On the Record With… Ndaba Mandela

The grandson of Nelson Mandela strikes out on his own to redefine and reshape the conversation about Africa.

Posted: 02/05/2014 12:00 AM EST

To become a man in our South African Xhosa culture, boys between the ages of 18 and 21 have to go to the mountain for four to six weeks where you get circumcised to become a man. Only then, do you then start to earn the respect to contribute to conversations within the household. Only then are you taught the roles and responsibilities of becoming a man, which are to get married, have a wife, have children and have your own home. Then you are complete as a man.

No matter where you are from, that should be the definition of a man. Naturally, there are differences culturally between Africans and African-Americans. However, despite geography and centuries of history, we are all connected.

Beyond the physical similarities, we are connected in the sense that the Black man is still a man fighting for his identity, fighting to be recognized in society. Don’t look at the Black man and say, ”Look at this poor man.” Don’t look at the Black man and say, “Ah, all he can do is play sports.” No, the Black man is brighter than you could imagine. However, there are no opportunities given to him and that is true for both Africans and Black people in America. In the same breath you’re looking at one another and knowing that you’re trying to make something of yourself.

(Photo: Earl Gibson III)

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We all want our families to look at us and be proud of the men that we are. That we are responsible, that we are conscious of our common background. That is our connection; it is about recognition and identity. I often say to my African brothers, “Guys, when you’re walking on the streets of California and others see you, they don’t see a Yoruba man or a Senegalese man. They say ”look at that African.” You are an African before anything else. So you must always remember that and keep that on the top of your mind. All of us, in America and in Africa, we are African before anything else and that is what we should uphold and respect above all else.

This is especially important to hold fast to because the messages within mainstream media and popular culture do not expose the youth to a positive image of Africa. In my travels, people would ask me, “Hey, you’re from South Africa. How big do the lions get there?” And I say “Oh my gosh. I don’t know. I don’t work at the zoo.” People keep asking me these questions about the animals, the poverty, the crime, HIV and all of these preconceived notions about what they think South Africa is.

We have to breakdown the misconceptions that exist surrounding Africa. Africa is not just a place of war, poverty and disease and dictators. Africa is the birthplace of humanity. When you talk about oil and resources that people are dying over in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve got so much of that in Africa. When you talk about the first civilizations, doctors, scientists, astrologers, this is where it all comes from… Africa. People have to know about that. It’s not just a place for you to go on a safari.

The focus of my foundation, Africa Rising, is to change the global perception of Africa by working together to help highlight and identify areas for social and economic development that young people from around the world can engage with. We believe that once African youth are re-educated about their worth and value, our ability and effectiveness to solve our own problems will multiply exponentially.

Ndaba Mandela is the chairman an co-founder of Africa Rising, an organization publicizing the positive image of Africa to the world through programming, films, media and social interaction to change the mind set of young Africans.

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