This evening has brought very sad news. The former South African President – and one of the most respected and inspirational political leaders of recent times – Nelson Mandela has passed away aged 95 after battling ill health for some time. There will be no shortage of tributes for a truly great man who has shaped modern South Africa but I would like to use this post to put some of my own thoughts about the great man in order.
So what was so special about Nelson Mandela? I think what has impressed me most about him and the live he has lived is his deep commitment to a cause – the cause of abolishing Apartheid and creating a new South Africa in which citizens can live together regardless of background. I have been to South Africa a few years ago and of course there is much more work to be done before the country can fulfil its true potential. But what was achieved by Nelson Mandela and his followers is a true revolution.
The second aspect that has deeply impressed me is the way in which this revolution was achieved. After leaving prison following decades of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was not bitter or out for revenge but showed great strength of character by setting in motion a process of reconciliation – leading it by example. This combination of dedication to a just cause and the great strength of character shown pursuing it in my eyes is the foundation of the legend that he is. It is also the reason why he was such a dignified leader.
Nelson Mandela’s Political Legacy
How will people judge the live of Nelson Mandela? What will his political legacy be? Nobody knows yet but I hope that the qualities I mentioned above – dedication to a just cause and great strength of character – will become more of a political model in a world in which these characteristics are all too often absent. “Pragmatic” day-to-day management of the status quo – the dominant political model of today – can never replace the dedication and character shown by people like Nelson Mandela.
There surely are enough things in today’s world that need to be changed but a leader of Nelson Mandela’s calibre is nowhere to be seen. For many of our contemporary politicians even accepting the task of fundamental change seems too daunting. That’s why too many of them don’t even try. This needs to change and leads me to my favourite Mandela quote, meant to encourage people not to discard their ambitions but to try realising them: “It is always impossible until it is done”.
Today, the world has lost an inspirational leader and a true role model. He will leave a void that will be very difficult – if not impossible – to fill.