What we can learn

 By Solomon Alemu Feyissa, M.D. 

The life story of Nelson Mandela is very well documented and is readily available and accessible  to read from many  different sources therefore I am not going to spend much time dwelling on that. Rather I would like to spend some time examining his legacy and what others can learn from his exemplary and saint like life. He is by far once in a life time legendary figure and an icon that we are very much lucky to witness his life in our time.

Person of cause:

Mandela saw unjust socioeconomic system created by white minority regime subjecting the majority native South Africans to oppression, discrimination, segregation, injustice and violation of human and political rights and he took it up on himself and fellow black South Africans to fight and get rid of this evil regime and liberate and free his people. He joined the struggle and embraced the cause not because he had power ambition or some other motivation rather he did it because it was the right and just thing to do.

We can learn a lot from his life in that we should aspire to stand up for principles and causes that are bigger than our selves. Many of us including myself are tied up and blinded by our day to day selfish desires and are unable to see bigger causes. Mandela’s legacy should make us better human beings and pay attention to bigger principles and causes. We can also learn that sometimes doing the right thing should be enough motivating factor and brings much more sense of accomplishment, respect and sense of purpose than some other motivations including money and power grab. History has taught us that only few are motivated by just doing the right thing and sacrifice their selfless life as Mandela did.

Courageous and Fearless:

He has spent most of his young and middle aged life as a freedom fighter that took the cause of discrimination, inequality, segregation and injustice and paid countless prices. He was harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured and his life was threatened with murder and assassinations. These mistreatments and threats continued for decades despite which he stayed on course and didn’t flinch a bit and was willing to pay any sacrifice including his life. He was very courageous and fearless in his pursuit.

Perseverance and determination to the end:

The other lesson is that for whatever cause we believe in we should stay on course with determination and perseverance as Mandela has exemplified in his legendary life. Many people give up pursuing their cause when faced with some challenges and Mandela’s life should remind us that he stayed on course despite facing decades of sustained and significant challenges to his life including threat of murder and assassination.

Willing to compromise:

Though the white minority apartheid regime caused all the suffering and misery to the native South Africans including himself, Mandela was wise enough to recognize that solving complicated political problems needs compromise and negotiated political settlement. Prior his release from prison after 27 years of captivity he demanded that negotiation between ANC and the apartheid regime should be a prerequisite to his release and opted to stay in prison until his demand is met. He was willing to talk to and compromise and work together to ensure smooth transition and avoid civil war and bloodshed in his beloved country.

Willing to forgive and move forward:

For the sake of the future of his country and the people, before and after his election as the first black South African president he was willing to forgive people who committed unimaginable and horrible crimes in order to prevent racial hatred, civil war, bloodshed and promote reconciliation, smooth transition and unity. He was fiercely focused on the end result of dismantling white minority apartheid rule and bringing freedom, justice and equality to the majority native South Africans thus was able to craft a very wise strategy and path avoiding chaos and civil unrest. He was also gracious enough to forgive and invite his white prison guard/captor to his inauguration ceremony. Many would remember the truth and reconciliation commission/ processes which documented in court proceedings the horrors of apartheid regime to promote healing, closure, forgiveness and moving forward. Once the white minority apartheid regime is dismantled Mandela was brilliant enough to recognize that revenge killing and reprisals would bring no good other than taking his country to the road of civil war and bloodshed.

Uniter not a divider:

Most can agree than during apartheid South Africa was one of the most racially polarized and divided country in the entire world with tremendous socioeconomic challenges and divisions along racial and ethnic lines. At that time it was unimaginable to craft a path for transition without bloodshed and civil unrest given the deep rooted racial hatred, resentment and legacy of horror of apartheid regime. Many were skeptical if a transition can be achieved let alone a smooth one. Mandela was able to come up with a strategy and path to bring together and reconcile various parties and interest groups with diverse and very polarized agendas and points of view. Unlike Mandela many others will try to find every reason to divide people however he was able to find every reason to unite people even among those with very obvious and profound differences including race and socioeconomic classes. He was also gracious enough to forgive and invite his white prison guard/captor to his inauguration ceremony. I think this is a one of the biggest lessons of his life. Political leaders who prey up on differences among people and find every reason to create division in order to promote their own personal/party/group agenda including power grab, dictatorship, financial and resource control should be embarrassed by their actions should learn from the life of Nelson Mandela and strive to be better leaders and politicians.

No intention of power grab and dictatorship:

He also gave us a very unforgettable lesson that he gave up power after serving only a single 4 year term as president. Many would agree that given his wisdom, political genius and universal respect he could have become a lifelong president of South Africa. He also could have made himself super rich by using his influence and power. However he chose a very exemplary life in order to teach others that the focus should be in establishing a reasonable political and democratic system for all ensuring free and fair elections, the rule of law and smooth transition of power and should not be focused on the politics of cult of personality and obsessive worship of political leaders/group which is a recipe for dictatorship. After serving his presidency he left active political life with respect, grace and dignity passing the torch and paving the way to others. Power grabbing dictators and regimes who deny their country and their people the benefits of genuine free and fair election process, democracy and the rule of law, should be ashamed of themselves and their actions in light of Mandela’s legacy and should strive to learn from his life.

In summary, Mandela lived his life to the fullest and showed us that with enough courage, determination, selfless sacrifice and wisdom remarkable and extraordinary things can be accomplished even in the face of unimaginable challenges. His extraordinary life and achievements should be celebrated by this and future generations. We also should learn a lot from his unparalleled legacy and strive to make ourselves better human beings and contribute our part to the overall progress and wellbeing of humanity . Now he belongs to the heavens and may his soul rest in peace.

About Tenayistilign

I am a physician trained at Jimma Institute of Health Sciences ( now Jimma University, in Jimma, Ethiopia) and Wayne State University ( Detroit, MI, USA). I teach and practice General Nephrology/Hypertension and Kidney Transplantation in the USA.
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  1. solomie says:

    Thanks Solomon for sharing ,
    Yes Mr.Mandela has understood well the fact that ” An eye for an eye makes both people blind “. He has also ashamed the white oppressors who lived at that time, that strength is not by might , but by good spirit and right thinking .
    He has finished his race and has left an unforgettable legacy!
    He is in a better place now!

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