Madiba’s Long Walk To History: Lessons In Leadership To African Leaders By Bayo Oluwasanmi
Life is suffering.
There is no alternative means of confronting and solving life’s problems than through a painful process. Discipline is the basic tool we require to solve life’s problems.
Life’s problems evoke in us frustration, or grief, or sadness, or loneliness, or guilt, or regret, or anger, or fear, or anxiety, or anguish, or despair. The paradox of life is that life has meaning through the process of meeting and solving problems.
As the world mourns President Nelson Mandela, the words of author Gary Wills rings true of “the radical leader” in his book Certain Trumpets. Wills describes such leaders as people who vote with their life. Others follow them because they are ready to die for their cause.
In his opening statement before the Pretoria Supreme Court in April 1964, Mandela said: “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.”
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, I have fought against black domination,” Mandela told the judge. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic rule and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” the anti-apartheid leader defiantly assured the world.
Such leaders who are prepared to die so that others could be free are rare, but we see them throughout history. The power of example is the greatest motivator there is. In the past century, no one can match the value and the profile of an individual like Mandela. His middle name Rolihlahla which is Xhosa for “troublemaker,” ironically turns out to mean peace maker.
It was the decision of the ANC to sponsor military action that started his long walk to history. In his interview in 1961, he categorically and unequivocally stated that “There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people,” argues Mandela. “And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences at this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.”
As the head of the armed wing of ANC, Mandela was arrested, charged, tried, and jailed for life. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems calls forth our courage and our wisdom, indeed they create our courage and our wisdom.
It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems. It is through pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.
Mandela spent 27 years in South African prisons before his release in 1990. A worldwide campaign against apartheid pressured the regime into releasing Mandela in 1990 at age 71. He was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, serving one term. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with South Africa’s president at the time, F.W. de Klerk.
Mandela’s 27 years at Robben Island Prison provided the much needed tools of confronting and solving problems: delay gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. They are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided. It took 27 years for him to mellow from an angry man, better still, a troublemaker to a peacemaker and apostle of forgiveness.
The role of the wilderness in the preparation of a leader cannot be overemphasized. Quality leaders can almost always point to a wilderness experience as part of their leadership preparation.
The Robben Island Prison served as Mandela’s wilderness where he fought spiritual battles and overcame temptations to take shortcuts, where he learned discipline and the art of depending on God, where self-sufficiency and self-promotion were broken, where he solidified his sense of mission, and where he gained his perspective.
While at the wilderness – his Gethsemane – he felt loneliness, he expressed honesty, he became humbled, and he received strength. Every leader who does something significant for his people like Mandela, experiences a Gethsemane.
A man with a deep sense of destiny, he refused to be released on conditions and without the release of other comrades. He had always fought for inclusion. He was released on his own terms.
He campaigned for the presidency in his now familiar manner of stressing reconciliation and forgiveness: “Never, Never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” Mandela told South Africans.
Never has a politician remained so popular in his life time. Mandela was the first ex-prisoner to stay at Buckingham Palace. He even ‘flirts’ with Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls the British pop girl group. He immortalized the film “Invictus” directed by Clint Eastwood and insisted that he choose Morgan Freeman to play him.
His life was littered with tragedy: one of his sons died of Aids, another died of car crash while in jail, and 13-year old Zenani Mandela his great, great grand daughter was killed in car crash on her way back from World Cup opening party. Through it all, Mandela has demonstrated that every time he was under the weight of adversity, he was being prepared to better serve God and lead people.
He chose to suffer in the now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue with immediate gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary. He came to accept the necessity of suffering and to embrace the paradoxical nature of co-existence. Mandela taught us by example that the life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.
Mandela exemplified the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. By his life, we know that among humanity, love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy. His life informs us that our personal involvement in the fight against evil in the world is one of the ways we grow, we live, and to be remembered.
To win trust, a leader must exhibit both character and competence. Mandela’s charisma, stoic optimism and reconciliation toward adversaries and oppressors endeared him to the world as the world’s most respected statesmen of the 20th century and a hero of South African democracy. He not only liberated a nation from oppression, but he forgave the men who stole his life. He seemed to be saying, “We swim, we sink, we fall, we take our fate together.”
Mandela, helped interpret the times by using three key tools of navigation: lenses-he modeled the right attitude to approach the future, road map – he warned us about the rough roads ahead, and a barometer – he helped us navigate the future conditions.
Mandela provides a textbook example of lessons in leadership to African rulers. His life should remind them in terms of stewardship that leaders are brokers of resources they have been given. Those resources may include people, budget, time, wisdom, talents, natural resources, etc. How well have African rulers (they are not leaders) broker those resources? Through corruption, pilfering, swindling, squandering, and brazen stealing by the rulers, Africa remains one of the poorest continents on earth.
African rulers have been unrighteous managers of the continent’s vast resources. Indeed, the cruelty and injustice in African countries are underwritten by economic apartheid. Africa has been cursed with lousy leaders whose leadership is used for personal benefit, not proactive in facing and solving problems, doesn’t understand the value of relationships between the leader and the led, and doesn’t understand the nature of influence.
African rulers are like the Biblical Esau whose stomachs are larger than their eyes who live in the present, and repeatedly failed to clearly see the future. Like Esau, they focused solely on the here and now, convinced that tomorrow never comes. Like Esau, their shortsightedness makes them give up the ultimate to get the immediate. And Like Esau, they are self-centered with faulty vision.
It is not good enough to declare a 3-day mourning or deliver oratorical eulogy full of flowery imagery and eloquence. As long as the continent is being ruled by the Jonathans, Mugabes, Nguema Mbasogos, Eduardo dos Santos’, Blaise Compaores, and other incompetent rulers, Africa would remain behind human race and civilization – forever!
With immense popularity, Mandela was forced to retire from retirement. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” Mandela politely and respectfully pleaded with the people. Madiba, your wish is granted now. We wished we could call you but not anymore.
Madiba, when you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. But when you died, you rejoiced and world cried. This is the essence of life – to live for others!
Tata goodnight and enjoy your rest!