Alejandro: You and I met a number of years ago at some event in New York City, turns out we both love music and going out, so obviously that’s the Ndaba I know and the one I’ve had the chance to meet a couple of times. I wanna go back in time and I would love for you to share a little bit about the upbringing, so, where was it that you were born? And give me a little layout of how the town, the look of it, and the people, the community. What did that look like?
Nadaba: Basically I was born in 1982, which was still during the time of apartheid, was still in control of the government, the country, so I was born in Soweto, which is a township outside of the city, and it was a township that was actually created by the Apartheid system because they removed black people from staying in the cities, the neighborhoods were becoming too competitive between the whites and the blacks, so in order for them to control it and take advantage of it, they removed all black people to stay outside of the city, so they created Soweto, which was an acronym for South Western Townships, and that was mainly a black community, there was some middle-class people, but the majority were poor.
Alejandro: How big at that time?
Nadaba: At that time it was about 1.5 million people, today it’s closer to 3 million, it’s about 2.5 million today
Alejandro: You grew with brothers, sisters, tell me about the siblings.
Nadaba: So, yeah I have an older brother but I only met him when he came, because my father and his mother divorced and then my father married my mother and then they had me and three younger brothers, so when I grew I actually, I grew up alone and then my brother arrived 9 years later, he is 9 years younger than me.
Alejandro: Did you have imaginary friends?
Nadaba: No actually (laughs) because of the community, because of the neighborhood, everybody, your neighborhood would become your friends, your neighbors kids, being in the hood, everybody knows everybody on the streets, so you can go over and borrow sugar, tomato sauce, or “hey can I get some rice”, so your parents are always sending you back and forth.
Alejandro: I said that because my older brother grew up in a farm, that’s where we grew up with, before me and my brother came into this world. He had some imaginary friends (laughs) and I think he had a name for them and I think it was when he created his fifth imaginary friend when my parents were like, “this kid’s gonna grow up fucked up, we need to bring in two more kids because he is nuts”. So, good, growing up there with all your buddies and the community, what you guys enjoy doing?
Alejandro: Marbles and soccer man, I think that’s a foreign thing, I did marbles and soccer too, we called it tikis.
Nadaba: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.
Alejandro: I lost a lot of games, and I got into debt
Nadaba: I think I won more than I lost.
Alejandro: Oh yeah? Did you make bets?
Nadaba: Oh no, we never bet, but we did play, this is another game but we played, it’s like gambling but you play with coins, and you spin the coins and you put it flat on your hand, somebody has to flip the coin and guess if it’s heads or tails, and if they guess the same they win but then if they guess differently, you take his coin.
Alejandro: Woo, that’s another level for me man, I stopped at marbles and actually my parents were worried at one point. My great grandfather was a big gambler and at the age of like, 5 I got into playing pikis, like most of the kids our age, but I bet and I sucked, and my brothers had to pay my debt, and it got so bad that even my brothers couldn’t pay my debt
Alejandro: And I had to steal from my parents man, I had to be like, look it’s fine, but a lot of kids are looking for me, so I’m gonna need the help, and they actually bought pikis. Like the next day in school, I had to like give out all the stuff.
Nadaba: Oh, pay your debts
Alejandro: Alright, so, you didn’t have to go through that
Nadaba: Nah I didn’t lose money.
Alejandro: Ah! Good for you man. You stuck to your talent
Nadaba: The thing is, we played for fun most of the time we weren’t betting, at home, when there’s nothing to do if it’s raining or whatever, you played marbles, so you’re always constantly practicing and getting better and better. So when I played in the public, I most of the times won.
Alejandro: So your parents were still together at this stage? Or they had already been apart?
Nadaba: They were together but it was very much a broken home, with a lot of abuse, physical, alcohol abuse.
Alejandro: Shit, and you had to see that, and you were constantly seeing it
Nadaba: I saw all of that, uhum.
Alejandro: And when was it that … cause you ended up moving out, correct?
Nadaba: Yeah, so basically my grandfather decided to come and fetch me and in 1993 just before he became president and he sent my parents to different universities.
Alejandro: To keep them apart?
Nadaba: Yeah, which was not necessarily the best thing, to be honest with you, because after that they separated, ended up separating you know?
Alejandro: Growing up, at what point do you realize that you had someone in the family that was known and many people recognized when did that start coming into play?
Nadaba: Well that was in 1990 when we went visiting him just before he was released, our parents were like “Oh, we’re gonna visit your grandfather in jail” and literally is your whole family going to see this man, that’s #1, we didn’t know what he did, so I was like “did he kill someone? Did he shoot someone? Did he steal something? “Uhm no, well, you know, it’s kind of difficult to explain” and they never really explain to me why he was in jail.
Alejandro: Really? But a granted at this stage you’re still very young.
Nadaba: Yeah, 8 years old.
Alejandro: 8 years old, so you’re curious, you have tons of questions and they’re trying to figure out like, how much to reveal.
Nadaba: Yeah and also at the same time, in an African home you also don’t ask too many questions because it’s very strict and you only just, whatever information you get, normally you ask a question, maybe ask one question, but you don’t ask too many.
Alejandro: So you know you have like two questions tops, (laughs) so they better be good
Nadaba: Yeah, exactly.
Alejandro: So, you went to visit him…
Nadaba: Yes I had a typical image of what jail is right? Concrete bars, security everywhere, you know, mate after mate, but when we got there was a house, a normal house, a house better than the house I lived in, it had a pool, my grandfather played chess, I didn’t know how to play chess, he had chefs, we never had a chef at home wearing a white outfit
Alejandro: So you were like “If this is prison I .. fucking put me in prison”
Nadaba: I said “When I grow up, I wanna go to jail (laughs)
Alejandro: (Laughs) Oh that’s great! By the way, that was already in 1990, he didn’t have that treatment …
Nadaba: No, it was only the last 4 years of his incarceration, if I’m not mistaken.
Alejandro: And that was because he was moved to a new prison? Or that
Nadaba: Because they isolated him by himself so they could try to break him down, so they were preparing him for release, but obviously they were negotiating so he can be released and then he must renounce his political party. They were trying to break him down basically in isolation, by himself.
Alejandro: At this stage, when you went to meet him, was that the first time that you met him? When they said “Oh, let’s go and see your grandfather”
Nadaba: That was the first time.
Alejandro: Wow, did you get to go a number of times after that?
Nadaba: No, we went to visit him just before he was released, so he was already being released, so they just wanted him to see his family before the official release.
Alejandro: So you came back to Soweto, you continued living your life.
Nadaba: Yeah, normal life, normal life
Alejandro: Normal life in Soweto and, then you mentioned… so, that was in 1990, so, three years later was when your grandfather decided to, “hey, I’m gonna grab you, I’m gonna grab your parents, they’re gonna go here, right?
Nadaba: I’m gonna take my grandson to live with me, and I’m gonna send my son, his parents, to university.
Alejandro: Got it. And how did you feel about that?
Nadaba: Again, in an African family you don’t ask questions, you do as you’re told, so he sent his driver to come and fetch him, I tell the driver I can’t go with him, and he tried and tried to get me to go with him and then when my father came home I told him what happened, my father said if he comes again you must go with him, I said “fine”. The man came back three or four days later, I went with him and that weekend I found out that I’m gonna stay with my grandfather and my parents are going to the university. Brother, yes, thank you, yes dad, yes dad. There are no questions, you do as you’re told, my friend.
Alejandro: And then you got there, and do you remember the first time you were like walking in the house, you’re seeing your grandfather …
Nadaba: Of course, we pull into the house, a gate opens, a security, you walk in, there is security, there’s cars, there’s just people everywhere
Alejandro: Who else was there? Did you have other people? And no other cousins or like grandkids or anything?
Alejandro: It was just you
Alejandro: Ok, so you get, how are you? You’re hungry, get something to eat and that was the beginning? and that’s how you began developing a relationship with your grandfather?
Nadaba: uhum. And his main concern is school. How you’re performing at school, and that was the basis of our conversations for the first couple of years. It’s not like him and I were big buddies or anything like that. You’re the grandfather, I’m the grandson, you do your work in school, that’s the most important thing, focus in school, get good grades, that’s your number 1 responsibility.
Alejandro: And at this stage living with him, where did you go to school? Did you switch schools?
Nadaba: No, I went to the same school.
Alejandro: What school was that?
Nadaba: Single Hearts College, this is the mary’s brother’s college, Catholic school.
Alejandro: Did you like school?
Nadaba: No, not really, you know I went to school with I think it was like, 8 black boys, not the standard, I was still the minority and I was very…
Alejandro: How many? I mean, 8 black boys, how many people where there?
Nadaba: It was probably around 25 in a class and there were 3 classes on that grade, so there would be grade 2s, 2e, grade 2f.
Alejandro: Got you
Nadaba: Yeah, so maybe in my class were 2 or 3 black boys, other classes 2 or 3, you know what I mean?
Alejandro: Was racism already apparent when you got there?
Nadaba: Yes, of course, you know kids learn from home and they bring whatever they learned to school and it would come a lot on the playground. We ended up having a gang, a gang with all the 8 black boys and we used to fight against the white boys every break and after school.
Alejandro: Which meant 8 of you vs like 20 (laughs)
Nadaba: Yeah, pretty much (haha)
Alejandro: That’s your first introduction to boxing right there. Did you develop cool relationships with people at that age that you still have now or not?
Nadaba: Yes, all the guys that I was friends with, I’m still friends with now.
Alejandro: How were you in school? So, you didn’t like it that much …
Nadaba: Yes I was very average at school
Alejandro: Did you try to escape it? Did you try an escape?
Nadaba: No, you can’t
Alejandro: I tried to escape 3 times in my school.
Nadaba: The thing is you can escape but like, where are you gonna go?
Alejandro: Well, let’s just say I didn’t plan it out so well alright? (laughs)
Nadaba: We’re in uniform, so the minute you got out of school, where are you going to? People would recognize that you’re wearing a uniform and you’re supposed to be in school during those hours.
Alejandro: I was 5 or 6, I hated school, it was a private school, Catholic, same thing in Colombia and it was gated, it had huge gates. Till this day my brothers can recollect getting their teacher to bring them outside, I would somehow, cause we grew up on a farm, we were very good at climbing trees, you see something that has nothing to grab on, and you’re like “I could climb that”. So for three consecutive times, I tried scaping school and my brothers were called in and I was las on top of the gate, moving it, screaming for my parents, so I feel your pain. I feel your pain about school, but you never tried to escape, it seems like you were a little more intelligent (haha) in the “what am I gonna do afterward”.
Alejandro: What university did you go to?
Nadaba: I went to the University of Johannesburg
Alejandro: Johannesburg, And that is THE university
Nadaba: No, there’s UJ, Wits university, so those are the two main universities, those two are the most prestigious universities in terms of the quality of the education and then, of course, there’s a number of others.
Alejandro: And, why that one? I know there’s like 2 or 3 more, but why that particular one?
Nadaba: Well you have to apply to all of the universities
Alejandro: ok you do, and that one you got in and…
Nadaba: I tried the entry exams and I got in. Others, I couldn’t actually get into others, but this one, my grades were on the borderline of entry, so I had to do an entry exam.
Alejandro: Most of this was what? You weren’t motivated
Nadaba: I didn’t want to be in school, to be honest, I wanted to take a gap year. You try to tell your black parents about a gap year, they are having none of that. “You want to take a gap year and do what?
Alejandro: “Find yourself?” (laugh)
Nadaba: “What? Boy you better get your ass to school, stop wasting my time” (laughs)
Alejandro: (laughs) Oh that’s good
Alejandro: Is there a particular moment with your grandfather that is something that you cherish, that is very dear to you?
Nadaba: Yes, of course, what immediately comes to mind is when I graduated from the University of Petroya, and my grandfather attended that graduation, that was a very proud moment for me, that he came there an, of course, you can imagine when my grandfather comes to any event he becomes the 0:29 and walking out of there, taking pictures, with my colleagues and university staff, and professors. Definitely one of the proudest days of my life.
Alejandro: That’s awesome. Have there been certain moments, because that’s a happy moment with your grandfather, have there been certain moments that were very hard? That you needed your family to be there?
Nadaba: Yes, of course, I think one of the most difficult periods of my life where when our grandfather past away. When my mother passed away, when my father passed away, those are definitely the lowest points in my life, very difficult, very challenging and I would not have been able to do it without the family.
Alejandro: Your parents passed away when you were…this is 2003?
Nadaba: yeah my mother passed in 2003 and my father in 2005.
Alejandro: I believe that this also ties with one of the initiatives that you support, nonstop which is HIV, correct?
Nadaba: Yes, they were both taken by HIV, AIDS, and so, you know since then I’ve done work with the United Nations HIV/AIDS to work on, obviously breaking down this epidemic and making sure that people empower themselves, you know, obviously using condom as often as possible for those who are not married of course and making sure you limit your partners to one partner. But ultimately what’s important is that you know your status, a lot of people don’t know their status, people are scared to find their status and that is why this epidemic is still spreading is because people refuse to go and get tested and without knowing your status you can’t really empower yourself even if you use condoms, it is 99%, sometimes they are, so the most important thing is really to know your status and to make sure that you’re using protection every time you engage in sex.
Nadaba: Agricultural rising came because we’re titled the stereotypical misconception that Africa is a place of war, poverty, and disease, and we thought we need to do something about it, and we decided to form an organization that would focus on the positive image of Africa, to try and regain the control of the narrative that exists of Africa, to make sure that international media are not the ones owning the narrative of Africa but Africa is owning the narrative of Africa. And that began around the year 2010, so we’ve been doing it for 7 years now.
Alejandro: Was there a particular moment that the inspiration came about?
Nadaba: The real inspiration came from me traveling to different cities around the world and realizing that people had very limited knowledge of Africa, you go to a place and are like “hey how are you? I’m Ndaba from South Africa” and they’re like “Oh, South Africa? Oh, how big do the Lions get?
Alejandro: Oh my God
Nadaba: I’m like, “listen, bro, I don’t work at the zoo” – “OMG You’re from South Africa, I’ve heard is so dangerous there, I need to come with security”, I’m like “listen, my grandfather is the president, I don’t have security, I think you’ll be just fine. And eventually, 2009, I was constantly in New York xxx 01:21 and then it’s when I decided something has to be done about this image of Africa.
Alejandro: You decided that pissed you off and you were like “ok, I want to do something about it” So, Africa Rising came about, was this you and a couple of people?
Nadaba: Yeah, so basically me and my cousin went back home and I called college from work I just started an xxx01:41 , he called one of his buddies and everybody came together and we discussed it and we realized actually that this was in the minds of a lot of youth in Africa, it wasn’t just between me and my cousin who were privileged enough to travel, so, we’re just lucky to work with the people that we’ve worked with and get them on board and they have fought the same race so we started Africa Rising.
Alejandro: What are you up to now?
Nadaba: The main two things are Africa Rising and agriculture business. I got into the agriculture business last year.
Alejandro: Africa Rising I believe has three pillars that focus on entrepreneurship, education, and culture.
Alejandro: And where dos the agriculture … can you share a little bit about how that comes together?
Nadaba: So, basically last year I approached a friend of mine, because one of the issues in our village because we are focusing on our village, is agriculture, is farming. We have a lot of lands, a lot of families have livestock, they plant their own stuff, it’s very rural communities and so I realized there was a need for us to help these farmers, to help these households, so, through speaking to my friend who works with the Japanese seed company called Sakata, he made me realize that listen, you can push a number of projects that can also bring us money, but doing good at the same time.
Alejandro: Of course
Nadaba: So what we started was a project called Million Food gardens for Mandela, where we allow going around corporates and ask them to sponsor seeds that we can then together with the department of rural development and agriculture to these rural communities, so our idea is that we want to be able to get corporates and individuals to purchase 1 million tons of food, of vegetable seeds that we’re gonna distribute to a million households around the country. And so I started this project last year. So we basically got a couple of these tins donated, we had a demonstration at our house in xxx 04:00 the village, then we worked with the department of agriculture and rural development to distribute these, so since last year we’ve already managed to get British American Tobacco to buy 20.000 single seeds which we then donated to the department to distribute. This is in light of food inflation. Food inflation last year reached 9%, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the poor people to afford food and so encouraging them to at least plant vegetables so they can cut that budget and have more money to spend at the grocery store.
Alejandro: I saw a number of videos of you in high schools and elementary schools and you were saying … you would greet them and have them repeat certain phrases and I thought that was incredible, I thought that was really inspirational. It’s part of the fighting against the perfection that these kids are receiving daily from media.. can you share a little bit of what is that you do there when you meet these kids.
Nadaba: So basically, our whole thing in terms of breaking down this misconception that exists, we want to actually increase confidence and pride in the young Africans, so when they travel, when they engage with visitors, they talk about Africa with the same level of pride and confidence. And so, when I speak to the kids I want them to walk away saying “wow, I’m an African, I know what it means to be an African, and I am proud of I, and actually, that man encouraged me to dream, to dream big, and made me realize I can achieve those dreams and make them a reality.
Alejandro: When you go to the schools, what do you do?
Nadaba: I basically give a small speech and then I ask them to repeat after me with their hands in the air, “repeat after me, I am an African”
Alejandro: “I am an African”
Nadaba: “I am proud to be an African”
Alejandro: “I am proud to be an African”
Nadaba: “I am proud of my mother and father”
Alejandro: “I am proud of my mother and father”
Nadaba: “And I thank my teachers for spending their time to teach me knowledge”
Alejandro: “And I thank my teachers for spending their time to teach me knowledge”
Nadaba: “Therefore I will make sure that I do what I can”
Alejandro: “Therefore I will make sure that I do what I can”
Nadaba: “To make this world a better place”
“Alejandro” “To make this world a better place”
Nadaba: “Together we can achieve anything”
Alejandro: “Together we can achieve anything”
Nadaba: That’s it
Alejandro: Wow! I love it. Why the hands this particular way, you’ve seen that in another culture?
Nadaba: My grandfather started that.
Alejandro: Oh, really?
Nadaba: yes, and it’s basically to say, I am in control of my destiny and my hands are going to create a better world.
Alejandro: Oh! What are you up to now, in New York City?
Nadaba: New York City I have to speak engagements this week, on the 12th and 13th at colleges, so, I’ll be doing that. I have a total of about 5 speaking engagements here in New York City, I have one in Atlanta. I will also be meeting with my agent, my writer because I’m writing a book, which will be released next year.
Alejandro: What’s the book about?
Nadaba: The book is going to be called “Lessons from my grandfather”
Alejandro: Great title
Nadaba: Basically I’m taking his teachings, his values, and principles and applying them to the new generation in the XXI century, how are they relevant in today’s world.
Alejandro: Can you give us a snippet, what is one lesson that you came across from being with your grandfather or from seeing or being inspired.
Nadaba: Well one thing that my grandfather teaches is humility, the power of being a humble leader, that is one of the things that my grandfather saw that could really make a leader because when you are humble, people will be able to relate to you in a way like no other, so that is one of the ways.
Alejandro: If there’s someone out there right now, that wants to do something for your cause, for Africa Rising, where can they go or what could they do?
Nadaba: You can hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m on Twitter @NdabaMandela, also africarising.org and on Twitter, on Facebook my personal is Ndaba Mandela and we have the Africa Rising Foundation on Facebook as well. EvenI’m on Instagram @NdabaMandela and for Africa Rising is @AfricaRisingOrg. So, any of these platforms you can reach us on.