Considering that one in five South African adult women have experienced physical violence, the law should be more stringent on the perpetrators – getting out on a R1000,00 bail is not enough.
  3. Support and encourage campaigns and movements that provide a space for women to express themselves without fear or favour. The Thembekile Mandela Foundation, an organisation for which I am the CEO, has joined in the quest with the #TotalShutDown campaign. We are participating in the gender summit because we feel that much more needs to be done in terms of levelling the playing field, especially holding the perpetrators of GBV accountable for their actions. Another such campaign is the #MeToo campaign. It is through the #MeToo campaign that I also found my own voice and was able to tell my story of being raped by my own partner. A lot of the times, because of the stigma and the blame that is apportioned to a woman, a lot of women don’t want to come out.
  4. Support and encourage spaces that seek to promote gender equality – Patriarchy still rules! In most of the cases, the playing fields have not been levelled at the work place, women still earn less than men, they must work twice, if not thrice as hard to get the same recognition and yet they are still not on par as far as the salaries are concerned. Workplaces that strive to correct this should be supported through this transition and those that refuse to transform should be penalised.

At home, there are women that are at the mercy of their partners. Some of them can’t leave these abusive relationships because they are depending on these men for sustenance for their children. So that patrimony and patriarchy is still rampant, the playing field has not been levelled by a long shot. Again here, support structures for such women should be strengthened to ensure a somewhat smooth transition.

  1. Design programmes that are responsive to dealing with the root causes of GBV – the Thembekile Mandela Foundation runs the Leading like Mandela Programme which looks at intrinsic leadership as opposed to positional leadership. It teaches leaders how to tap into the strength within themselves. It seeks to uncover how we, as individuals can harness and hone in on how we govern ourselves; because if men can govern themselves, they would not go around raping women and beating them up. And if women can govern themselves in terms of finding their own voice, then they will realise their potential to be self-sufficient. As women, we often supress our voice and we also think that there is no way out of an abusive relationship; we put all these barriers for ourselves whereas we can get assistance from outside these relationships. The programme also assists women in being able to find their own voice and change their situation because it talks about active citizenry and active citizenry cuts across the gender lines.

The main thrust of the Foundation however is health education and youth development. This includes a sanitary wear programme and running camps where we teach girls about the soft skills that they are not being taught in class. We have, however come to realise that it is important that we also address the boy-child, and to this regard, have partnered with other organisations working with boy-children.

  1. Amplify the role of civil society through the media – it is well and good that the media highlights the issues, but they should also work together with civil society organisations who follow up on these issues. Civil society is challenged with a lack of funds, yet they do so much. They also often lack the funds to publicise the work they do which could expose them to potential funders. Media should balance its chase for sensationalism with a responsibility to amplify work done by the small NGOs.
  2. GBV should be declared a national emergency – it annoys me that issues of GBV are allocated a period within a year (e.g. 16 days of activism) when GBV itself happens every day in our society. Women’s month quickly becomes about how vulnerable women are, when this happens throughout the year. Declaring GBV as a national emergency will ensure that this gets the attention that it deserves (year-long) and the resource allocation that it deserves from national right through to local levels.


RL: Thank you very much for those passionate insights. Is there anything that you would like to from your personal perspective which has influenced the gender conscious person that you are today?

NM: The woman that brought me up (my grandmother) was a very strong woman who was centred in her spirituality – therein, I think is the missing link in things that we do today. When I say spirituality, I don’t mean going to church or be a bible-toting person but to have the spiritual principles that ground you because I am the person that I am today because of that spiritual ground. Therein I found I feet and my centre, in that spiritual grounding. I think we also need to go back to be a value-based system because we are slowly losing our values as humanity. As women and men, we are slowly losing our values, we are becoming more and more consumed with material things and that element of Ubuntu and substance is no longer there. Both my grandmother and granddad taught me (particularly my grandmother because granddad was in prison) that as long as you are grounded in your spirituality and your personal relationship with God, you can overcome anything.


RL: Any concluding remarks?

NM: To both men and women – I think the gender dynamic in the 21stcentury is more complicated because we struggle to find the balance between playing our role as men and playing your role as women. The woman of the 21stcentury has the misinformed notion that they can do without a man – no, we have to co-exist because of our co-dependencies. We are not independent of one another but can be self-sufficient. It is finding that balance – for men, a balance of being masculine to the point of being aggressive and for women to be so strong at the expense of her femininity. We both need to find a balance and there is a fine line in finding that balance. An elderly woman recently said to me that as women, we sometimes have to tap into our softness, but to never underestimate the power that we hold.

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