Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, shares words of wisdom as the 2024 Schwartz Visiting Fellow.
While the world knew Nelson Mandela as “Madiba” or “Tata,” Ndaba Mandela knew him as “Granddad.” At eleven years old, Ndaba went to live with his grandfather. While in his care, he learned many life lessons, which he later chronicled in his book Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather, Nelson Mandela. As the 2024 Schwartz Visiting Fellow, Ndada shared with the Pomfret community some of the lessons he learned from his grandfather and what it was like to grow up in South Africa in the aftermath of Apartheid. All that he experienced, witnessed, and learned as the grandson of the iconic leader guides the compass Ndaba follows as he travels the world advocating for the causes in which he believes.
Born in 1983, young Ndaba knew very little about his grandfather and his revolutionary work in the 1950s and 1960s that resulted in the leader's twenty-seven-year imprisonment. At seven years old, Ndaba first met his grandfather when his family visited Nelson in jail. It was a bewildering experience. He pictured jail to have concrete walls, wardens, dogs, and heavy security. But when he arrived at Victor Verster Prison, he saw a house bigger than the one he lived in. There was also a swimming pool and a chef. “I left thinking that when I grow up, I want to go to jail.”
Ndaba shared what it was like to live with his grandfather as he served as the first black president of South Africa. The elder Mandela expected great things from his grandson, including getting top marks in his class. But Ndaba just wanted to be a normal kid. “It was a lot of pressure,” Ndaba recalls. “But parents put a lot of pressure on their children because they want them to succeed. And do you know what is created by immense pressure — diamonds.”
That is just one of the stories and pearls of wisdom that Ndaba shares. He used his grandfather's words and those of other prominent social justice revolutionaries, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Maya Angelo, to inspire his audiences to be a source of change in the world.
Ndaba is an advocate for progress. From the end of racism and the eradication of HIV to equality for women and the importance of mental health, he believes that young people have the power to make the world a better place. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation.”
In addition to his all-school and community lectures, Ndaba attended classes and signed copies of his book — all the while imparting all that he learned from his grandfather.
Ndaba’s visit was made possible by the Schwartz Visiting Fellow program as the result of the vision and generosity of Michael Schwartz ’66 and Eric Schwartz ’69. Past fellows include animal science professor Temple Grandin; author Bill Bryson; human rights activist Madame Jehan Sadat; historian David McCullough; and celebrity chef Ming Tsai.