I went to the formal gala evening of the Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars’ (CMRS) 3rd annual conference with high expectations mainly inspired by the theme “Reconciliation in Reality” which I found duly fitting for a conference of this nature. I was also interested to how the grand madame would explain reconciliation to a group of young diverse intellectuals who at first impression may appear intimidating like a gang of budding revolutionaries. This was my first impression of the scholars which admittedly was proved false faster than one can shout “Eureka!”
My first taste of the 3rd annual CMRS conference was a public lecture hosted at the University of Pretoria on day one which also served as the official opening. The lecture was delivered by Prof Jakes Gerwal who shared on the concept of reconciliation espousing it with the idea of ‘reconciledness’ and nation-building. The evening rounded off with a cocktail party which is where I got to mingle with some of the scholars incognito, with the aim of learning more about their community: these unique ones are poised, attentive and critically inclined in their thinking, proactive, and overall ambitious. They are amazingly aware of their power as young academics and leaders, and of the honour of being constituents of such a distinctive and all-encompassing scholarship. Nonetheless they are not brash in their demeanour -you would think they would be after all they are ambassadors of two of South Africa’s historical and iconic figures: Nelson Mandela and Cecil John Rhodes. As individuals I found them defiantly unique and interesting, very different from each other. Bringing me to why I walked into the gala evening, on what was the last official day of the conference, with a keenness to mingle and learn more – about the scholars, the scholarship, and Graca Machel.
The gala dinner was held at the University of Pretoria’s Conference Hall in an intimate setting of 120 or so guests mostly comprising of Mandela Rhodes scholars, their administrative team, sponsors and a few distinguished guests. The atmosphere was light and the beautiful décor was a compelling catalyst to the celebratory mood of love, life and reconciliation. The anticipation was also felt by the fact that Graca Machel was to give the keynote address. This is the grand Madame I referred to earlier and who before this night, I perceived only as Tata Mandela’s wife and that’s about it. How ignorant I had been! This graceful woman lit up the room with her love, warmth and charisma from the time she took over the podium. Moreover she captivated (truly she did) because of the profound knowledge and wisdom that poured from her lips. For many – more particularly to Generation Y’s ( those born in the 80s – 2000s) – the theme of reconciliation seems pedantic and over-emphasized, but mama Graca spoke of it as simply and succinctly as an African herald of truth would to a bunch of enigmatic young leaders. This is the essence of her endearing speech on reconciliation in reality (in paraphrase):
“African countries have fewer conflicts today than 10 or 15 years ago. The crisis that Africa is facing is no longer with external forces or powers. Today the African continent’s biggest struggle is that its countries are at war with themselves. A great example is South Africa which sits in the middle of internal conflict, another is Rwanda which has suffered the ethnic exclusion of one another; another is Kenya which for the first time since 1963 only come to agree on a constitution recently.
We as Africans are grappling with the issue of difference amongst ourselves: ethnic, gender, racial, political, generational, and religious and class differences. The main issue we have to solve is in finding an ‘exclusive space’; a common identity and purpose. Reconciliation can be explained as the coming together of people or the bringing together of people. Reconciliation also means acceptance. Africa needs a clear common dream that will aid acceptance. So what is Africa’s dream? What is the theme that governises Africa and has culminated into a mobilisation force? What is our collective space? What is the dream that will reconcile and bring us together?
There is a crisis of leadership in Africa. You carry the aspirations of a billion Africans. You have the responsibility of crafting a dream, the dream”…
The 3rd annual Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars (CMRS) conference was held from 30th September to 02nd October 2010 at the University of Pretoria. For the scholars, speakers and all in attendance it was a stirring week of the mobilising of future African leaders through knowledge and communication, and of the healing of souls and minds. The continent of Africa anticipates the greatness that these scholars can offer it. Young blood, express! Word.
The Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars comprises current and past recipients of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship. We aspire to the principles espoused by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation: Leadership, Education, Entrepreneurship and Reconciliation.
We concur with our patron Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela when he challenged world leaders to deal with ever-increasing poverty and inequality; “Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
We intend to be that generation.
The Committee of Mandela Rhodes scholars for the 3rd Annual CMRS pose here with the University of Pretoria’s Vice Chancellor Prof De La Rey and Prof Jakes Gerwal (both in front centre) at the public lecture. The conference was coordinated by Cynthia Ayeza (on the far right with flower).
(From left to right) Shaun Johnson, Grace Machel, Aalia Ismail & Professor Njabulo Ndebele
See some more pics from the gala dinner…
To read more about The Mandela Rhodes Scholarships follow this link: