The world’s leading media organs were in a Mandela frenzy, splashing screaming headlines and running extended bulletins on the death of the late revolutionary figure last year, and ninety-one world leaders descended upon South Africa to pay their last respects.
But Mandela’s influence goes far beyond the borders of South Africa, and he is regarded across the continent as the father of democracy. Mandela stopped racism, apartheid, and other conflicts between whites and blacks. He fought for equal rights between whites and blacks and wanted peace throughout South Africa. He also fought for his country and the well-being of others.
Before Mandela became the first black, democratically elected leader of South Africa, Africans were uniformly repressed by the white minority. His election, therefore, served as a key turning point for a contemporary Africa that was reeling under the adverse effects of colonial rule.
The soft spoken 95 year old was a uniquely unifying figure because he was so gracious. He was detained for 27 years, but spoke only of peace. After living through one of the most repressive systems imaginable, Mandela and his peers did not revert to violence. He was not bitter or angry but instead stood for all South Africans, not just blacks.
“When we look at the significant role that Nelson Mandela played in creating a new, democratic South Africa, one cannot help but be in awe of the calibre of leadership that our country has produced,” stated MEC for Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Miss Nomusa Dube.
Ultimately he showed Africans that they could rise above bitterness and suffering, joining the ranks of great men such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Junior, who brought about change with peace, humility, and grace.
Mandela was universally respected around the globe, serving as a leader and emissary on key world issues throughout his life. But why was he such a transformational global figure?
Mandela showed that there was no easy road to peace, and it was ultimately his belief that peace could triumph over violence that resonated with people – people in power and average citizens alike – all over the world.
“I think he was significant for a very simple reason. He demonstrated that people who advocate peace are the solution to every problem. I think Syrians could learn from him, Somalians could learn from him, Egyptians could learn from him – people all over the world would benefit from following that example. He showed, as few others ever had, that peace triumphs over violence, a valuable lesson no matter where you live,” added Dube.
Like Martin Luther King Junior, Mandela stood firmly for what was right. Apartheid had very strong roots in America’s own history of race; white South Africans even toured the Southern United States to learn what they could do to replicate the kind of policies and practices that had grown up there after the Civil War. Mandela sought to undo that kind of racism, diminishing its presence not just in South Africa but also in the United States.
Mandela, like Martin Luther King Junior, 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 differences and fuelling antagonism. Mandela sought it by mobilizing people’s common humanity.
It was while incarcerated in prison that he learnt his most valuable lessons in leadership. As he himself acknowledged, prison shaped him. He went in angry, convinced that the only way of achieving his people’s freedom was by force of arms. This was neither an original nor a morally opprobrious approach in 1962.
What the prison experience did was elevate Mandela to a higher political plain; and when his time came, he deployed these lessons to devastating political effect.
Over the years the month of July has become known as Mandela month, and July 18 has been internationally recognized as Mandela Day. On Mandela Day, people are called on to devote 67 minutes of their time to change the world for the better, in a small gesture of solidarity and humanity and in a small step towards a continuous, global movement for good.
Mandela always described education as a powerful weapon the poor can use to better their lives. Under the harshest conditions he was able to excel in his studies and went from a rural school in his home town of Qunu all the way to Fort Hare University and eventually got a law degree at Wits University.
“My grandfather’s view on education has always been that education is a weapon that one can utilise to change the world“. And this idea became one of his main pillars when he founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation. So you can see from his role of building schools and clinics throughout the country that he felt that our society in order to develop, it needed to embrace education and excel to the highest level.
“He continuously urged us as a family to compete at the global level as we we are facing people who have double doctorates and that is the level he would want to see, and not just his family but South Africans taking themselves to,” stressed Mr Zvelivelile Mandla Mandela, who is Mandela’s grandson.
South Africans have been encouraged to shoulder the responsibility of sustaining the legacy of Mandela, who retired after just a single term as president that ended in 1999. His last public appearance on a major stage was in 2010, when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup.