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On April 27, 1994, just four years after spending nearly three decades in prison, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s new leader in the first all-racial democratic election in its history.
In the wake of almost 40 years of state-sanctioned apartheid by the country’s white ruling class, the election was a critical turning point that is honored in the annual celebration and national holiday, Freedom Day.
Mandela’s victory marked a new beginning for South Africa and ignited human rights causes all over the world. On the ground, the new president was facing the unprecedented responsibility of holding the reins of the first multiethnic cabinet the country had ever seen and seeking to unify what many saw as an irreversibly divided population.
Twenty-five years later, those efforts are globally recognized. But Vada Manager, an Arizona State University alumnus, saw them in real time at the helm of an international development team charged with helping the fledgling government take form.
“Many younger students and faculty see the election of President Barack Obama as the most consequential of their time,” said Manager, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1983. “But Mandela's release from Robben Island prison and his transformative election arguably had an even farther-reaching global impact in a pre-social media age.”
This month, Manager will discuss his work and the election at large during a panel at Arizona State University titled: “ASU, Mandela and the Dawn of a New Democracy: South Africa Then and Now.”
He will be joined by Thato Seerane, a South African student in her final year in The College’s Department of Psychology, and Norris Barker, an Arizona-based entrepreneur who witnessed Mandela’s campaign while living in the country in the 1990s.
Organized by The College, the event celebrates Mandela’s legacy and his profound effect on South African generations, even years after his death in 2013.
Seerane, who grew up in Johannesburg, came to ASU in 2015 through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, a $500 million, 10-year initiative empowering African youth leaders to spur change in their communities by participating in educational opportunities abroad. ASU was selected as a higher education partner to the international program in 2012.
Set to graduate this spring, she plans to one day return to South Africa to improve reading comprehension in low-income communities and support victims of sexual assault with psychological counseling.
The three figures will bring their unique perspectives to the table to examine how the election reshaped South Africa and continues to inform today's most pressing social issues in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.
On display will be historic memorabilia including official election ballots; a trademark, African-style tunic worn by Mandela and a copy of Newsweek signed by the South African president upon his release from Robben Island prison in 1990.
The event will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 18, on the Tempe campus at Armstrong Hall. Refreshments will be served following the panel. The event is free and open to the public.