A lesson from a loss
The best farewell to Nelson “Madiba’’ Mandela that I heard of was a headline reportedly in the British press. According to a CNN commentator, it read: “Mandela, the last politician the world will miss.”
Implicit in that praise is the general scepticism with which people throughout the world have come to view their political leaders.
On Mandela’s passing on Thursday there was another sense, that of the sudden appearance of global vacuum, one that was quickly filled by a dread chill.
It is all because of the way the world had embraced Nelson Mandela—not as a distant South African political figure, but as a secular saint, one who demonstrated to us the difference between good and evil, one who became the symbol of those aspirational, often unexplored hopes that reside in all human beings.
He was “the embodiment of forgiveness, and the prophet of tolerance” as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once wrote.
The distinguished British journalist Anthony Sampson, who became Mandela’s official biographer, described him as the most respected, loved and enduring hero of the 20th century.
He added that Madiba personified “the peaceful and rapid transition of power in South Africa that many thought was impossible”.
Mandela was incarcerated for some 27 years, yet later maintained a commitment to forgiveness. For the sake of his nation state, he reconciled with his oppressors, the people behind the apartheid regime, in spite of the deep and lasting wounds they had inflicted on the black masses.
The world later came to recognise him, in part, because of his memorable quote: “No one is born hating another person, because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
In his book Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote that even in the grimmest times in prison, when his comrades were pushed to the limit, he saw “a glimmer of humanity” in one guard which sustained him.
“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden, but never extinguished. We took up the struggle with our eyes wide open, under no illusion that the path would be an easy one,” he wrote.
On his release from prison, Mandela’s biggest challenge was finding the balance between fundamental public values which would lead to stability in South Africa, and also meeting the special needs of the suffering black African masses.
In such circumstances there is a “transformational dynamic” of wants, needs, motivation, creativity, conflict and power, which confronts—and significantly empowers—both leaders and their followers, historian James Mc Gregor Burns tells us.
It is an opportunity for mobilisation of a people around those over-arching values which speak to the greater good of a nation.
True leaders embrace such values and they hold rigidly to the ethical principles which are at the heart of sincere leadership.
“The stronger the value systems the more strongly leaders can be empowered and the more deeply leaders can empower followers,” Burns writes.
The fact that, on his death, the world could speak of the “canonisation” of Nelson Mandela is the best testimony to the successes he achieved in pursuit of balance in that transformational dynamic in South Africa.
New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote recently that on assuming office politicians can either be aspirational or ethnic. Mandela clearly chose the former.
It is one of the observations that I hope our Prime Minister will acknowledge as she journeys to South Africa to attend Mandela’s funeral.
She should be made aware, first-hand, of the challenges that Madiba faced on taking office and how he calculatedly introduced calm to his country, so unlike what her administration brought since May 2010.
We have been rising, yes—but to a boiling point.
As she departs for South Africa, prisoners here are calling for the impeachment of the Chief Justice for the judiciary’s delay in delivering judgments. One should also note the promptness of the Law Association’s comments on the matter, even as that body is reluctant to comment on the behaviour of the Attorney General in the Anna Deonarine Range Rover matter.
Then there is the ongoing controversy involving the House Speaker and the Master’s degree he received from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (GSB) recently. The institution has since defended its decision—but it is yet to explain the resignation of its programme director, Brian Ghent, over the matter, and the e-mail of course tutor Howard Dottin, who described GSB’s concessions to the Speaker as “a charity”.
Mandela took South Africa to lofty heights; the PM while, in that country, may choose to question herself on the depths to which her government has taken T&T.
• Keith Subero, a former
Express news editor, has since followed a career in
communication and management