The Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work 2

Creating Safe Spaces Across Generations

Memory work in contexts where oppression, violent conflict or systemic human rights abuses have taken place is a contribution to the making of a just society – one that remembers its pasts, listens to all its voices, and pursues social justice.

The Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work 2 are an international dialogue series for thought leaders and change agents that tackles two interlinked questions which emerged from the first Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work as key challenges facing those engaged in memory work:

How do we create spaces safe enough for the unsayable to be said and in which those who do not even want to see each other (former enemies, perpetrators and victims, winners and losers) can begin to listen to one another’s stories?

These are spaces dedicated to establishing the conditions for a fundamental hospitality to what is considered ‘other’. And they are spaces which must reach the children and grandchildren of protagonists.

How do we provide the foundation for sustainable cross-generational action that leads to societal change and transformation?

Reckoning with the past for future generations is complex and requires creativity, sensitivity, and recognition of the inter-generational transfer of trauma, long-term emotional impacts on family, and other societal structures, and other forms of damage.

Dates and Locations

"I don’t think any other dialogue process I have ever been in has engaged every part of me like the Mandela Dialogues did. Some of the lessons learnt will stay with me for the rest of my life."


Dr. Malathi de Alwis, Professor, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka



Participants (41% women, 59% men) came from civil society, government, academia and culture- and faith-based organisations, representing for example the Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración, the Nepal Mandala theatre and the Centre for Nonviolent Action in Sarajevo.



Nepal, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the United States of America, Colombia, Argentina

Lab Impressions

The process

Between June and November 2016, the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) and the Global Leadership Academy (GLAC) convened the Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work 2: Creating Safe Spaces Across Generations. Through rich and challenging dialogues and immersions in diverse local initiatives in both Cape Town as well as Batticaloa, the participants shared how they feel inspired to take some ideas forward into our work and life (see report for download at the end of this page).

The Mandela Dialogues used a unique combination of deep dialogue on content challenges, leadership development, and change facilitation. The process made space for new perspectives, and enabled reflection, experiential learning, and tangible action to empower participants to significantly further their work and that of their home organisations. The Mandela Dialogues 2 aimed at five key objectives:

  • To engage critically with the challenge of creating safe spaces across generations
  • To create an opportunity for personal and leadership development
  • To enable participants to enrich existing projects and develop new change projects in their own institution or country
  • To foster a global network of peers and enable solidarity for leaders in their fields
  • To impact on transitional justice and memory discourses  


Following the second meeting in November 2016, NMF and GLAC decided to try something new and created a change project fund. The purpose was to nurture the inspiration gained in the process and help put ideas into concrete action. Eleven creative and promising project proposals were handed in by the participants of the group. In early 2017, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Civil Peace Service decided on the applications and distribution of funds, comparing the proposals along their potential impacts and probability of success. The limited budget in the fund also meant that the jury needed to select a few projects for funding and that some of the great ideas that were proposed couldn’t be supported.

Stories of change

Remembering is usually confined to certain spatial and temporal contexts. Digital memory work overcomes these limitations and creates new, virtual spaces to share facts, stories and views. Three projects, that emerged from Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work 2 set example of its potential.


Overcoming social disruption is central to David Hernández-Torres’ work as a coordinator of strategic partnerships. He manages the campaign “Podemos ser”, that fosters reconciliation in Colombia’s largest cites.


The volume Ghosts of Archive, edited by Verne Harris, from Nelson Mandela Foundation, draws on the discourses of deconstruction, intersectionality and archetypal psychology to mount an argument that archive is fundamentally and structurally spectral and that the work of archive is justice.

Drawing on more than 20 years of the author’s research on deconstruction and archive, the book posits archive as an essential resource for social justice activism and as a source, or location, of soul for individuals and communities. Through explorations of what Jacques Derrida termed ‘hauntology’, Harris invites a listening to the call for justice in conceptual spaces that are non-disciplinary. He argues that archive is both constructed in relation to and beset by ghosts – ghosts of the living, of the dead and of those not yet born – and that attention should be paid to them. Establishing a unique nexus between a deconstructive intersectionality and traditions of ‘memory for justice’ in struggles against oppression from South Africa and elsewhere, the book makes a case for a deconstructive praxis in today’s archive.

Order the book

"The Mandela Dialogues have given me the reaffirmation that what I am doing in my country is worth to do, and additionally they have provided me with the global family to consult whenever I am in dilemma and confusion."

Ramesh Adhikari, Peace Advisor, Civil Peace Service Nepal

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We implement all our programmes in cooperation with our internationally renowned partners with whom we share our passion for dialogue and change and our commitment to high quality standards.

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