Nelson Mandela: friend of the world

MadibaWe have lost an icon, a friend of the world, a statesman; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has died.

We knew this day would come but it is hard to express our feelings. I am relieved that his suffering is over and he can rest in peace. No one would want him to linger on. But he was, as President Jacob Zuma said, ‘Africa’s greatest son.’ And President Barak Obama said, ‘He was one of the most courageous, influential and profoundly good individuals.’ It has been a huge privilege to live under his shadow and under his influence.

Madiba has not been in public this year and we have not heard his comments on our political and moral landscape for some time. But there was always a sense that he was there, a towering figure to look up to, reflect on, and measure ourselves against.

Nelson Mandela lived and breathed reconciliation. He was always bringing people together. He didn’t tell South Africans to find each other; he showed us how. He reached out to his prison guards, the prosecutor who sent him to jail and his political enemies. He reached out to the entire prejudiced, unreconciled, untransformed, white, rugby-loving hordes by his involvement in the Rugby World Cup final in 1995.

A New York Times headline today reads, ‘Mandela Taught a Continent to Forgive’. Indeed. He didn’t ask if those he was forgiving deserved it. He didn’t ask them to change first. He didn’t say, ‘When you have signed the Freedom Charter and agreed to my ten-point plan, we will talk forgiveness and reconciliation.’ He forgave. And he said, in effect, ‘We’re starting a journey that will transform our land. We want you to join us. We need your input; the future belongs to all of us together.’

Madiba never lost his unerring ability to touch ordinary people’s lives and help us see other people differently. It is something most of us do not do very well. We are into issues, statements and calls to action, and we expect others to see things as we do. After all, we have right on our side, and we hold the moral high ground.

What Madiba understood is that being right and holding the moral high ground are not enough. You have to persuade others, you have to sell your ideas, and you have to bring others on board. Ideas do not stand on their own; they need people to believe in them, champion them and live them out.

In business we make the terrible mistake of thinking that our weekend spent visioning our future, declaring our values and preparing our magnificent mission statement is enough. On Monday morning staff are informed, the brilliantly crafted statements are on the walls and new stationery has been prepared. But knowledge and information is never enough. It takes people, people with fire in their bellies, to change a nation, a community, an organisation.

Nothing was ever achieved simply because people knew about it. Great things have happened throughout history because someone has felt passionately about something. Whether the abolition of slavery, the destruction of Hitler, the struggle against apartheid or simply the potholes in our roads, people have had their emotions stirred and they have been driven to action.

You have an idea? You have a vision for your organisation? You have a dream for your family? Share that dream; invite others to join you. Some will ignore you, even deride you, but you will begin to build a community around you who will share your passion and will support you in ways you couldn’t imagine.

Madiba we salute you. Thank you for sharing your vision, inviting us to join you and inspiring our journey.

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Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.


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  2. Peter Merrington on 6 December 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Rest in Peace. His best legacy would be if we strove to emulate his values, his integrity and generosity of spirit.

    • Ian Webster on 7 December 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Amen to that.
      Thanks Peter. Nice to have you over here.

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