What Nelson Mandela Did After he Retired as President

Nelson Mandela dedicated his post-1999 retirement to a vast range of charitable work

Retire coverThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

“I am no longer in politics, I'm just watching from a distance and when people come to me and say, 'What do we do with a situation like this?' I say, “No, go to people in politics, I am no longer in politics, I've retired.”

Nelson Mandela by Andrew ZuckermanThe Nelson Mandela Foundation

Charitable work

In 1994 he had established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, a grant making body aimed at uplifting the lives of disadvantaged children, and in 2003 he established the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, an NGO aimed at promoting good leadership in Africa through a postgraduate scholarship programme.

The NMF took on anything for which Mandela could raise funds and which did not encroach on the work of his two other legacy organisations. Major focus areas were education (from building schools to researching the special challenges of education in rural South Africa), HIV/AIDS (from advocacy work to grant making in support of research), and ‘peace and reconciliation’ (from supporting the peace process in Burundi to researching democratisation in Africa).

In 2004 Mandela announced that he would be withdrawing from public life, and inaugurated the conversion of his post-presidential office into the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. It was to take another six years before he was able to fully withdraw and enjoy the rest he so richly deserves.

“I don’t want to reach 100 years whilst I am still trying to bring about a solution in some complicated international issue.”

Retiring from Retirement (2007-06/2007-06)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Retired from retirement

Nelson Mandela has retired more than once. He stepped down as President of South Africa in 1999 at the end of just one term of office.

In 2004, weeks before he turned 86, he made a speech in which he famously ‘retired from retirement’. From that day, 1 June, his diary and activities were ‘severely and significantly reduced’.

He added: “I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but hence forth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me.”

There were many occasions in the following years when his staff had to remind the public that he was actually retired and needed space to enjoy it.

Madiba at Home - Mvezo (2005-07-18/2005-07-18)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Going home: Nelson Mandela's 87th birthday in Mvezo

He, his wife Graca Machel, other family members and Professor Jakes Gerwel (a long-time associate and friend) were filmed by a member of his staff enjoying the day in the deep countryside of the Eastern Cape. Mr Mandela, relaxed and wearing a straw sunhat, spent much of his time greeting children from the village who had gathered to honour this great man who had put Mvezo on the world map.

“I will count myself as amongst the aged of our society: as one of the rural population; as one concerned for the children and youth of our country; and as a citizen of the world committed, as long as I have strength, to work for a better life for all…”

It's In Your Hands (2008-06-27/2008-06-27)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

"It's in your hands"

Twenty years after London’s Wembley Stadium hosted a concert calling for Nelson Mandela to be freed, he stood on another the stage in the city and called on the new generation to do its part to help the world.

It was twenty days before he turned 90 in 2008 that Mr Mandela reminded the crowd that as poverty, oppression and disease still blight the world, “our work is far from complete”.

“We say tonight, after nearly 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.”

From that moment, the slogan ‘it’s in your hands’ became a rallying call for people to pick up the baton from Mr Mandela and to do their bit to make the world a better place.

“We say tonight, after nearly 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.”

Thank you for Mandela Day (2009-07-17)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Make every day a Mandela day

In keeping with Nelson Mandela’s desire that the younger generation do their bit to improve the lives of others, Mandela Day was launched on his birthday in 2009. Within months the United Nations has declared his 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day. It has become a day around the world in which individuals and organisations are encouraged to do good for those around them.

Three successful Mandela Days have been held and the call now is to “Make Every Day a Mandela Day”.

Nelson Mandela introducing the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (2011-07)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Foundation was set up as an office for Nelson Mandela when he stepped down as President of South Africa in 1999.

Initially housed in his home in Johannesburg, the Foundation moved to a new building close by, which was officially opened on 6 May 2003.

By late 2004 its core function changed to a Centre of Memory and Dialogue with the task of developing an archive on the life and times of Mr Mandela and promoting the use of dialogue for social justice.

When he opened the Centre of Memory and Dialogue in 2004 he said: “We want it to dedicate itself to the recovery of memories and stories suppressed by power. That is the call of justice: the call that must be the project’s most important shaping influence”.

As Mr Mandela became fully retired at the end of 2010, the Nelson Mandela Foundation became the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Mandela receiving a copy of "Conversations with Myself" (2010-10)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Conversations with myself

Nelson Mandela’s second major book since his retirement quickly became an international best-seller.

Published in 2010 Conversations with Myself is the first real literary access to the man behind the public figure, the human being behind the liberation hero.

The book was made by a team from the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory with assistance by historian Tim Couzens and Mr Mandela’s long-time comrade and friend Ahmed Kathrada. It is a compilation of his own largely unmediated voice found in his archive, from letters, diaries, notebooks as well as conversations.

Shortly before the worldwide publication of the book Mr Kathrada and his youngest daughter Zindzi Mandela presented him with an advanced copy. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory was able to make a video recording of these moments.

Nelson Mandela looks on as South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande lifts his shirt to show Cuban President Fidel Castro that he is wearing a tshirt emblazoned with the faces of him and Mr Mandela – 2 September 2001

Mandela, Castro and Blade Nzimande (2001-09-02/2001-09-02)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Nelson Mandela with a South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande lifts his shirt to show Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Letters to Kofi Annan Letters to Kofi Annan (2001)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

After the death in 1999 of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela agreed to take his place as facilitator in the Burundi peace mission.

The former president of Tanzania had been trusted enough by all sides in the Burundi conflict to mediate on behalf of the United Nations and had fulfilled the role since 1996. Mr Mandela was also acceptable to them.

He followed and built on Nyerere’s dialogue model and his intervention resulted in the signing on 28 August 2000 of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi. After President Jacob Zuma took over from him in October 2001, Mr Mandela continued to provide support and advice.

In March 2001, after three African governments had agreed to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi, Mr Mandela wrote to Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. He indicated that although Belgium had agreed to pay the costs, he would be grateful if the UN would cover any shortfall.

He wrote that despite advances at the negotiation table killings continued: “We have arranged for troops [from South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria] to be sent to Burundi to put an end to the slaughtering of innocent civilians.”

He may have been a ... former President and an as tough as nails tactician. But Nelson Mandela is also renowned for his sense of humor.

Letter to Kgalema Motlanthe Letter to Kgalema Motlanthe (2002-01-08)The Nelson Mandela Foundation

A humorous letter to Kgalema Motlanthe, then Secretary General of the African National Congress (2002)

He may have been a freedom fighter, a political prisoner, a Nobel Peace Laureate, a former President and an as tough as nails tactician. But Nelson Mandela is also renowned for his sense of humour.

In 2002 while on his annual holidays he took time to write a humorous letter to a comrade. Mr Mandela wrote to Kgalema Motlanthe, a former political prisoner and then Secretary General of the African National Congress.

He remarked at having watched the ANC’s 90th anniversary celebration on television and “saw two well-known heavyweights” from the organisation’s head office “dancing sprightly with the crowd.”

“I am sure all those who witnessed how nimble they were in their paces were tremendously impressed. They would have expected them, as some of us did, to move ponderously according to dignity and convention.”

Mr Mandela himself is well-known for dancing on stage at gatherings throughout the world.

Credits: Story

Discover more about Nelson Mandela here

Photographer — Ardon Bar-Hama
Photographer — Matthew Willman
Photographer — Debbie Yazbek
Photographer — Benny Gool
Animation — Umlando WeZithombe
Research & Curation — Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Staff

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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