April 18, 2014
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Nelson Mandela - Transformational global figure

Nelson Mandela – Transformational global figure

The human spirit’s ability to triumph over any adversity is worth celebrating, and so is the life of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist and former South African president who dedicated his life towards uplifting the just causes of South Africa’s vastly diversified population.

The world’s leading media houses are in a Mandela frenzy splashing screamer headlines and running extended bulletins since the passing on of the late revolutionary figure last Thursday and 91 world leaders are expected to descend upon South African shores to pay their last respects.

But Mandela’s influence in Africa 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 controversies between the whites and blacks. He fought for equal rights between the whites and blacks and wanted peace throughout South Africa, he 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 a white minority. His election, therefore, served as a key turning point for contemporary Africa that was reeling through colonial rule.

The soft spoken 95 year old is such 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 has played in the creation of a new democratic South Africa, one cannot help but 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 can rise above bitterness and suffering, joining the ranks of great men such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr, who enacted change with peace, humility, and grace.

Mandela is universally respected around the globe serving as a leader and emissary on key world issues throughout his life. But why is he such a transformational global figure?

Mandela showed that there is no easy road to peace but it is ultimately a course that triumphs over violence which resonated with people – people in power and average citizens alike – all over the world.

“I think he is significant for a very simple reason. He demonstrated that people who advocate for peace are the solution to every problem. I think Syrians could learn from him, Somalians could learn from him, the Egyptians could learn from him – people all over the world would benefit from following that example. He showed like few others ever had, that peace triumphs over violence, a valuable lesson no matter where you live,” added Dube.

Like Martin Luther King Jnr, Mandela stands firmly for what is right. Apartheid had very strong roots in America’s own history of race; white South Africans even tortured the Southern United States to learn what they could do to replicate the kind of policies and practices that had long proliferated 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 Luther King Jnr, 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 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 peoples freedom was by force of arms. This was neither an original nor a morally opprobrious approach back then 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.

The month of July has become over the years known as Mandela month and July 18 has been internationally declared 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 has 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 school in his rural town of Qunu all the way to Fort Hare University and eventually got a law degree at Wits University.

“My grandfathers’ view on education has always been that education is a weapon that one can utilise to change the world and it 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 maintain the responsibility to sustain 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.

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Farai Diza is Newstime Africa's Southern Africa Reporter

Farai Diza