With his words on the walls, a bust in the lobby and his teachings central to those who learn on the campus, Nelson Mandela’s presence is felt throughout Santa Fe’s Mandela International Magnet School.
Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, visited the school Monday to provide a real-life connection to history through stories about the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary as both a father figure and world leader.
During a days-long speaking tour with high school students around Northern New Mexico, Ndaba Mandela shared the life story and legacy of his grandfather with a new generation.
“It’s definitely eye-opening to see quite a lot of similarities between Mandela and his grandson,” Mandela International senior Magdalena Galdamez said. “Meeting him in person and seeing that he really is committed to continuing his grandfather’s vision is really inspiring. We can learn from that.”
Mandela arrived in New Mexico last week and spoke at United World College-USA’s annual conference on its campus in Montezuma. On Monday morning, he spoke at the Capitol to the House and Senate education committees before heading to Warehouse 21 to meet about 100 local high school students.
In the afternoon, he met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham before closing out his tour of Santa Fe at Mandela International.
At each stop, Ndaba Mandela told personal stories of growing up with his grandfather and seeing his leadership qualities first-hand. When he was 11, he moved in with 78-year-old Nelson Mandela as his parents attended university.
When he was a boy, famous celebrities and world leaders — from Michael Jackson and Princess Diana to Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro — stopped by the house to visit with his grandfather.
“Nelson Mandela treated these very famous people the same way he treated who was cooking for us, the driver, or the one cleaning the garden. He treated everybody the same,” Mandela told an audience at Warehouse 21. “Why did Nelson Mandela treat everybody the same? Because Nelson Mandela understands that whether you are young or old, rich or poor, black or white, we each have the potential to achieve greatness.”
Ndaba Mandela lost both of his parents to HIV/AIDS, and works with the United Nations on preventing the disease and removing the stigma around it. At the school, the 36-year-old told the story of his grandfather’s decision to go public about how his son, Makgatho Mandela, died in 2005.
“That was the very first time that a high-profile family had disclosed to the world that HIV was the actually cause of death for one of our own,” Mandela said. “And that gave a lot of courage and inspiration to other families to be able to fight this disease and the stigma around it head on.”
Current high school students were born a decade after the end of apartheid and were in elementary school when Nelson Mandela died in 2013. Through the grandson’s visit, many said they made a direct connection to some of the history they have learned in class.
“I learned some basics about his life in fifth grade when he died, but I didn’t really know who he was,” Capital High sophomore Gabe Martinez said at Warehouse 21. “[Ndaba Mandela] provided more truth to what I had learned in school. History has so many stories to it that most people don’t know what really happened or what somebody was like, but this is his grandson.
“Before his speech started, I was walking from the bathroom and he was there. I didn’t know who he was, but my teacher introduced me and we talked,” Martinez continued. “He was asking me where I’m from and what I do in school. He’s a cool, down-to-earth guy.”
Ndaba Mandela’s current project is the Africa Rising Foundation, a nonprofit committed to publicizing the positive image of Africa through publications, films, media and social interaction. He first thought of the idea for the organization when he visited the United States and London and was discomforted by perceptions of South Africa.
Between that cause and speaking tours like the one he was on during the past few days in New Mexico, Ndaba Mandela hopes to bring his grandfather’s spirit to the next generation of leaders.
“I believe in educating the whole person for the whole world and that education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world,” Mandela International sophomore Xitlalitl Rodas said. “That’s what I have learned from Nelson Mandela’s journey and it’s inspiring to see his grandson sharing essentially the same core values and principals.”