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An Article by Ian Kilbride.
If we need another Mandela to save us, then we have failed as a nation.
Madiba signed off publicly with the words, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you!” But ten years after his passing, it is timely to draw inspiration from his life and the unique endowment to our country. Perversely, however, the rest of the world seems to draw more inspiration from Mandela than we do at times. Is this because Madiba would have been ashamed of how we are squandering our golden opportunity to build a world-beating nation? Or perhaps it’s just that his standards were simply too high and too demanding for us mere mortals to emulate and follow?
Yet, Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was all too human and suffered from the flaws, foibles and failures that afflict us all. His greatness lies in the fact that despite his many, many flaws, he was able to deal with them, overcome them and in most instances, rise above them. The book recently published about his marriage and life with Winnie, has caused a storm of controversy with its revelations of serial infidelity, shocking personal behaviour and emotional fragility. Far from refashioning Mandela’s legacy with feet of clay, the truth about his tempestuous life with Winnie reveals far more about the man, rather than the myth and legend. Indeed, politicians and opportunists right across the political spectrum have done us no favours by crafting a craven image of Madiba that bears little resemblance to the deeply complex politician, soldier, revolutionary, reconciler and humanitarian that delivered an unlikely democracy to a uniquely divided country.
I am immensely proud to say that I met Mr Mandela on a couple of occasions and in fact, spent an entire evening in his company when my company, Appleton, sponsored the parliamentary banquet celebrating the adoption of our ground-breaking democratic constitution. Master of ceremonies that night was non-other than one Cyril Ramaphosa. So, there are a few personal recollections, memories and lessons I learnt from Madiba that are worth sharing.
The first is humanity. I well recall how Madiba took the time to meet, greet and converse with those he came into contact with irrespective of their station in life or circumstances. This was particularly the case with aged, indigent and children. Whether he was drinking tea with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, chatting in the Rose Garden of the White House with Bill Clinton or entertaining the children my foundation sponsored at SOS Children’s Villages, Madiba exuded a natural humanity and profound respect for all. Do we really exhibit such humanity in South Africa today?
The second quality was that of upholding and living by his principles, even when these were unpopular. One memorable example was his insistence that the entire national anthem had to be sung (again) as the ‘progressive’ congregation gathered in St George’s cathedral in Cape Town refused to sing the final verses in Afrikaans and English. A small, but profoundly important statement of principle attesting to his belief in national reconciliation, no matter how painful. How proud we all are now when we see our national sporting teams singing the national anthem in all languages. No doubt many of us will recall Madiba’s 1995 rugby world cup inspiration when the Springboks take on the rest of the world in the rugby world cup in France later this year.
The third lesson comes from President Mandela’s discipline and dedication. He led by example, less by words and more by deeds. The only reason he could survive his 27 years of incarceration and away from the family he loved so much was through granite-like discipline and dogged determination, particularly during the darkest days of the death of his eldest son, Thembi and the loss of his Mother. He was refused permission to attend either funeral, yet still emerged from prison to greet in peace those who had deprived him of his life, liberty and family and without bitterness or rancour. Can the same be said of those who now claim to be people’s revolutionaries, yet luxuriate in obscene opulence in the plush suburbs of Sandton?
But as a businessman, there is another lesson from our founding democratic President from which we may learn and that was his recognition of the importance of the business community to the sustainability of our country. Yes, Madiba was once a member of the Communist Party. Yes, he retained friendships with some strange bedfellows and yes, he certainly extracted his pound of flesh from businessmen who sought out his company and the ubiquitous photo opportunity. But, Madiba provided unshakeable trust and confidence in the business community in South Africa that is was valued, appreciated and had a bright future as a key element of the new South Africa. In truth, he had business eating out of the palm of his hand and in turn, business locally and internationally repaid the gesture with massive investment. Can we really say that the relationship between government and business in modern day South Africa is healthy and one of mutual respect?
We really don’t need another Madiba to come and save us, but perhaps what we do need is for each of us to reflect on his legacy, draw inspiration and apply some of his rainbow DNA into our daily lives.