Mandela: A man for all seasons

Published: Wednesday | December 11, 2013 Comments 0
Nelson Mandela - File
Nelson Mandela - File
Dr André Haughton
Dr André Haughton

Why is the life of Nelson Mandela significant?

"POVERTY IS not an accident, like slavery and apartheid; it is manmade and can be removed by the actions of human beings".

These are the words of the late great Nelson Mandela, a freedom fighter, who went to prison for advocating for equal rights and justice for all races in post World War Two South Africa.

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced by the then National Party - the ruling party from 1948 to 1994. Under this system, black people had little rights, we were restricted because of the colour of our skin and the texture of our hair.

Apart from slavery, the apartheid system in South Africa is the most inhumane that one could live in and if not for Mandela, the system of open segregation enacted by laws would still exist in South Africa today. Mandela told the world "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."

How did Mandela achieve his goals?

Mandela understood the importance of education to the advancement of any nation. In fact, he made it clear that "Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world". In my opinion, Mandela is the benchmark for leadership. As a leader, he displayed selflessness and had great ambitions for his people.

"Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people." Untamed by adversities, he sacrificed his own freedom, for the freedom of others, and used his strengths to help create a platform to strengthen others.

"Difficulties break some men, but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end."

It was obvious that Mandela was untainted by the system of oppression. "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you will have to work with your enemy and then he becomes your partner."

Mandela's actions were not solely for South Africa, as it highlighted the way to the peaceful resolution of similar racial or other social conflicts elsewhere in the world. "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."

Why did Mandela advocate for freedom?

"I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days."

Very few people over the course of history attain the level of spirituality to reduce their vanity to acquire inner peace and happiness without material objects. Mandela saw beyond the obvious and was happy carrying the baton in the 400-year relay for freedom.

"A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of."

He knew his purpose in life and was adamant in fulfilling his dream; he knew the purpose of leaders.

"If I had my time over, I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man."

Mandela's friends were independent thinkers. "I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles." These different perspectives helped to shape their complete perception of what freedom would be like for all.

His style of leadership was second to none and was tailor-made to suit his circumstances and to build the frame of mind of his people. "Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front."

How did Mandela succeed?

'Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.' Mandela was more concerned about the freedom of his people rather than the personal success of being the person who achieved this freedom. He was resilient, courageous and focused. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

I admire Mandela not just for belief in self, but for his belief in others around him. "Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do."

The issues that Mandela advocated against are not unique to South Africa, they still exist in the world today, in other shapes and forms, which are not properly being addressed by contemporary leaders blindfolded by vanity.

"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

Dr André Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email

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