Mandela Rhodes Foundation celebrates 10 years


“We are very excited about what has been achieved but it’s also been challenging working in the name of the great Madiba,” Shaun Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the MRF told CNBC Africa on Monday.

He stated that the MRF announced that they were planning on doubling their efforts for the next 10 years to expand the size of their leadership programme.

The MRF is named after former South African president, Nelson Mandela, and the late South African statesman, Cecil John Rhodes. The central purpose of the programme is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa.


As Mandela stated at the Launch of the MRF at Westminster Hall in London in 2003, the bringing together of the two names represents a symbolic moment in the closing of the historic circle; drawing together the legacies of reconciliation and leadership and those of entrepreneurs and education.

One of the criticisms of leadership programmes in Africa, such as the MRF, is that as the alumni of these programmes become globally attractive, they tend to move away from Africa and find work on other continents.

 Johnson believes that although it is not compulsory for their alumni to work in Africa, the MRF does ensure that they discuss with their scholars the importance of making a contribution to the continent that provided them with the opportunity of a new life and education.

 “Our intention of course is not to be a departure lounge for African talent to leave,” he said.

“We have the wonderful privilege of having Dr Mohamed Ibrahim, one of the most influential people on this continent, to talk to our scholars about making a contribution to Africa.”

Johnson explained that the Sudanese billionaire, Ibrahim, advises scholars that the African diaspora needs to make the same contribution to its home continent that many other Diasporas have made.

Johnson added that the MRF try to create a balance amongst the scholars between those that will make a direct impact by working in Africa and those that take leading positions elsewhere in the world but hold African interests as their main priority.

According to Johnson, out of the 200 alumni that pass through the MRF programme, the majority of them are keen to work in Africa.

“My impression so far is that the bulk of our scholars want to come back and play a role but we are not prescriptive. If they can play a fantastic role in some other country and keep a connection with the continent that gave them their life and education then that’s fine,” he added.

Johnson also pointed out that their main focus over the next 10 years is to ensure that they carry out the message that Nelson Mandela had left them a decade ago.

“My colleagues and I remember the message that was given to us by Mr Mandela 10 years ago about what he wanted. The first thing he said was that he did not want this foundation to only benefit South Africans but all Africans,” he said

Johnson explained that in order to carry out Mandela’s goal, the MRF would focus on placing scholars not only in South African universities, but also in colleges all over the continent.