A Hero’s Journey: Nelson Mandela Essay

Three years ago I went on an amazing trip to South Africa with my family for Christmas. I anticipated the trip would primarily be a care-free vacation where I could relax on the beaches, take in the sights, go Great White Shark diving and eat the exotic food to my stomachs content. Yet little did I realize that my time in South Africa would dramatically impact the rest of my life and my personal values and beliefs. South Africa is a beautiful country full of so much culture and history. I admit I had my reservations before going- possessing the stereotypical beliefs of many travelers going to a new and strange place.

Our tour guide, Jordan, grew up in a Soweto in Johannesburg. A Soweto is a very poor part of the city where most of its inhabitants live in less than desirable huts and don’t have access to clean water and utilities. Many of them don’t get electricity. My brother and I became so captivated by Jordan’s story that we insisted that he took us to the part of the Soweto where he grew up. My father was of course terrified, but after some reassurance of our safety, he obliged. It was there that I heard the heart of South Africa, the real people who endure so much hardship, talk about a leader who dramatically their lives. Leaders are persons who, by word and/or personal example, markedly influence the behaviors, thoughts, and/or feelings of a significant number of their fellow human beings. ” When I initially heard this quote and was asked to write about a leader who exemplified I immediately thought of Nelson Mandela. I had first hand experience seeing what Mandela actually did for his nation and the impact that his actions still have on them today. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is one of the most revered and honored public figures in history.

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He sacrificed his life for his followers in the fight to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His real name is Rolihlahla, which means “to pull a branch of a tree” and “troublemaker”, was given to him by his father who was the principal counselor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. The Thembu people are a small nation that resides in South Africa. When Mandela was nine, he became the first member of his family to go to school.

There one of his professors gave him the English name, Nelson. Mandela excelled at school and completed his Junior Certificate, an educational qualification for students who have completed the junior cycle of secondary education, in two years instead of the typical three. Mandela then enrolled at Fort Hare University where he met Oliver Tambo, who ended up becoming one of his life-long friends and joined him in his battle. Although Mandela was only at Fort Hare for a short time after becoming involved in a Students’ Representative Council boycott which was against the universities policies.

Fort Hare insisted that Mandela leave the school unless he decided to join the Students’ Representative Council. The Thembu tribe, which Mandela was still attached to, had arranged a marriage for him and requested that he return home. Mandela had no desire to be a part of an arranged marriage so instead he moved to Johannesburg and began working as a clerk at a local law firm. He also went back to school and finished with Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of South Africa and then started studying law at the University of Witwatersrand.

I believe this is when Mandela’s political views truly started to take form. At the same time, Mandela and his friend Tambo started the law firm Mandel and Tambo. They strived to provide legal counsel to many South Africans who couldn’t afford proper attorney representation. In 1944 Mandela became involved in the African National Congress and began participating in politics. He and Oliver Tambo engaged in many nonviolent attempts at challenging and changing South African rule, although to not much success.

In 1959, most Africanists broke away and formed the Pan Africanist Congress, which resulted in the African National Congress losing much of its money and military support. Three years later, Mandela was elected leader of the African National Congress’ armed wing which was called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Mandela worked hard and although he had strived to follow Gandhi’s tactics of non-violent protest, he was forced to resort to armed struggle. In 1961, Mandela wrote a letter and sent it to the South African newspapers that the MK would sabotage the overnment’s plans if they did not agree to change the national constitution to provide better rights for his people. The government did not comply. On December 16, 1961, Mandela led the MK to launch a bombing campaign against government targets. These attacks went on for eighteen months and sadly many civilians were killed in the struggle. Later during Mandela’s presidency, he admitted his faults for administering these attacks as they were against basic human rights. After being on the run from the government for almost two years, Mandela was finally captured and sentenced to life in prison.

During his trial, Mandela expressed his beliefs on what kind of nation he wants South Africa to become and why violence was used as a tactic during his time at the African National Congress. Mandela finished his statement with the following quote: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic 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. ” Mandela was first imprisoned on Robben Island for the first eighteen years. It was during this time that his reputation grew in South Africa as one of the most significant leaders in its history. He was allotted very little and discriminated against primarily because he was black. Mandela devoted his time to writing and enrolled in school through the University of London to receive a Bachelor of Laws degree. Mandela became a household name all over the world and in later years, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service admitted to forming a plan to rescue Mandela from prison.

In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison because Mandela had become somewhat of a celebrity and influential leader to the other inmates at Robben Island, so the government wanted to diffuse his influence. Then, three years late President P. W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom if he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon”. Mandela turned down the offer and released the statement, “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts. Throughout his imprisonment, there was international and local support to release Mandela. Although the South African government wasn’t having any of it. It wasn’t until President Frederik Wilem de Klerk was elected in 1989 that Mandela was granted his freedom in 1990, after 27 years in prison. The event was broadcast all over the world. During his speech, Mandela declared that he was committed to coming peace and reconciliation with the country’s white minority. Although his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and grant them their right to vote in both local and national elections.

Mandela returned to the African National Congress and worked alongside with President De Klerk. Their efforts were recognized and they were both rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In 1994, South Africa held it’s first multi-racial election. The African National Congress won 62% of the vote and Mandela was inaugurated on May 10, 1994. He promised to unite the white and black South Africans. One of his most famous attempts was when he urged black South Africans to support the national rugby team, which was primarily a favorite for white South Africans.

Although this seemed like a mundane request, it is widely seen as a huge stepping point in bringing together the black and white South Africans. That year South Africa won the World Cup. During his Presidency, Mandela introduced a lot of new reforms, many of which were extended to blacks in rural areas, who had been excluded from the system before. First he provided free health care for all children under the age of six along with pregnant and breastfeeding women. He then implemented The Land Restitution Act of 1994, which allowed people who had lost their land from the Natives Land Act of 1913 to reclaim their land.

Mandela focused a lot of his time on the youth of South Africa and promoting and protecting their health, education and to try to alleviate child poverty. He also took interest in trying to resolve conflict between Libya and the United States and Britain. One of his other primary commitments was to bring awareness and try to find a cure to AIDS, since it is such a monumental issue in Africa. After devoting his entire life to trying to make South Africa the country he wanted and desired it to be, Mandela announced in 2004 that he was retiring.

His health was failing and he admitted he wanted to spend his remaining time with his family. To this day he resides in Johannesburg and told the public that he wanted to be in a position “of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. My appeal therefore is: Don’t call me, I will call you”. Nelson Mandela exemplifies the qualities of both a direct and indirect leader. Although I believe he is more of a direct leader since many of his accomplishments resulted because he fought and pushed for them.

He continually addressed the public face-to-face and told them specifically what he wanted to happen. Yet sometimes his actions spoke louder than words, which make him also a very effective indirect leader. He continually lead by example and his followers wanted to follow in his footsteps. Mandela was so passionate about preserving his people and country because he grew up as a member of that society and knew what the government wasn’t doing wasn’t right. Unlike many South Africans, Mandela was lucky to have been given a proper education. With that gift, he realized that he had the ability to help others who weren’t as fortunate as him.

It is also apparent from the many selfless acts he did over the years that he is a very caring and loving individual with a huge heart. An important attribute of a great leader is to have empathy and Mandela exhibited this in almost everything he did. In an interview in 2008 with Time Magazine, Mandela stated his 6 lessons of leadership. His first lesson is courage. “Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it,” said Mandela. He admits that he was often afraid over the years; it would have been irrational not to be.

He said, “I can’t pretend that I’m brave and that I can beat the whole world. ” But as a leader, you cannot let people know. “You must put up a front. ” That is exactly how Mandela lived his life. He pretended to act fearlessly and in the act of doing so, he inspired and reassured others. Mandela knew he was a role model for others and that his actions would be closely watched and followed. He personified a true leader since he was able to give his followers the strength to overcome their own fears. Mandela’s second lesson of leadership was to, “Lead from the front, but don’t always leave your base behind”.

What he means by this is that no matter what he thought was the right course of action, it is important to have the trust and faith of his support base. While in prison, the government wanted to initiate negotiations with Mandela. Many of his followers thought that Mandela speaking to the government was an act of selling out. Although, Mandela went and spoke to each and every one of his followers in prison and informed them of his plans and asked them to trust him and follow him. Slowly but surely, they did. In later years, Mandela admitted that refusing to negotiate was about tactics, not principles.

Prison gave Mandela ample time to think about his course of action and look at how everything would turn out in the long run. His third lesson ties into his second one. “Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front. ” Mandela would often hold meetings with his cabinet at his home in Johannesburg. Mandela knew his job wasn’t to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. Mandela used to say, “Don’t enter the debate too early”. They would sit around his dining room table yelling at each other and arguing about the next course of action. Mandela would simply sit there and listen.

He would later speak, but do so in a slow and methodical manner to illustrate he heard what everyone had to say. This would gain their trust and soothe their egos. Then he would very subtly ease the conversation into the direction that he wanted to go in. “The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. It is wise,” he said, “to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea. ” The fourth lesson is “know your enemy and learn about his favorite sport”. Mandela studied Afrikaans his entire life by going to school and working along side them.

He understood that his fate was tied to theirs and one day he would be negotiating with them so it made sense to understand their nature. He made sure to learn their language and try to integrate himself with his enemy. His rugby tactic was incredibly smart since he was able to relate to the Afrikaans on their favorite sport. Apparently in prison, Mandela helped his warders with their legal woes. It was incredulous for an imprisoned black man was willing to help them and resonated well with the public. The fifth lesson is “keep your friends close but your rivals even closer”.

Mandela was always known for his charm and ability to bring even his biggest enemies to some sort of compromise. A friend of Mandela’s, Matamela Ramaphosa, a South African lawyer recounts how Mandela cozied up to his enemies “It was also the big industrialists, the mining families, the opposition. He would pick up the phone and call them on their birthdays. He would go to family funerals. He saw it as an opportunity”. Mandela believed that by embracing his enemies, it gave him an advantage and a way to control them. He recognized that he was able to deal with people he had no faith in and no trust by neutralizing them with his charm.

Number six is “appearances matter and remember to smile”. Mandela always carried himself with a smile, which was described as, “It was like the sun coming out on a cloudy day”. Inmates from prison admitted that watching Mandela strut around the grounds with an air of confidence and calm made them feel like they could get through their days much easier. Mandela understood that his appearance would be able to advance his cause and he made it a point that he has always dressed appropriately. Despite everything he had been through and his twenty-seven years of imprisonment, Mandela never let it show.

Never showed one ounce of bitterness or resentment. He always projected the opposite emotion wherever he went. Mandela created a nonracial democratic South Africa and overthrew apartheid by playing his cards right and knowing how to transition between his roles as statesman, warrior, diplomat and martyr. He is an incredible human being who I had the privilege of going to visit the house he currently resides in. It is one thing to read about these incredible leaders in class but it is another thing to physically see how they have benefitted the world.

Not one person in South Africa has something bad to say about Nelson Mandela and he is still considered their savior. The man struggled through so much and put himself in harms way knowing that his actions would one day make an immeasurable difference on the world. Nelson Mandela is, in my opinion, one of the greatest leaders of our time and I am fortunate that I was able to learn so much about this man who touched me so much. I hope that I too am able to exemplify some of his qualities and take with me his lessons so that I can try to be an outstanding human being who is working towards making the planet a better and more peaceful place.

Works Cited

Macleod, Scott (1990). “An Interview with Nelson Mandela. ” Retrieved from: http://www. time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,970434,00. html Mandela, Nelson. “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. ” Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995. “Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory: Living the Legacy. ” Retrieved from: http://www. nelsonmandela. org/ “Nelson Mandela Museum. ” Retrieved from: http://www. nelsonmandelamuseum. org. za/ Scott, Christina. “Nelson Mandela: Force for Freedom. ” New York: Longman, 2003.

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