The long walk to freedom – lessons from Nelson Mandela
Rule of law, freedom of expression, free and fair elections: these are the gifts that Mandela bequeathed to his nation. Fortunately for South Africa, he came to the conclusion that there could be no democracy without reconciliation and no justice without peace. The truth is that Mandela, like Abraham Lincoln, achieved the historically rare feat of uniting a fiercely divided country. The feat is rare because what ordinary politicians have always done is seek power by highlighting difference and fueling antagonism. Mandela sought it by appealing to people’s common humanity. He learned, by closely studying his jailers, that blacks and whites had much more in common, basically, than they had points of difference; he learned that forgiveness, generosity and, above all, respect were weapons of political persuasion as powerful as any weapon. What the prison experience did was elevate Mandela to a higher political rank, setting him apart from the great mass of ordinarily brave and ordinarily freedom fighters in his country and beyond.
Nelson Mandela acted wholeheartedly on this understanding, investing every last drop of his boundless charm, political cunning and foresight to achieve his life’s purpose by following the one strategy he knew could work. realistic way. Mandela’s legacy, the lasting lesson he has held for centuries, and why he stands head and shoulders above any leader of his generation, or virtually any leader there is never had is that he showed that it is possible to be a great human being and a great politician at the same time; that showing respect to friends and foes alike can take you far, far away; and that nothing beats the combination – in Mandela’s case, the harmonious convergence of magnanimity and power.
How did he convince his enemies to succumb to his will? First, by treating them individually with respect, showing them trust, and making it clear that he had a set of core values that he would never be persuaded to deviate from. The human foundations laid, his sincerity established, he set out to rationally persuade them that a violent confrontation would only lose everyone and that the only hope for all parties lay in transparent negotiation. It was behind bars that he learned his most valuable leadership lessons. As he himself later admitted, prison shaped him. Mandela’s wisdom in reaching out to the old enemy, suppressing any vengeful impulses he might have accumulated during his twenty-seven years in prison, is seen as the main reason why South Africa cemented its transition from tyranny to democracy.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in a small village in southeastern South Africa called the Transkei. His father was a village chief and a member of the royal family of the Thembu tribe, who spoke the Xhosa language. As a boy, Mandela grew up in the company of elders and tribal leaders, which gave him a rich sense of African autonomy and heritage, despite the cruel treatment of black people in South Africa ruled by the whites. Mandela was also deeply influenced by his early education in Methodist church schools. The education he received there set Mandela on a path away from certain African tribal traditions, such as an arranged marriage set up by a tribal elder, which he refused. After being expelled from Fort Hare University College in 1940 for leading a student strike, Mandela graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1942, he earned a law degree from the University of South Africa.
The National African Congress
In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a South African political party. Since its founding, the main objective of the ANC has been to work to improve the conditions and rights of people of color in South Africa. However, his rather conservative attitude had led some members to call for less timid measures. Mandela became one of the ANC’s youngest and most radical leaders as a member of the ANC Youth League. He became league president in 1951.
In 1952, Mandela’s leadership of ANC protest activities led to a nine-month prison sentence. Later, in 1956, he was arrested along with other ANC leaders for encouraging resistance to South Africa’s “pass laws” which prevented black people from moving freely in the country. Mandela was charged with treason (a crime committed against his country), but the charges against him and others collapsed in 1961. By this time, however, the South African government had banned the ANC. The move follows the events in Sharpeville in 1960, when police fired into a crowd of unarmed protesters.
Sharpeville had made it clear that the days of nonviolent resistance were over. In 1961, anti-apartheid leaders created a semi-clandestine (operating illegally) movement called the Pan-African National Action Council. Mandela was made its honorary secretary and later became the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation), a militant ANC organization that used sabotage (destruction of property and other tactics used to undermine the government) in its fight against apartheid.
In 1962 Mandela was arrested again, this time for illegally leaving South Africa and inciting a strike. He was sentenced to five years in prison. The following year he was tried along with other leaders for high treason, following a government raid on the group’s secret headquarters. Mandela received a life sentence, which he began serving in the maximum security prison on Robben Island, South Africa. During Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison, his example of silent suffering was just one of many pressures brought to bear on the apartheid government of South Africa. Public discussions of Mandela were illegal and he was allowed few visitors. But over the years he was increasingly seen as a martyr in South Africa and around the world, making him a symbol of international protests against apartheid.
South Africa was isolated as a racist state. It was against this backdrop that FW de Klerk (1936–), the President of South Africa, finally answered calls from around the world to free Mandela. On February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from prison. “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands” – Speaking from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall on Sunday, February 11, 1990, the newly freed Mandela addressed a crowd with the above words.
Nelson Mandela’s leadership styles which manifested as altruism, vision and determination, politics without bitterness: forgiveness and reconciliation, participation: leading within a team, willingness to leave political power at the right time ; are highly regarded as the characteristics of a great leader. In 1991 he assumed the presidency of the ANC, which had been regained legal status by the government.
Equality and justice for all
On April 27, 1994, the first free elections open to all South African citizens were held. The ANC won over sixty-two percent of the popular vote and Mandela was elected president. As president, Mandela focused on reconciliation between racial groups, which led to the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Desmond Tutu. He is also committed to fighting racial segregation and social injustice in all its forms; the fight against poverty, agrarian reforms, the improvement of health services, among others. Mandela once responded by saying, “Hate clouds the mind and hampers strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” Mandela demonstrated that a leader must be a symbol of what he wants society to achieve. Mandela stood for equality and justice for all.
President Fidel Castro once said, “If you wanted an example of a perfectly upright man, that man, that example would be Mandela. If one wanted an example of a man who was steadfast, firm, courageous, heroic, calm, intelligent and capable, that man and that example would be Mandela”. Nelson Mandela respected the idea of collective action and equality of people, justice and justice regardless of racial differences. However, to make leadership effective, he also believes that there are times when a leader must make decisive decisions without having to consult his followers in order to achieve a desired goal for the general good. Mandela left a powerful legacy that leaders should not seek to perpetuate in power. When his five-year term ended in 1999, he left the stage for others to continue where he left off. Despite calls from his fellow citizens to challenge again, Mandela wisely refused. Mandela forged a vision of humanity that encompasses all people and sets the mark for the rest of the world. I conclude with one of Nelson Mandela’s famous quotes, “Brave people fear no forgiveness, for the sake of peace”.