MADIBA – A shining light in our dark world

MandelaWhen popular people pass away, often times there are mixed emotions. Many people come out and sing the praises of this individual and give them a grand exit from our world and to a safe place in history. Some however, come out and sink their teeth into the name of the deceased. Like vampires, they come out for blood.Many men who deserve our praise and admiration actually live in obscurity…until they die, and then we recognize what they did. Not so for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Not so for Madiba. Even when he was alive, everyone with any working cell recognized what he did. ALL admired every gray hair on his head and now…at his death, ALL rise up to salute him. A true Icon.

So as the world mourns an Icon, we at RETHINK take a moment…a well deserved one to celebrate him. We sat down to think about our work and extract lessons from his life that help us RETHINK our current perspective. As we combed through his life we found deep perspectives that have ignited us and we think they will do the same for you.


Here they are:

  • Heroes are not made: Mandela came from a humble background in a world that was deigned to oppress him. He was a young man that came of age in a world that told him that he was not good enough to be considered equal with other humans. A world that made him live like a prisoner. There was a whole generation of South Africans who went to bed every night conceding to that mentality. Conceding to the treatment. Not Nelson. Nelson decided to BE the change that he wanted. He spoke for it and fought for it. And when the time to be held accountable for his words came, he did not back down from what he knew was fundamentality right. This is not written to support violence in any way, rather it is to remind us that regardless of where we are from and where we were raised, there are things that are fundamentally right and worth fighting for…and we have the power to BE the change that we desire.
  • The greatest leaders are people that put the general good of the people over personal emotions: A government put him in prison for 27 years. 27 years. And yet he came out, putting his hand across the table for a dialogue that sought peace with those who took everything…including 27 years of his life away from him. You see, it wasn’t that he forgot. It was that the good of the people and the community was more important than a personal vendetta. In fact in retrospect, if Mandela had come out of prison, and went on a revenge rampage, the very thing he went to prison for 27 years for, would not be possible. He would have caused even more pain for the blacks in the community. The truth is that even as individuals, we face these choices every day in our various communities. When the “institution” (state, local, private, educational etc) fails us, we seek to be vindicated of our own personal losses…but then in the process, we take the progress back ten steps. As a nation, we need individuals who have a “Mandelan” approach to seeking progress.
  • Pain can hone your ideal: It could be argued that before Mandela went to prison, he had a dream but didn’t have a strategy that would work. It was in prison that he honed his ideal (ideal not just idea)…without interruptions and requirements of the people. Sometimes in leadership, the demands of those we lead or are responsible for are so high, that a leader doesn’t have the opportunity to think…to strategize. Putting out so many fires does not allow a leader to build. Prison did that for Mandela. He was able to really hone his ideal. What he believed in was able to be tested in the way that actually mattered the most. TIME. And he came out of prison a more centered man. Ready to actually achieve what he was BORN to achieve. So what pain are you going through? What situation is going on in your life that feels like you’re in prison…like you’ve stopped moving forward? Wait. Stop fighting for a moment and just hone your ideal. Ask yourself some deep questions and answer honestly. This thing you want…does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Is it worth fighting for? What is the higher purpose…greater cause that you can hold on to? Why do you want that thing? If you got that thing, would you be able to maintain it like you should…?
  • The thing that you are afraid of …might just be afraid of you: After many years in prison, Mandela understood a fundamental point. The aggressive oppressive behaviors against the blacks were based on fear. Yea. Fear. Mandela understood that the whites in South Africa were afraid of the blacks and needed to suppress them. Once Mandela understood that, the strategy changed. His mission then became to take the fear away from the whites. The more it looked like they had nothing to fear, the more apartheid was letting go of its grip. So Nigerians… (there may not be an immediate answer to this) what are the people oppressing you afraid of? The institutions and the people who oppress you for no apparent reason…What are they protecting themselves from? Worth asking…there may be something in the answer you come up with.
  • Long before you have a position, you can be a leader: Long….very long before Mandela became the president of South Africa, he was a leader. He was the moral compass for millions. He did not have formal or positional power but he had a type of power that even those with formal or positional power wished they had. Referent power. Mandela was trusted and respected. People deferred to him for direction and trusted his moral compass. Many people want a title but cannot command the respect of the people they intend to lead. Many people want power without having to prove their moral compass. So…are you waiting for a title? Are you waiting for an appointment before you lead? Don’t. LEAD NOW. Find a way to be the solution in your circle of influence and add to the solution. Do it and do it TODAY.
  • All leadership is foundational: Mandela served one term. In a continent where disgusting men who could not boast of 1/100th of the greatness and national/international approval of Nelson Mandela hold on to power as if they personally owned the country, Nelson Mandela served ONE term. Not because he couldn’t easily win the next election and certainly not because he ran out of the great ideas he crystallized in his mind for over 27 years in prison. No. He served one term because he understood the fundamental principle that leadership is foundational. All great leaders know that one of their most important jobs is to lay a good foundation for the next leader to continue with. They know that they are there to show the way and give those being led, an example of what to demand from the next leader.

A close associate of Nelson Mandela put it best. He said “Mandela revolutionized the fight for peace. Mandela did what was unthinkable. Instead of waiting for the enemy to raise a white flag, Mandela went to the enemy, handed the enemy a white flag, and helped him raise it.”

Nelson Mandela’s greatest gift is not necessarily the singular act of fighting for the end of apartheid in South Africa. It is greater than that; Madiba left us each a mirror. A reason to examine ourselves and an example of what is possible if we simply determine that togetherness is better than oppressiveness; that the future is more important than the past and that we even as individuals, have what it takes to change the world…no matter where we are born…no matter the condition of our lives. So to you Sir…great sage. Icon of our century…we say Thank you, God bless and rest in God’s arms.

This article was originally written for RETHINK Nigeria ( ) A non profit organization that believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Also visit RETHINK on facebook at