It was the kind of opportunity most Jewish institutions are incapable of passing up. Two of the grandsons of the iconic Nelson Mandela, Ndaba Mandela and Kweku Mandela-Amuah, agreed to share the keynote speech at Brandeis University’s annual celebration of “social justice,” in an event known as the “Deis Impact.”
It happened on Wednesday, Feb. 5, in the ballroom of the school’s student center. The two grandsons gave the keynote speech(es) in collaboration with the Ruth First Memorial Lecture, which is sponsored by the Brandeis African and Afro-American Studies Department.
The topic of the talks was “Africa Rising: The Mandela Legacy and the Next Generation of African Leadership.”
Africa Rising is the name of the foundation created in 2010 by the two Mandela grandsons to “create a new legacy and understanding of Africa as a continent showcasing the tremendous potential and unprecedented growth.”
Andrew Flagel, the school’s senior vice president for students and enrollment, sounded elated as he gave a preliminary introduction to the event. He talked about the social justice festival, begun 3 years ago, which is distinctive because it is “university funded, but student organized.”
Flagel talked about the incorporation of the arts, music, film, global justice, ethnicity, into Deis Impact, and how it is all about delving into the meaning of social justice.
Following Flagel, the student union president, Ricky Rosen, introduced the two speakers. Rosen spoke about what distinguishes Brandeis from other small liberal arts schools in the Boston area.
What did the Brandeis Student Union president come up with? That Brandeis is “unconventional.” Not only is Brandeis unconventional, but the students are intensely proud of being that way.
Rosen described Brandeis students’ unconventionality by comparing what they do with walking the wrong way on an escalator, or swimming against the tide, working harder to get anywhere. That sounds admirable. It’s really hard, especially for young people, to swim against the tide.
But do they?
What does not sound so great is the kind of reaction the Brandeis audience gave to one of the Mandela grandsons, when he went through a litany of the kinds of discrimination to be challenged in the world.
The Mandela grandsons are not the great orators their grandfather was, but they are young and they will get much more practice as they continue on their lofty quest. Their goal is nothing less than to create the great African Dream.
First Kweku Mandela-Amuah spoke. He is the less forceful speaker of the two cousins, but he is a film producer and director, with his own production company, Out of Africa Entertainment.
The second Mandela grandson to speak, Ndaba, is a more relaxed, natural speaker. He was a political consultant at the Embassy of Japan in Pretoria, and his attempts to engage and energize the audience met with some success.
Ndaba Mandela started with a classic public speaking rhythm: you give the crowd a tagline, and then wait for them to understand it comes after every pause.
The tagline this Mandela was teaching at the Brandeis Social Justice event was “That is discrimination.” He preached a descriptive line about governmental authority or oppression, and the tagline was “That is discrimination.” This is what he said:
Discrimination is the enemy of social justice.
Multinational companies mining gold in Australia, on land that historically belongs to the indigenous people, the Aboriginals, which are making billions, while the Aboriginal people make nothing and the government says zero….That is discrimination.
When Africans from North and West Africa and France are consistently harassed, victimized and searched on the streets by police…That is discrimination.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus