Great lessons in Mandela’s rise to African icon


Last Thursday, the entire world came to some sort of standstill as South African President Jacob Zuma announced that former freedom fighter Nelson Mandela had passed on. After months of holding our breath since the anti-apartheid leader was hospitalised, it was now official: Madiba is no more.

The world’s reaction to this news could probably be rivalled only by the reaction that met his release from prison in 1990 after 27 years.

It could only be matched by how we all reacted when he became the first South Africa black President. Tributes across the world have been overwhelming and Mandela will remain an icon to those that lived to know his life and history. Some have even deified him as one who saved South Africa from the machinations of the white minority.

But Mandela was only human like each of us and had his faults. He even had two failed marriages. Some have described Mandela as an impatient man who only attained self-discipline when serving his prison sentence at Robben Island.

His official biographer, Anthony Sampson, described a striking personality change between the impulsive and impatient 40-year-old revolutionary leader in the late 1950s, and the measured and dignified 70-year-old who stepped out of prison in 1990.

However, this did not stop the only African President who did not hold on to power, to act on what he believed in and work to democratise South Africa.

Mandela rise to a hero and an icon could be attributed to his resolve to admit his wrongs and use this as a learning experience.

In his biography, Mandela described himself as someone who never stopped learning and especially when he was in prison. He pays tribute to a lot of people around him who helped him grow politically.

Mandela was a politician, he believed in certain ideals and especially divisions arising from race which he maintained had been South Africa’s greatest outdoing. Mandela took the path of defiance, of speaking out against the evil incarnate in the systematic segregation of his homeland. He became synonymous with fearlessness.

The difference between Mandela and many other leaders is that he fought against both white domination and the black domination. He believed in an equal society for all beyond their colour and ethnicity.

This is probably the greatest lesson for all Kenyans as we celebrate the country’s 50th independence anniversary. Kenya is larger than any individual despite their political, ethnic or religious affiliation.

A lot can be said about Mandela. About his belief in equality, a solid education for the youth, access to water and health for every human being. He believed that all South Africans can have a better life regardless of race, creed or other background.

We all have such aspirations, but the only difference is our level of determination and resilience to see our dreams come true. The greatest lesson of all from Mandela’s life is how to turn our weaknesses and fears into action and work towards fulfilling the aspirations of all human beings.

Mandela was more than a political leader. He appreciated and supported sports and arts and took every opportunity to take part as witnessed at the 2005 Rugby World Cup final that was won by South Africa’s Springboks. Sports became one of his most unifying tools as President.

Can South Africa, Africa and indeed the entire world beget another Mandela? Which other occasion will make the world set aside everything else to celebrate the life of another human being?

A ‘Yes’ may appear to be far-fetched but the truth is that Mandela was no super human. Just like we celebrate our freedom fighters, we can in the future celebrate ourselves for standing for our people, our future and our freedom.

In Mandela’s spirit of selflessness and dedication to seeing all humanity prosper, we can take a leading role in fighting for a better future. As Kenya marks 50 years of independence, this great country needs a Mandela or two. Or ten. Or even thousands, to be born among us. Not because ‘Mandelas’ are perfect or flawless but because they are ready to walk the path that others don’t.

Mandela did not take big leaps. He took the small and unappreciated ones to galvanise, cajole, entreat and unify a highly divided country. This we can do too. Rest In Peace, Grandfather Madiba.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Hit enter to search or ESC to close