James Urdang and Education Africa collection handed over to Nelson Mandela Foundation archives

By Oke Peter
James Urdang, CEO and Founder of Education Africa, officially shared his personal and Education Africa’s images and memorabilia with the Nelson Mandela Foundation today. They will be stored in the Foundation’s archives alongside an enormous collection of memorabilia, photographs and videos which illustrate in detail the life of Nelson Mandela.

“I am proud that Education Africa and my story is being recorded as part of the history of Nelson Mandela’s life. It’s a great honour,” said Urdang at the official handover at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg. The Nelson Mandela Foundation has in its custody an archive of the life and times, works and writings of its Founder, the late Nelson Mandela.

The physical collections include the handwritten papers, official records and unique artefacts from the personal archive of Nelson Mandela in addition to records from the Office of Nelson Mandela after his retirement as President of South Africa in 1999.

Urdang first met Nelson Mandela in 1992 through Walter Sisulu who at the time was the Deputy President of the African National Congress. “I had this idea that I wanted to form a charity to twin schools – to help the poor schools benefit from the advantages the rich schools enjoy. And for the privileged kids to understand more of the needs and problems of the poor, said Urdang.

While I was adamant that the organization should be non-political, I realized that I need political buy-in and at the time it made sense to make the ANC my first port of call.

“I was 27 years old and so nervous about going to the 10th floor of Shell House and meeting Walter Sisulu – the man who had mentored the likes of Nelson Mandela – but I needn’t have worried. He immediately put me at ease; we had this instant connection and I landed up spending an hour with him chatting about my dreams, my plans and about life in South Africa in general.”

From that moment until his eventual passing in 2003 Sisulu became Urdang’s mentor, his friend and a role model that played an instrumental role in shaping his life. That conversation with Sisulu was the real foundation stone of Education Africa, the charity Urdang officially founded in March of 1992, and the starting point of the mission that has dominated his life. 32 years on Education Africa continues to make a huge impact in South Africa through a number of educational projects that aim at achieving poverty alleviation through education, with a strong focus on social cohesion. The organisation’s motto is Educate • Equip • Empower.

Walter Sisulu opened doors for Urdang and introduced him to Nelson Mandela and other major figures in the Anti-Apartheid movement, and in the very early days before South Africa’s first democratic elections, the ANC entrusted Urdang to produce a video called ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’. “This video became historic not only because in it Mandela called for the lifting of UN sanctions (except for oil and arms); it also had the support of business and community leaders. “We made the video before Mandela made the historic speech at the United Nations on 24 September 1993 and I was entrusted with its safe-keeping until he did so.”

Having earned his trust, Urdang worked alongside Nelson Mandela on a number of occasions. He had the privilege on presenting President Mandela the Golden Doves of Peace Award in June 1994; Mandela was the guest of honour at two Education Africa Presidential and Premier Education Awards Ceremonies which took place on the Presidential estate during his term as President; he officially struck the first 5oz proof Presidential Medallion at the SA Mint with proceeds from the sale going to Education Africa; he wrote the Foreword of two Editions of Education Africa Forum – a book published by Education Africa; and he was Patron of Schools Link – an Education Africa project aimed at creating awareness of Education Africa in the UK.

“We have kept original print, video and photographic records of all these initiatives and projects, and we are indeed proud to present these to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for safe-keeping in its archives.”

Speaking at the official hand-over, Prof Verne Harris, acting CEO of The Nelson Mandela Foundation said “this donation by James Urdang and Education Africa will complement the archive that we have on our Founder, Nelson Mandela. Every now and then we receive gems after thinking that there is nothing else to be found. It is special to receive this collection when we are marking the 10th anniversary of the passing of Nelson Mandela.”

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