Nelson Mandela's Grandson Is on a Mission to Eradicate HIV/AIDS. Here's How He Plans to Do It.

Ndaba Mandela's fight to end HIV/AIDS is the most important to him as the disease took both of his parents. 

Ndaba Mandela is anxious. It's understandable, as the 37-year-old father of two and grandson of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela has a lot on his shoulders.

Though Mandela is piling a lifetime of responsibilities onto his shoulders, he's ready for whatever challenges he may encounter along the way. He is also ready to pack on more responsibility if it means making the world a better place. 

“I want you to encourage young people out there to dream so big that their dream scares them,” he told “If your dreams don't scare you, you are not dreaming big enough.”

His dreams are nearly as big as his accomplishments thus far. The author of “Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from my Grandfather” is the head of the Mandela Institute for Humanity; the founder of 100 Mandela’s leadership academy; the chairman of Africa Rising, a charity which helps promote people and stories from the continent; the founder of Generation Hip-Hop, which uses hip-hop as a way to promote the arts and cultural activism; and he is the longest serving member of UNAIDS, a committee dedicated to ending HIV/AIDS and raising awareness of the illness. 

Mandela's goal to eradicate HIV/AIDS is his highest priority and a personal one at that, as the disease took both of his parents. 

“I'm an eternal optimist just like Nelson Mandela was, and I believe justice will win," he said. "It does take some time because unfortunately, there's a lot of bad people at the top who control a great deal of resources, and how money works and how money flows."

But it's in Mandela’s blood to push for causes that are deeply rooted in his heart. 


In Zulu, the term “ubuntu” means “I am because we are,” and translates to “humanity towards others.” For the Mandela clan, this has been their life mission. 

Nelson Mandela is considered the father of South Africa, was his country’s first democratically elected president and helped heal the Rainbow Nation after the atrocities of Apartheid. 

In 1964, Nelson and many of his comrades in the African National Congress were sentenced to life in prison by the Apartheid regime for conspiracy to overthrow the government. From 1964 to 1982, they were locked inside the brutal Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town. 

Between 1982 to 1988, the civil rights leader and some of his top ANC comrades were moved from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

But by 1988, Nelson alone was moved again in the city but inside what was then known as Victor Verster Prison, which was a home that was surrounded by guards. 

“They were trying to break him down mentally to say, ‘Nelson Mandela, you're an old man now, how about you spend the rest of your days away from political life with your family enjoying these days and we will make sure that you live the rest of your life in luxury but you need to denounce your organization, the ANC, you need to denounce your comrades that you're working with,’ and, of course, Nelson Mandela never caved in,” his grandson said. 

It was during his stay at Victor Verster that Nelson first met his grandson, Ndaba, who was 8 at the time.

“When I got there, there was a swimming pool. I never had a swimming pool at home,” Ndaba recalled. “I met a chef for the very first time. I never knew what a chef was. We had the most amazing food. And of course, we met the man himself, and he was so happy and proud to meet us. And that was the first time I had an idea."

Ndaba was inspired. "That moment, I said, 'I want to be like this man,'" he said. "'I want to go to jail,’ because I thought this was jail.”

After spending 27 years in prison as a political prisoner, Nelson was freed in 1990, and only four years later became the first black president of South Africa. His philosophy of working with his enemies, relying on forgiveness and always striving to understand made him one of the most inspirational leaders of the 20th century. 

Ndaba was 11 when he moved in with his grandfather and stayed with him until Nelson passed away in December 2013. 

“The first couple of years, we didn't really have a grandfather. We didn't go for walks in the park, we didn't go watch movies or go bowling, right, because he's president,” he said. “I was lucky because I was 11 years old, just before 12 years old, living with my grandfather, so he was able to transfer all his values onto me. ... He's like my North Star.

“He's up and down doing his work, but whenever we did have an opportunity to share a meal; dinner or lunch, he would actually talk to me and say, ‘Ndaba, you must never drive a Jaguar because people will know you have money,’" he recalled. "To him, humility was an absolute pinpoint character that all leaders must have.

"You cannot lead if you do not have education, you cannot lead if you are all about yourself."


The Mandela clan hail from Xhosa tribe and were descendants of royalty. In the Xhosa language, Inkokeli translates to “leader.” 

As he watched his grandfather heal his country and usher South Africa into a new era, Ndaba himself was called into action in January 2005. 

Just days into the new year, his father died of AIDS. Nelson, whom had been retired from public life, came out to announce the news of his son’s passing and used the opportunity to raise awareness of the disease, which was plaguing his nation. 

“We need to tackle this disease head-on. We need to stop hiding behind other things,” Ndaba recalled his grandfather saying. “It was the first time that a prominent family in South Africa, probably across the continent, had disclosed the true reason of why one of their loved ones had died.”

Nelson's speech became a watershed moment for South Africa and later around the continent as the stigma against HIV and AIDS began to slowly transform into understanding. 

“That was a breaking moment in the country because it gave courage to other families to be able to disclose this disease to their loved ones, because people were dying in isolation,” Ndaba said. “The only way we're going to defeat it is if we put it on a table and power our people and encourage them to deal with it. Because now also, you can take your medicine, you can live your full life expectancy. So there's really no issue about this.”

The United Nations has set a goal to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030. Ndaba believes it's possible. "It can be achieved, if we all come work together," he said.

First, society as a whole must accept the epidemic is still an issue, he said. 

“A lot of people think we've defeated this disease. [We've] not. There are approximately seven million people in South Africa who are living with HIV/AIDS and don't know it,” he added. “ ... A black gay man in America has a one in two chance of contracting HIV/AIDS in their lifetime.”

Acknowledging the disease's effect on the disenfranchised is a top priority for Ndaba, who confronts head on those the difficult questions that must be asked. 

“Why is it that it's affecting black gays now in America? It's always affecting Africans and the poorest people more than any other people ... who don't have access to healthcare, don't have access to education, don't have access to clean water, food, sanitation. It's always affecting those at the bottom of the food chain,” he said. 

He will not rest, he says, until the job is done and he hasn't ruled out jumping into politics as way to bring about change, saying "I believe that when the time comes I will step up. 

“We just have to continue talking and engaging with young people until the end," he said. "Until it goes down to zero."