Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D. : After a prolonged illness, Nelson Mandela breathed his last, at his home, in Johannesburg, on Thursday, December 5, 2013. He was 95 years old.
Having worked as cattle-herd in his childhood, a life-long dedication to his principles and people led him to become the first black President of his nation.
Even though he was born to a royal family, and in his youth, he had attended prestigious black educational institutions, he committed himself to promoting justice and equality for all, in the racially segregated South Africa.
When necessary, he willingly changed his ideas and approach regarding problems at hand. For example, in early years of his life, he had considered the European colonists as benefactors, and even strongly supported the British, at the start of WWII. But eventually he became a staunch opponent of repression of his people by their rulers.
He used adversity as a blessing. After being sentenced for life-imprisonment, in 1962, for his anti-apartheid activities, he used 27years of his of incarceration, to learn Afrikaans, language of the white minority, who had controlled South Africa’s government, business and industry, and had persecuted the black majority. He used his new learning to communicate better with the “enemy” and to negotiate the end of Apartheid with them.
Also he used his incarceration to reflect on his strategy. He became aware of the futility of armed struggle to free his people from oppression. He concluded that “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” Therefore, he decided in favor of nonviolence and negotiation.
With his statesmanship and willingness to compromise, he not only prevented black-white strife, he also won over support of other tribal communities. In this way, he succeeded in creating a true Rainbow Nation in South Africa.
Unlike the tendency of leaders, in many parts of the world, to cling to power, he used his sagacity, pragmatism, and foresight to voluntarily give up the position of President, after just one term. Instead, he devoted the rest of his life to work for creating “a democratic and free society” in South Africa, “in which all persons (could) live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
It would be great, if more people like Nelson Mandela were in leadership positions also in South Asia.
Dr. Rohila is Executive Director of the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia