Nelson Mandela was a hero, not only because of his character, but because of the character he ignited in others.
He did not stand upon a concrete building; hand on hip, cape flowing in the wind, fearlessly looking into the distance, ready to dive into the unknown danger. No, instead, he stood upon his ideals, clenched fist punching into the air chanting “Amandla” (power), leading the leaders that stood behind him, and courageously championing the need for equality, human rights and freedom for all.
Marking the centenary of Nelson Mandela and reflecting upon his life work, we should ponder whether he looks on our celebrations dressed in his royal Thembu costume of leopard skin and beautiful beads, or perhaps in his famously printed shirt buttoned to the collar, poised and seated among his comrades, and whether he is saddened by the unequal, corrupt, enslaved and inferior circumstances in which our people live today.
Indeed, we are facing tremendous challenges: Lack of economic opportunity, food and water security, political corruption, deep rooted religious/ethnic conflict, lack of education, the marginalisation and inequality of women, slavery, and the crisis surrounding migration.
In order to address these large problems, we must begin to collectively imbibe the teachings espoused by the great servant leader we recognise as Nelson Mandela.
It is impossible to ignore the measure of his sacrifice, as he gave up his freedom in order to deliver freedom to all South Africans.
Despite the insurmountable trials he faced prior to and during his years in prison, Nelson Mandela endured and generated an unwavering spirit that we can only describe as “Madiba Magic.” A leader full of charm, concerned about the maintenance of peace and security, the oppressed, the starving, and the marginalised.
Nelson Mandela understood that in order to build an inclusive society, we must muster the strength to approach chaos with a moral compass, as only then can we guide our communities from bigotry, corruption, injustice and inequality.
This cohesive aim was practically illustrated within Mandela’s own presidential office, as Mandela spoke about his first day in office and how he had noticed that the administrative staff (inherited from the apartheid regime) were not present as they feared that he would dismiss them.
He quickly arranged a meeting in order to convey to all workers in the building that they would not be fired and that he in fact very much looked forward to working with them.
This instance reflects a man who offered compassion and approached uncomfortable matters with a great sense of decorum. We must begin to hold ourselves to a higher standard and to do so by exercising our humility in our everyday spaces.
We must use the Madiba Magic to demonstrate to future generations that which is possible when you decide to build upon the strengths of each other. We have to work together to cultivate an empathetic society that works for the goodness and benefit of one and all.
We have to use the heroic force of Nelson Mandela to find within ourselves the ability to rise above our own doubt and fear and defend the right to equality and freedom for all.
Gayle E. Smith is the president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, an organisation dedicated to ending extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.