INTERVIEW - Zoleka Mandela: A story of a fighter for road safety

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Thu, 27 Feb 2020 - 02:48 GMT

Zoleka Mandela, a South African writer, and activist Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter during her participation in the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm- Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today

Zoleka Mandela, a South African writer, and activist Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter during her participation in the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm- Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today

STOCKHOLM – 27 February 2020: Zoleka Mandela, a South African writer, and activist Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, has been at the forefront of worldwide campaigns for road safety after a drunk driver killed her daughter in a car crash 10 years ago.

Hit by unfortunate and even painful experiences of sexual abuse, breast cancer, alcohol and drug addiction, Zoleka Mandela, 39, opened up to Egypt Today about how she turned her life around to advocate for children’s rights in safe roads.

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Zoleka Mandela - Photo via Zoleka Mandela Foundation


“My daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2010 shortly after her 13th birthday… and I still have to stand on a stage and speak and share this unfortunate experience of mine, and almost all our leaders and governments and international communities do not understand the size of the fatalities in their cities and countries,” said Zoleka.

Close to a decade since she lost her daughter, Zoleka has campaigned tirelessly for road safety. “I did not want for another child to lose their lives on the road.”

Zoleka advocates for safer roads in international conferences and in 2016, Zoleka was chosen as one of the BBC’s 100 Women; she is also a United Nations global ambassador on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and child health.

With Africa having the most dangerous roads, and its traffic deaths representing 21percent of the global rate, Zoleka blames public influencers of not doing enough to advice on the importance of adhering to road safety measures across the continent. So she called on African leaders to “listen to stories of those who become victims of road accidents, and to protect children on their journey to school.”

Among the top critical road safety issues is driving under the influence of drugs, where many countries are working to end the illegal practice by law and drug tests. Zoleka said she lost many years of her life to addiction, and now she is in the tenth year free from drug and alcohol dependency, as she remembers the toll of drug and alcohol abuse on herself as she experienced sexual and physical abuse.

“A family name cannot always shelter and protect you from the world and those experiences can drive people towards increasingly dangerous choices,” she added.
She established the Zoleka Mandela Foundation, through which she hopes to help those facing addiction to have access to rehabilitation facilities that are "free from huge financial implications, ill-treatment and poor conditions".

A two-time cancer survivor, Zoleka wanted to share her experiences that she saw would be an inspiration to others who share similar life challenges, so she wrote her biography “When Hope Whispers.”

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Zoleka Mandela - Photo via World Bank


“I had set out to document my personal journey with breast cancer being diagnosed at the age of 32. It was important for me to write about my personal experiences with the tragic loss of two of my children, my addiction to drugs and alcohol, and to touch on my experiences with both physical and sexual abuse as a child and adolescent - in attempt to light up the darkness in the lives of those facing similar life challenges.”

Zoleka believes the driving force behind the work of her foundation were the lessons she learned from her grandparents Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela Mandela. “They taught me that life ought to be about living beyond one self and that despite our own challenges in life, we still all have the power to make a change happen in the lives of those less fortunate than us,” she continued.

The impact of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and late President of South Africa Nelson Mandela on Zoleka’s life was apparent, especially with the part of caring for children. She said that her grandfather once told her, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

That is why Zoleka believes that maintaining road safety measures should top countries’ agendas, especially in Africa, where billions of dollars are spent on new roads, but little is spent on protecting the actual people who use these roads. Road accidents are the leading cause of death for people of 5-29 years of age.

“My grandparents fought against the status quo for justice and equality, and I hope, through the Mandela name, I will never stop fighting for our children everywhere around the world,” she added.

Zoleka was a speaker at the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety that was held in Stockholm on February 19-20, as she is the global ambassador of the Child Health Initiative, and during her participation, she called on world leaders to consider an urgent action plan to protect children on the roads.

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