Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
The man who best embodies the ideals and principles we cherish; the ideals and principles worth pursuing.
Passion. Courage. Perseverance. Forgiveness. Conviction. Love. Humility. Purpose. Faith. Vision. The list is endless.
What a soul.
He was from us, but not of us. Unlike many, he understood the changing tides of life, the stark contradictions which easily elude us. He was a leader in the truest sense of the word; he sacrificed his personal ambitions for the good of his nation, his people.
There are almost no words to capture the essence of this man; his work; his symbol; his legacy. Mandela’s very being speaks for itself.
“In him, we saw so much of ourselves,” South African president Jacob Zuma said during his statement on Mandela’s passing. I would add, in him, we see so much of who we could be.
And that it especially true for us Africans, for societies where the concept of leadership, human rights, freedom is still a mirage, still uncertain.
I can’t quite remember the exact day I learned about Nelson Mandela. He’s just always been there. The fatherly figure whose simple existence has a profound impact on the world, on global consciousness. And even though I never met him, never spoke to him, never read his entire works or listened to all his speeches, the fact that I lived in the era of Nelson Mandela has had an immense impact on me.
Unlike Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Martin Luther King Jr, Kwame Nkrumah – leaders and legends in their own right – he was here, in the now, not locked away securely behind the veil of time. A living legend.
Whenever I think of Nelson Mandela, many things stick out to me. Too many to capture here. But I will share some of them.
After his 27 years in prison – in solitude, in hardship, in torture – he was not only able to forgive his ‘enemies’, but also to guide an entire nation to forgiveness.
How many of us could do that? To look beyond the now. To see the possibilities for growth, for love. To ignore the knee-jerk reactions our egos sometimes produce. How many of us would forgive and work with the very people who make our lives a living hell, much more invite our persecutors out to lunch, into our homes? How many?
He understood that forgiveness is not about the other, but about the individual. It’s less so absolving someone else of their faults, but rather of freeing oneself from a negative experience.
Patience & Perseverance
Nelson Mandela had a goal. One he was willing to work for, yes. But more importantly, one he was willing to patiently pursue. He believed in an apartheid-free South Africa, a nation where human dignity didn’t depend on skin color. While there were setbacks – one 27 years in the making! – while there were detours, he pushed on.
In this era of “now”, we could all learn something from Mandela on patience and perseverance. We give up too easily, give in without a thought. It’s not simply about the end result, but also about the process, the journey. The things worth having, are worth waiting and working for. This quote by Mandela says it all:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
Vision & Courage
With all the trials and business that life comes with, it is difficult to see beyond the now. To go past the hardships and see the essence, the strength of character that comes with struggle. It’s also difficult to have the courage to move beyond the now, to stick to one’s convictions, one’s purpose, when perhaps your task at hand is not understood by your own people, by those closest to you.
Nelson Mandela dared. Not only to challenge, but also to pacify, to reconcile. Not only to tell the truth, but also to live the truth. Not only to live for himself, his family, but to stand for his nation.
Mandela was human. I’m sure he had fears, moments of doubt, ego-ridden episodes, like all of us do. But he dared to move beyond that, to choose love over fear. In that, I can think of few who can compare. He saw beyond the now, and with time, he drew that vision into our now. “It’s always impossible until it’s done,” he said. And he did.
Purpose & Sacrifice
This is a word that many of us have an idea about, have probably taken a sip of, but have never fully drank in. It’s easy to sacrifice for oneself, for one’s friends and family. But it’s hard to sacrifice for the good of an entire nation, a people, of people who you’ll probably never meet, who you probably disagree with or don’t even like, of generations yet to come. Yet he did this, he gave himself up for the good of South Africa, for the future he envisioned.
I recently watched TD Jakes “Winnie Mandela” movie and I was struck by the depiction of the challenges Mandela and his family had to endure. But what really made me tear was the fact that after his release from prison, Mandela had yet another cherished thing to give up: his wife, his love. He separated from Winnie Mandela largely in order to keep the peace in his country, for the fact that her presence could derail the goal he so tirelessly strove towards. What a sacrifice.
He knew his purpose and he took on the responsibilities it came with.
Nelson Mandela, the servant-leader. This aspect of the man is perhaps the one which most resonates with Africa, for African youth. He was someone parents could tell their children about when describing a true leader. He was someone Africans could look up to as a symbol of hope. He was someone who symbolized the global ideals of freedom and human dignity. He inspired, correction, inspires:
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation be great, you can be that generation.” – Nelson Mandela
We have few African leaders today who truly embody the word “leader”. Mandela was a politician. But he was a different politician. His demise comes a day before Ghana’s celebration of it’s farmers. In many ways Madiba was a farmer. He nurtured people. He led from behind. He empowered people. He got on his knees and did the work.
He admitted his foibles. He chose peaceful resistance over bloody turmoil. He shared himself. He didn’t put a disconnect between himself and the people. He served, he represented hope for a better Africa. And then, after serving his time, he handed over the reins. He understood, that true leadership means assisting others to discover their own purpose, to serve and lead in their own way.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
Today, there’s an obvious vacuum where Mandela was. His sun has set. Yet his influence, his example, his soul lives on. Alhamdulilahi for the gift of Nelson Mandela. Thank you Madiba, for a life truly lived. Rest in perfect peace.
“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela
Nelson Mandela. July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013