Nelson Mandela to be honored at special campus event

Linda Biehl, whose daughter Amy was killed in South Africa in 1994 during an anti-apartheid demonstration, and Ntobeko Peni, who was convicted in the attack, but became a partner with Biehl to help youth in impoverished townships, will be among the speakers at a free public event on Monday, April 28, at UC Berkeley to honor the late Nelson Mandela and his legacy of reconciliation and forgiveness.  

‘A fairly terrifying time…’

Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes revisits South Africa in the mid-1990s

Their personal stories, and those of other special guests from around the world, will be shared at “The Hard Work of Reconciliation: Celebrating the Legacy of Nelson R. Mandela,” a panel discussion at International House that falls on the 20th anniversary of Mandela’s election as the first black president of South Africa.

The celebration is the first in a series of activities to celebrate Mandela at UC Berkeley, where large-scale protests in the 1980s over Mandela’s imprisonment and against apartheid put the campus at the forefront of the campaign for divestment from South Africa by American universities. This campaign contributed directly to apartheid’s eventual downfall.

After Mandela’s death last December, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks asked UC Berkeley’s academic leadership to plan a spring event that not only would celebrate Mandela’s life and legacy, but explore his historic accomplishments.

“Mandela was an extraordinary leader whose clarity of moral purpose brought freedom to the oppressed and a brighter future to South Africa through his commitment to justice, compassion and reconciliation,” Dirks said. “We are honored to welcome these outstanding speakers to UC Berkeley to talk about how Mandela affected their lives and the lives of others. It is the sort of discourse and remembrance that will help keep alive his mission, dreams and aspirations.”

two men

In April 1994, Archbishop Desmond Tutu announces the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s president. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Scheper-Hughes)

“Mandela spoke every day about how we all have to learn to live with each other, and that our job, whether in South Africa or the U.S.,  is to build a new society,” said Nancy-Scheper Hughes, a UC Berkeley professor of anthropology who assembled the speakers for this event, and knows each of them personally through her work in South Africa and South America. “Reconciliation is hard work, and this event will show that and honor Mandela, who asked for this work to be done.”

In addition to Biehl and Peni, the speakers will include:

  • Albie Sachs, who lost an arm and an eye in a car bomb attack after the apartheid government labeled him a terrorist. He recovered to help write the new constitution for the South African government and served as a justice in South Africa’s Constitutional Court.  The author of Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, he will be the keynote speaker.
  • Manfred Jacobs, who was a young warden at Victor Verster Prison when Mandela was jailed there before his release in 1990 and a senior warden when Peni was imprisoned there. Jacobs will speak about how Mandela changed the lives of prison wardens at a time when Mandela was feared as an angry and dangerous terrorist.
  • Davi Kopenawa, a spiritual leader and spokesman for his people, the Yanomami Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. Illegal gold mining and cattle ranching are threatening the health of this relatively isolated tribe and its land. Kopenawa says Mandela’s legacy has resonated with the Yanomami and their struggles.

The event begins at 2 p.m. in Chevron Auditorium at I-House and is followed by a reception at 6 p.m.

In September, the campus will continue to commemorate Mandela with a panel discussion during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Free Speech Movement. “Divestment Revised: UC Berkeley, The Free Speech Movement and the South Africa Divestment Movement,” will revisit UC Berkeley and the South Africa divestment movement, and how members of the campus community created a movement that led to change so remarkable that Mandela cited it in a speech at the Oakland Coliseum after his release from prison in 1990.

In the spring of 2015, an additional campus event is being planned to explore South Africa after Mandela

Monday’s event is being sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Provost, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, the Department of Anthropology and its doctoral program in medical anthropology, the Center for African Studies, the Center for the Study of Law and Society and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.