Free Yourself, Free Others and Serve Every Day: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela
An interview with Yase Godlo recorded on August 5th, 2017


Joining the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Yase Godlo,

Manager of the International Mandela Day Campaign at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, shares his memories of Nelson Mandela, the man and the leader. In this moving interview, he shares his hopes for South Africa, how the values of Mandela should live on, and how the Nelson Mandela Foundation continues to spread the message of “Free yourself, free others and serve every day” through Memory work, Dialogue and globally recognized Mandela Day. Read this inspiring interview and be uplifted and motivated to serve.


Hanako Cho

Interviewer: Could you please share with us what made you involved with the Mandela Foundation from the beginning?

Yase Godlo: (hereinafter referred to as Godlo): Before I joined the Mandela Foundation I used to work for KPMG as a consultant for human resources, and I then was recruited to work for the Mandela Foundation in 2004, the first of April.

Interviewer: What made you interested in joining them?

Godlo: I think for me it was an opportunity to work for an important organization. The one biggest attraction for me was that I would be working in an organization where Mr. Mandela works, so it was very exciting.


Mandela’s Achievements

Interviewer: What were his achievements in his work? In his school? Do you think his goal was achieved in his lifetime?

Godlo: Mr. Mandela lived his life by three rules,: free yourself, free others, and serve every day. Realizing the success of those principals in one lifetime was not possible in his generation. But he has given us the bait to take those values forward, and this is at the core of the work of Mandela Day and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Our duty as this generations and generations to come is to celebrate humanity, to celebrate bringing true social justice for each person in the world.


Relationship with Mandela

Interviewer: You have been working with Nelson Mandela for nine years. What was your role for him? What was your relationship with him?

Godlo: When I joined the Nelson Mandela Foundation, I worked in the finance department. I had little interaction with Mr. Mandela. But when he traveled i would be the person coordinating even though I did not accompany him. I would collect and deliver his passports when he needed. But then again, Mr. Mandela was such a free person that he interacted with the staff of the Nelson Mandela Foundation at any given time. So, we, I interacted with his office, his private office, and at times one would have the opportunity of doing things in his residence as well. I interacted with Mr. Mandela in that sense. Another opportunity, then that I discovered was when I started also working with and organizing an event “The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture” which is an annual event that started before I joined the Nelson Mandela Foundation allowed me a more intimate interaction with Mr. Mandela This was an event that annually celebrated him, and I was key in organizing the event. So the Annual Lecture gave me moment to interact with him.


Mandela, the Man

Interviewer: Viewed from your perspective, how would you describe him as working closely with him?

Godlo: Well, having worked closely with Mr. Mandela over a few years, I learned mostly that he had a good heart. He had a heart and soul that should really be celebrated because he respected all people. I appreciated that in him more than anything else. He respected life; he respected other people; he acknowledged and honored other people. He was a big-time keeper, and very disciplined. He had great discipline, and I think it’s something that he learned while captured on Robben Island., Mr. Mandela still made his own bed at home daily. This is just evidence how much of a disciplined man he was. Its interesting to know that someone celebrated kept that habit. He got up very, very early in the morning and made his own bed.


A Passion for Betterment for All

Interviewer: Where do you think his passion came from?

Godlo: in my my opinion, from wanting to be more than self, for wanting to be more than the world expects of you. And he was driven by love for humanity. He grew up in Eastern Cape in Umtata in South Africa, and he grew up to be a man who just loved to see people living better lives. Rural Eastern Cape, especially in those times, you know, one lived a very simplistic life, it was when he grew up and found himself in Johanensburg that he knew there was a better life for other people.. So that is what drove him, I believe.


Enduring Robben Island

Interviewer: For more than 27 years he had been incarcerated and viewed from your perspective, how was it possible for him to endure such a long period without losing hope?

Godlo: When Mr. Mandela was incarcerated, he was with other comrades on Robben Island, so being with other people, and knowing the cause that you’re fighting for, inspires one in my opinion. He was very driven to ensure that he remembers that his incarceration was to free a lot of other people, and he knew that he could not give up, if he would give up, it would not be giving up on himself, but giving up on a whole lot of people in South Africa that needed him to keep going.. That is the motivation that any person would know that you are not living your life for just yourself, but you are living your life for other people as well.


Freedom of Mind

Interviewer: In your previous session, you told the audience that when Mr. Mandela was in prison what Mandela had suffered most was the freedom of mind. Would you please elaborate more on this?

Godlo: When I was making a reference of the freedom of the mind, it was a reference of that when Mr. Mandela had, and his comrades, fought for freedom, and we got the freedom, South Africans had political freedom, so there has been a need for us to get to the point to also have the freedom of the mind, the freedom of thinking beyond ourselves, because a lot of things have to shift from the old South Africa for us to realize how to achieve freedom and live better lives, because as we have formed the freedom of movement, the freedom of speech is also understanding the value in what we think and how it effects everything around us. So that is the biggest thing for me, and is very important, to also free your mind. The purpose of the programs at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in educational literacy, is discovering and working with young people to learn more – to understand the importance of education, and education will build our economy to a better life. So that is what is most key for me personally and that it is very in line with freeing the mind.

Interviewer: I’m still not sure why he suffered the freedom of mind during his incarceration period, is it really difficult for him to suffer the freedom of mind in prison because the situation in prison was very severe?

Godlo: So the example made of freedom of mind was freedom of mind for South Africans, not necessarily Mr. Mandela. But for him being in prison, they captured him, the man, but they did not capture the soul; they did not capture the mind, because he still wrote and contributed even while he was in prison bars, so he was physically bound but still could communicate with the outside world; so that he could still be a motivation of hope for the outside world, and he was still in Robben Island and there was activism that was happening around the world, in Europe, in Asia, in America and all parts of the world saying, “Free Mandela; bring down Apartheid”, so for him, even though the body was captured, but his mind was definitely not.


Racism & Fear

Interviewer: I see. And may I know your thoughts about racism? Even today there are places where racism due to the differences in skin color creates hate, so what do you think needs to be done to reverse this trend?

Godlo: Racism is beyond about skin, the color of your skin. Racism, I feel, is your own personal insecurities about seeing and understanding someone different from yourself and accepting or not accepting them. Racism is where we say the mind is really captured. In a society of an innovative world we are living in very progressive world we are living in, where racism exists is because people have fear, and that fear has made a lot of people believe that need to dominate someone else to be better. And this is something that has influenced gender violence; this has transpired where there’s abuse of children. So, it really demonstrates a society that is not confident if in control of its worries, and all of its fears, and they transferred those insecurities to someone else. And it is really being captured within the mind, soul and spirit and being imprisoned in yourself, and that is why a lot of societies would have any sort of racial discrimination.

Interviewer: Where do you think this fear comes from?

Godlo: The fear comes from change – fear, fear from change. It is said a lot of time that human beings fear change, and there’s a lot of times that human beings fear the unknown, and those are the kinds of fears that capture a person, those are the kind of fears that bring violent thoughts, those are the fears that bring a person to start to contemplate on how they can make themselves feel better, feel stronger, feel more supreme, and most of the time that is done they then look at others to say, “How I can push you down, so I can look better”. I was talking to some colleagues here and they have told me about a program that we have on bullying. Bullying is just like racism. It’s just your own fears. It’s your own fears and you don’t know where to place them, so you place them on other people, so that you can feel better. And the real cause of that is because you realize after every time you’ve bullied someone, you don’t feel really better, so you do it over and over and over again. And it becomes a vicious circle of fear, and you’re just trying to fill a void; you’re trying to fill something that you feel you do not have, and you feel you should have.


Overcoming Fear

Interviewer: So how can we overcome this fear arising among people?

Godlo: Most of the time, there’s – and I’m not an expert in this field – but the one thing I can say is that bully’s, when you start to understand where they are coming from, and you start to understand what drives them, if you then first understand that, you’d know how to deal with it. This means that as soon as you have a bully in your life or someone who exercises any sort of racial discrimination, if you know where they come from, their fear and their anger comes from, you’d know how to deal with them. Not all of the time you’ll know how to resolve it to bring a solution, but at least you understand what makes them fear, and maybe it’s about addressing these sorts of things. The negotiating democracy in South Africa was not an easy exercise, and even though there are arguments that there was something that could have been done better, the thing is we had, with the democracy that we have, we’ve survived a lot of political control, and we had to go through a process of healing as a country, of being prepared to forgive and prepared to find a way forward. This is one of the things Mr. Mandela contributed. To say, “Let’s find a way forward; let’s find a way of our healing”. But healing is a long process. But while you heal, you still need to ensure that you have a country that can work with itself. And those are the things are about people bringing themselves and up and actually, you know how to contribute to society.


The Gift of Forgiveness

Interviewer: I wanted to ask you about forgiveness that Nelson Mandela incorporated in the political system. After his release from prison, he set up an investigative committee, to shed light on human right abuses, and those who had committed guilt were forgiven. That’s really an amazing system. I’m really intrigued by this system created by Nelson Mandela. Could you please elaborate more on this?

Godlo: I am CO of the Manager of Mandela Day and Outreach that was actually not a part of that Commission. I’m not an expert in all of the processes that happened in that space, but from what I understand, it was a moment in South Africa of forgiving and, even those people who said, “You forgave too soon”, it was a process of repatriation, but South Africa continues to go through that, because even today we are finding bones of those people who were killed by Apartheid. It is still today that families are only discovering where their brother…and some of the times they won’t even find the bodies. You find that the person was actually burned, and so there’s no way of recovering them at all, so it’s a healing process of a country. It’s a journey that South Africa must take, similar to other countries that have gone through hug periods of social injustice, and huge periods of violence, and it’s a journey that South Africa still continues and takes, and it’s learning every day. Its racial discrimination has not stopped everywhere in South Africa. There’s some places or some situations where there’s still some discrimination. And we’ll work in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in these programs to say, “How do we address these issue”. We bring around the table stakeholders that have the positions of influence to change and shift the narrative, and that is a process that is going to take time, but we do our part and we get South Africans to talk about issues and saying, “How do we resolve issues”.

Interviewer: But I learned there are so many people calling for black people’s dominance
at that time. How was this investigative committee possible because there are so many black people calling for black people’s dominance of the country of South Africa, I think it’s almost impossible to attempt to introduce this system in South Africa at that time when Nelson Mandela was in charge.

Godlo: The one thing that Mr. Mandela had presented in South Africa was a moment of forgiveness, was a moment of finding a path going forward, so a lot of things that he had put into place, a lot of people did not understand, but they trusted Mr. Mandela and they trusted his leadership to say, “Let’s take this journey with you”, this same way,

even though there was also South Africa’s position, but people still wanted to understand where it was all coming from, so there was a part of people and a part of growth of optimization and the journey that we were taking as a country, even though there were still a lot of angry people, angry from the fact that they lost, they do not have money to give their children, good education, money to even support their families. But those who came and became part of the process, some lives were changed. But still some lives, not all of the questions were answered because it was not easy. You could not resolve from one commission many, many years of atrocity. But the one thing that was still a gain was to bring hope to the people of South Africa, because the Government did care about the bad, very seriously things that had happened in your lives. So, and that is why, again, I still say it’s a journey that South Africa continues to take.


A Space of Engagement

Interviewer: How has the opposing party, opposing people, who want to create dominant black people persuaded by Mandera?

Godlo: Mr. Mandela had always been in different political engagements in South Africa and internationally. Obviously not all of his political views were received, but what he was able to at least do, was to engage. Part of the work that we do as the Nelson Mandela Foundation is around that. Mr. Mandela was able to create a space of engagement. Wherever there were differences, he would call people and say, “Let’s sit down; let’s talk about the difference; let’s find a solution”. This would continue beyond his Presidency to the Nelson Mandela Foundation where he would find issues, very difficult issues, and he’d always look out for, and especially for people who did not want to bother to meet or talk or discuss anything, and he’d bring those people around the table and say, “Let’s talk; what is the problem?” It achieved a lot because of that and that is how he effectively has been able to bring such positive life into South Africa at this time. He created a good Foundation for any leadership that came after him in South Africa to say, “Let’s rebuild South Africa; let’s rebuild lives of black people in South Africa; let’s show them that they also have human rights; they also can contribute to a betterment of any society”.


A Vision for the Future

Interviewer: Rather than living in the past, he had a vision for the future.

Godlo: To have a vision for the future, but not forget the past. We get to a point to quickly forget our past. Yet our past is what has made us who we are. South Africa still celebrates June 16 where a lot of youth had passed away when they were protesting against Bantu education. South Africa also celebrates in April the day of our democracy. All of these things about looking back, and reflecting on your past, and looking forward, and be excited about your future. So, it’s always been very important because even in our work around social justice, we are encouraging the past. Just this month, actually this past month, the late part of this month, I think last week, there’s been a handover of bones that were discovered of some of the convicts that fought, who were then given over to the families. There are a lot of ceremonies that are done in that process in handing over – because they are not just handing over bones – there are handing over closure to a family. You’re saying to them, “This was your son; this was your daughter; this was your mother; this was your father, and that family has closure. So, these are constantly ways South Africa shows itself and takes on this journey and also realizes that it’s not going to end now. Our future is important, but also our past.


A Focus on Education

Interviewer: It is an important for the healing process to accelerate. You also focus on the education. I think the number of young people is increasing. What is the key point for them to nurture, and for you to nurture them to become a person like you?

Godlo: Recently the Mandela Foundation has looked at a report that was done by UNESCO. This report shows how any society, any community, can find itself out of poverty. And it suggested that through the importance of education, particularly, every bit of society can find itself out of poverty. This is, the steps that exist now, they show that there’s been very low numbers of people actually given primary school, primary school being elementary, lower levels of school, and even lesser numbers of people actually complete matric, and this study then suggests that even if just completing matric could be the lowest level of literacy and education in every country, we’d find ourselves out of poverty. This is one of the reasons that the Nelson Mandela Foundation has always adopted a program that is based around education and literacy. Where we have looked at literacy particularly in South Africa, where further studies have shown that a lot of youth of South Africa can’t get out of poverty because they don’t have proper literacy programs at any levels of education. They then struggle at higher levels of education when they get to the metric, they actually cannot read as well as they should, and they struggle even further when they get to University. So, our programs are about looking at early learning and bringing the habit of reading, and reading in school and taking the books to homes where the children start to read and share their enjoyment of freedom with their parents, and with their siblings, so they have a culture of reading and learning that happens in a child when they are small. So, by the time that they get to higher levels of learning, they are more confident about learning, are more excited about education, and that is why, that has always been a key for us at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.


The International Community

Interviewer: Do you think the international community is really committed to bringing enough opportunities for younger people in learning and studying in school?

Godlo: At the Mandela Foundation, we do most of work concentrated in South Africa. For an example, a partnership we’ve had with Happy Science for the past three years has actually built a library in their rural school in South Africa. We’ve further even gone beyond South Africa to go to Uganda, and we’ve made a commitment with Happy Science to build a school. So, I’d say the international community is committed to development, and it’s been about the programs and the methodology that brings improvement of life, and sustained improvement of life, because in education, as a basis of learning, as a basis of development, one is able to give a child a strong foundation so that in whatever choices they make as they grow up in life, they have been equipped with at least the basic skills. And that is why education has always been key.


How Can Japan Help?

Interviewer: How can the Japanese people help in this regard?

Godlo: The Japanese are committed to and have always been celebrated to be a disciplined nation, a highly intelligent nation. There are opportunities to exchange that knowledge to South Africa and Africa, but more than anything else, is to exchange the learning’s from your culture and your traditions. I have learned a lot of things being around this space and parts of Japan, and Tokyo, and even in your countryside, and I think it’s not just about the depth of your intelligence, the depth of your discipline goals are accordingly with your culture and your tradition, and in most of the towns there is a lot to be learned there, so there’s a lot to exchange with Africa in that respect. Further aid in understanding each other’s cultures and traditions, the exchange of knowledge is to then further support African programs that are looking at women and children…


The Important Role of Uplifting Women and Children

Interviewer: Particularly women and children?

Godlo: Particularly women and children because, as in any other society, those are the two groups of any society that need their assistance, because they are left out, and they are left out in a system that always focuses on the man, always focuses on the boy child, and there is a really huge need to be looking at building a boy child, build the girl child and equip women, and teach them to understand their own social rights, and their own capabilities to be more than just mothers, to be more than just helpers, but to be also leaders in their communities and change-makers in their spaces. These are all very, very important elements about building any society, because it has proven that any society that looks after its women, that looks after its children, it’s a society that also builds and builds strong.


Celebrating Nelson Mandela

Interviewer: How can we spread the message of Nelson Mandela? How do we inspire his change to the world?

Godlo: The best way to celebrate Mr. Mandela is understanding that he woke up each and every morning of his life to serve other people, to bring in great change. It’s a mindset that any community in any society should have. Where we know that whatever level of change you can make in someone’s life, if it’s positive, do it. We’ve seen a lot of people get involved behind Mandela Day in different ways, where there’s been donations of book, there’s been a donation of funds to start projects that are related to celebrating Mr. Mandela, and that is one of the things we encourage to the community of Japan – to say come and support the work we are doing at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. A lot of our information is on our website, but more than that is to truly understand that the man valued humanity, and it’s about changing and bringing in positive change.


Feeding Spiritual Hunger

Interviewer: In the previous session, when you mentioned spiritual hunger among young people, please share with us your thoughts on this.

Godlo: This was once in reference to the question about a free society, a society that has democracy, where you are politically free, and what I learned, especially with Master’s teaching at Tokyo Dome, it was the reference of how a lot of countries, within the context of different societies, there’s a huge religious discourse, there’s a huge political discourse; there’s a huge economic disparities that do not align, and for us as the human race, it’s very important to understand is that when they have economic wealth, economic political freedom, but one thing I have learned personally, there is a need for understanding, spiritual enlightenment and linking it to the full being of a person, of understanding that there are many parts to you, and as much as you may have everything else, there must be something that is beyond you that drives you every day.


Mr. Mandela’s Experience of Japan’s Tradition, Racial Policies and Culture

Interviewer: I’d like to ask you Japan’s role in the Second World War. One of the big causes of Japan going to war was to end racism, colonialism and white supremacy, which was a cause for Mr. Mandela, and Nelson Mandela said, “If only Japan would have advanced all the way to Africa and crushed apartheid”. Do you know this fact? And what are your thoughts on Mandela’s comments?

Godlo: I actually don’t know of that reference, but I would understand how Mr. Mandela experienced Japan and the Japan nation. I arrived here several days ago, and in the first two hours of being in Tokyo, I started noting a lot of things that were really different. It was a huge culture shock, and examples of people walking in lines, very disciplined, and how they interacted with each other respectfully, and for me that, and actually the fact that also you are also such a big economy, and I’ve never realized that. I’ve never properly appreciated this, made me learn that, and also understanding the history of seventy years ago, all of this was not here. And you’ve built an economy over seventy years that is next to none. One starts to appreciate the fact that it’s very true what everyone compliments the Japanese nation as being highly intelligent, very structured, driven, and I say that Mr. Mandela would have experienced the same thing, and said, “If we could only just learn this culture, learn these traditions, learn this way of doing, we would be a great nation. Because, as we said, around education and literacy and the programs that we have, we are still speaking, we started speaking about how the youth in South Africa, the education programs that we have in South Africa, how they can be shifted and changed. It’s about that exchange of knowledge. It’s about that exchange of discipline, and the discipline is not about how you are told what to do. It’s how you grow up learning. So, yes, I think that for me would make sense how Mr. Mandela would have appreciated the Japanese culture, the Japanese traditions, and Japan as a country.


The Soul and Why We Should Not Discriminate

Interviewer: Speaking of Nelson Mandela, the spirit of Nelson of Mandel also taught us in the spiritual message that our soul is transparent and that is why we should not discriminate. How do you feel about this?

Godlo: I know that Mr. Mandela has lived his life around values: no discrimination and these are the values and what he fought for all his life. And that, as he believed in non-discrimination, he still believed it when he had to forgive his capturers, and said, “Let’s build a new South Africa”, and he proved that about changing South Africa, being very effective in how to build the societies in South Africa and look after all of those people, some of them had wounds, and some of them were staying in fear of what was happening and were confused of what was going to happen, but he was still able to say, “Let’s not discriminate against each other. Let’s build a great South Africa”.

Interviewer: Thank you so much.

Free Yourself, Free Others and Serve Every Day: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela
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