It is always a daunting challenge to embark on a commentary about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. So much has been documented and said that very little can be added that will be different. However his life and iconic stature still loudly offers more insights, lessons and challenges for all of us.
July 18 has become an internationally acclaimed and United Nations (UN) sanctioned holiday. This is in celebration of the contribution Madiba has made to humanity in his life time. He remains one of the most fortunate individuals that have lived to be honoured in uncountable ways while they are alive. This year, the world’s most admired statesman celebrated his 94th birthday and as usual the goodwill was overflowing from across the globe.
I have thought several times about how this great life has been a cherished part of our generation. It always vividly makes me realise how much we can learn not only from Mandela but even beyond his life.
Some leadership notes
Undoubtedly, one of the key pickups from Madiba’s political life is in the leadership arena. He has been a strong player in politics and leadership arena on account of what he has achieved. His political career climaxed in 1994 when he became the first black president in post-apartheid South Africa.
For a continent that had become accustomed to leaders that had to be forced out of office, he charmed the world when he opted to quit the trappings of power, resigning after a single term as president in 1999.
What do we have to learn here? For starters, I think Madiba has shown us all his public life that you need to stand on principle and ideology. He believed that no race should dominate the other and for that he stood ready to die. Even when opportunity presented itself for him to be conditionally released, he declined it if his people would not be free.
This is a rare quality the world is in desperate need of today. Leadership is intertwined and bedrocked on serving humanity. Our generation has been exposed to corruption, self-serving and detached leaders. Most of the time, the drama and exchanges we see in leadership has no value for the common man. But if leaders have no mindset and heart to serve, that will not matter and what we see will be the norm.
Madiba is human and has his flaws. He too has been criticised on some points during his presidency. However, the manner he led has left a lasting impression. A man that lost his life, family and comfort, isolated for 27 years in prison, has every right to be bitter. He walked to freedom, assumed an office of power and used his influence to unite a nation past its hurts, atrocities and failures. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission achieved so much in driving this agenda. There were other brains and stakeholders that made it work but Madiba’s agenda and leadership was equally instrumental. After all, he had all the power to persecute and cage the white folk that had kept him behind bars for two decades!
Today, the whole world has taken note and celebrates this.
We need to all look around ourselves in our varying roles. In politics, business, church and homes, what do we stand on in our leadership roles? Are we selfless and interested in the ultimate good of the people? That is the essence of leadership.
Madiba stood tall. Beyond the pain, he wisely knew which battles to fight in. The people’s unity was of paramount importance compared to his need to avenge his misery.
There was a bigger cause and his selflessness was unmistakable as he went further to even sacrifice a third of his salary while in office.
How does God come in?
The lessons Madiba’s life offers transcend politics and leadership. They reflect a great need humanity has for God.
Mandela remains a shining example that every “who is who” personality wants to be associated with across the globe. Celebrities and influential leaders seem to clamour for any opportunity to have a picture or audience with Madiba. His birthday is a reflection of that as different powerful people pay courtesy calls on him at his retirement home in Qunu.
With all the good Madiba has achieved, he has failed to rid the world of evil, selfishness and chaos. So many people worldwide acknowledge his stature, qualities and achievements but it ends there. Even some of his closest followers within the African National Congress (ANC) for instance are steeped in power fights, corruption cases and failures. It even goes beyond the ANC, across Africa and the globe. We have seen that it is possible to believe in something and serve humanity with good. But we see too that we have the Assads in Syria that can pulverise their own people to keep a hold on power.
This should tell us something deeper. A great man’s example has not provided impetus for everyone to do good. The rot and ills continue to ravage the world.
Our hearts are still in a mess even with a rich human example as provided by Madiba. Even those close to him are not necessarily following the lead he provided.
The corruption, wars, failures and agony continue inspite of Madiba’s life. This is simply because humanity’s challenge and problem is deeper than we seem to accept. Not a single human being can rectify this condition. All must look to something greater to deal with this chronic ailment.
That is where God comes in. What He stands for, cherishes and offers has an unmatched and crafted solution to what we face. The fact that we fail to adopt those standards entails that we remain in our condition of negativity. The world’s stage has been graced by many admirable people but it may appear it’s state has worsened. Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Mahatma Ghandi, or Mandela himself are all such people and yet the world still battles against its shortcomings.
Imagine just for a moment that we all stood for what God cherishes? We would have no war. No corruption, rape, Gender Based Violence, murder, leadership failures or any other societal ills we can think of. But then we face them simply because these are standards we choose to ignore, preferring instead our own adopted yardsticks, a perfect recipe for failure.
This should challenge each one of us to undertake a soul search and introspection. To enable us know ourselves and limitations. To understand what drives us, what we lack and what keeps us from being a reflection of what God intended when He created us. How far off from the standard are we and what is our hope and required action for that good to be a reality?
All roads should and must lead to God after such an introspection.
A deceived lot?
Unfortunately, this poses its own challenge and seems to be more difficult in reality.
The standards that God enshrines are not an attractive option. Humanity boasts in its own achievements and belittles anything to do with God. Anything Godly is archaic, unintelligent and laughable.
We see this in what we treasure. For instance, the world adorns the cross as a fashionable piece around the neck. But it totally ignores the message that comes with the cross meant to heal the world of its rot. The world can celebrate and market the Ark but be silent on Noah’s example as a righteous man.
Jesus is a widely acclaimed and mentioned personality but His reason and story for walking the earth is an unattractive public proposition. As such, we battle on with our addictions, character flaws, failures and weaknesses. Even when we lead in our workplace, homes, public service and personal lives, we are flops from the onset. Simply because at our core lies a weak foundation.
We must believe in something and stand for it. Madiba is a hero today because he followed through on his conviction and the world responded. We celebrate him as outstanding and must also be challenged to believe in something.
However, Madiba is human even though he has added so much value to the world. He stood for something and many now clamour to be associated with him.
The challenge then should be that isn’t God’s agenda more important? Yet many of us would rather be distant from Him because it is not so attractive to be associated with Him. Facebook would be awash with pictures taken with celebrities and the powerful or influential like Madiba but we shy away from being identified with God or the famous Jesus Christ. That should say a lot about us, our choices and priorities.
The real issue
July 18 sees a lot of dedication and publicity as people celebrate a great man’s life. But fundamentally, it must also pose an alive challenge for us to believe in something that will outlive us. A legacy for posterity to yield lessons from.
That would guarantee that the motivation behind all we do is rooted in something stronger than egotism or self serving interests and ulterior motives.
67 minutes of PR?
I am totally won over by the rationale behind the 67 minutes to celebrate Madiba’s public service. But it leaves me questioning whether we see beyond the day and cameras.
Is this a day we simply do things to be captured by the news crew? For individuals, is it a feel good act just like offering alms? For corporates, is it an opportunity for publicity as a responsible corporate citizen?
Everyone of us must be challenged beyond the 67 minutes. We must embark on good out of the love deep in us. A desire to better the lives of those under our charge at home and our vicinity. A commitment to do good even when the cameras and TV news crews are long gone.
That is the challenge Madiba presents knowingly or otherwise. While he was stuck in prison, he impacted lives to an untold extent. Motivating others to soar above their woes, investing time in reading and learning, perhaps even more than we may have come to know.
That too is a bigger challenge presented by God. He calls us to do things out of love as faithful servants. When we veer our own direction, all else falls apart and what we see is our constant grappling with humanity’s present day challenges. Murder, theft, poverty, corruption and variations of human failure stemming from loose standards that can’t prevent these ills.
As long as it remains as it is, doing good will be a PR exercise! Madiba and the 67 minutes initiative is a great legacy but commercialisation and a hunger for publicity endangers the principle and may dilute what it is meant to achieve or awaken the world to. Good should be at our core for the sake of our fellow man and not for cosmetic reasons when cameras are flashing.
Madiba: a legacy of action
As July 18th drew to its close, I was left reflecting on what rich lessons Madiba presents to our generation.
Firstly, it is the challenge to stand for something we believe in, bigger than our circumstances and interests. Such that even when presented with power and influence, we do not use it for our agenda but for common good.
Further, Madiba with all his fame, respect and influence has still not cured the world of its ills. This should point us to a need for a more permanent and sustainable solution to bring the best out of each one of us. That can only be possible if we embrace God’s standards. And paradoxically, that seems to be our biggest challenge, embracing this God and His values.
Finally, it begs the question of how we use our stature and influence in society. We all have circles of influence, others more than the rest. How do we use these positions of privilege? Can we be Madibas in our own small way? Do we use the roles to serve ourselves? Do we recognise the need to acknowledge God and in humility submit so that He is glorified? Or does our pride set in as we believe we are our own masters and achieve all we do through our abilities?
These are questions that should matter to Madiba for as long as he is alive, to us as we serve in our different vocations and ultimately challenge us to believe and act for the good of mankind.
Madiba is human but has achieved so much. Collectively, we should be able to do more to make this a better world based on our belief in God and a motivation stronger than human role models.
Are you up for the challenge?