As the news of the passing of a hero broke on this sad December morning, the heartbreak and sadness felt by many of us had to be juggled by the stoical sense of realism in the knowledge that a critically ill man, who had dedicated the vast majority of his life to struggle, could finally be laid to rest.
Nelson Mandela was an international figure, loved by most, admired by even those who reviled his struggle. In his life and even in his death, he impacted the world and set the tone for freedom fighters for all generations. While his passing had been expected for a long time coming, the loss of this great man, leader and icon was one that those who loved him were still unprepared for. As I watch all the accolades from world leaders and ordinary folk on TV celebrating Mandela’s life and legacy, I also reflect on the key lessons that his life and example offers me as a person.
Since the start of his struggle to free his people from the shackles of domination, Mandela seemed to be a simple man who practiced minimalism in all areas of his life. Living the life he lived for 27 years in his tiny cell, he left behind a huge legacy of how to live a life of simplicity. Though he was a world leader and idolized by millions, upon his release, he continued to lead a simple life with few distractions and commitments.
I was not one of those who had the privilege of personally knowing Mandela, although I had the opportunity with my mother, father and siblings to be present and see him at a gathering where he gave a moving speech to commemorate his release in the early nineteen nineties. On that occasion, Mandela spoke of peace, unity, forgiveness and integrity. As clear as day, I vividly remember him say that, “Through the power of dialogue and reconciliation, people can come together.” Understanding the core message he was delivering, by the end of his speech I was so inspired, moved… and I cried.
Everything else that I know about him are what I have read and seen about his struggles and achievements on TV and in print. But even then, somehow, I have always had the feeling that Mandela was someone that I personally knew, someone that I loved deeply; He felt like my father, my teacher, my mentor, my friend, and my leader. This, I have come to understand, is a special gift he had whereby many people felt the same about him.
But whatever he was in life and whatever his achievements now that he is gone, I have always gotten the impression that Mandela would have not wanted any fuss to be made about those struggles and about his life. He was a man who did what he did out of duty and the internal obligation he felt to strive for his people, not out of a need to be celebrated. But celebrate him we must so that history can tell generations and generations after us what he meant to us and the legacy he bequeath to the world. That he represents something that should never be lost throughout the ages. It is my earnest hope that his example and life story will never be put on a shelf and forgotten.
To me, in my lifetime, Mandela was the highest example of how one person can change the world for the better. How one man can sacrifice his life to go against the tide in order to salvage hope for a mass people, downtrodden. Mandela revealed the real meaning of struggling for life to the world, especially to those marginalized, even if it is something people often ignore.
He gave the poor, the marginalized the meaning of hope for their lives. His heart felt love and compassion for those who were helpless and oppressed and he responded spontaneously to the circumstance. He showed that the only thing man desires is love and a determination to fight for that love; be it for one’s faith, one’s people, one’s family or one’s soul. And it was his love for his people that ultimately drove his determination.
Often people are unable to speak out against wrongs and injustices, feeling that they are all alone. Mandela showed that when one has passion for life and human dignity, no one is insignificant in this world. He bore witness to all this, especially when he gave up his freedom and the offer of relative safety for his people; uncertain as to what might eventually happen to him and his family.
Indeed, Mandela believed in the one voice that can make all the difference in this world, even if it is marginalized. He showed courage, and what true leadership represents. And for him, leadership was never about gaining power or making himself a hero; for Mandela, leadership was always about his love for his people.
When I think about it, I can honestly say that most of all, his example urged me, as an individual, never to be discouraged and to be a person of hope. When I read and see how he selflessly gave his life to those relegated, he showed me what was truly important in life. And as he showed me, he showed the world that love; the love of freedom, the love of a just cause, the love of his people was the greatest thing in his life. This, I believe, is the most special gift he left to humanity. For this reason and so much more, his message is planted in my heart forever and should be engrained in the annals of the world for all eternity.
Despite our differences in this very diverse globe that we exist in, no matter our various belief systems or conventions, as people, it is important to embrace the human values and teachings of a man like Nelson Mandela.
He was a really good man who gave so much to the detriment of his own life. Of sacrifice he thrived. He sacrificed, not only his freedom, but also his family and children without ever having the guarantee of getting anything in return. He loved the poorest of the poor; he would bring himself down shoulder to shoulder with the dying because he was trying to give them hope for life. Trying to do good and fight for his people’s will in everything, as Mandela did, helped define the finest structure for peace and represent the long walk that is vital to be taken for freedom. How I wish the world would truly embrace this message.
As my mother always says, the best part of Mandela’s life is that he lived long enough to see his struggles come to fruition. And that’s true. It was wonderful, all those years ago, to see him walk free to the fruit of his gains and it is beautiful to see how people all over the world respond to him and his legacy today, how they are still captivated by him; for them and for many of us, Mandela was and will always be a true hero.
There are so many speeches Mandela gave that we can draw inspiration from. But, for me, it was his life that gave the greatest speech of all. His life spoke in a simple language that was a source of inspiration for so many. It was the great Mahatma Gandhi who once advised people to let their life be their message. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” he advised. By living the life and experiences that Mandela did, he was able to devote his life to his chosen purpose. He showed total focus on his commitment to his people and freedom. And by being the change he wanted to see in the world that became his greatest legacy.
Many of us fell in love with Nelson Mandela decades ago. And it is ironic that, while we wanted him to always be around, watching the pain that old age and illness forced on his frail body was heartbreaking. As I write this tribute amidst buckets of tears, I know that while letting him go is hard, holding onto him is harder, given the pain he must have endured.
So as we say Adieu to this man of great life, beautiful spirit and pure soul, may we be comforted in the knowledge that we bore witness to the journey of one with the love and total dedication to peace and freedom for the generations that knew him and those that will come centuries after him.
And if I could sum up one thing that I thought Nelson Mandela was, despite all the great qualities that he exhibited throughout his life, I can honestly say that at the very core of him I believe Nelson Mandela was just a very, very good and decent person. And the world is so fortunate that his goodness and decency met the opportunity to create the legacy he leaves us with.
As I join the world in mourning the loss of this beautiful soul, my condolence goes to every South African, all the people who loved him, his friends and family, especially his children, Madiba Thembekile Mandela, Makaziwe Mandela, Makgatho Lewanika Mandela, Makaziwe Mandela, Zenani Mandela, Zindziswa Mandela, his wife, Graca Machel and his ex wives, Winnie Madikizela and Evelyn Ntoko Mase
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