Thursday 2 January 2014


We all know the story of the great man, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist. He served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. His death, on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95, resulted in infectious outpouring of grief worldwide.

Madiba, as Mandela was affectionately called, was a global statesman, whose leadership engendered conflict transformation. Mandela emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid. I am particularly fascinated by his unique leadership style that transforms conflict. Mandela said: "Lead from the back, and let others believe they are in front." This unusual style makes the leader invisible but effective. It emphasizes the fact that the leader does not necessarily have to be a boss!

What then are the milestones of his style? We need to state some of them here:

-He used his Presidency to lay the foundation for a peaceful future in South Africa.

-He was President for only five years, and he voluntarily relinquished power.

-He combined the former Afrikans National Anthem "Die Stem" with the song of the black protest rallies "Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica" (God bless Africa). Afrikans is more widely spoken in South Africa.

-During the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the first black South African President wore a Springbok shirt, and congratulated the South Africa Rugby team. Rugby was dominated by white South Africans, and the Springbok shirt was once considered by South Africans as the reincarnation of Apartheid. Mandela turned it into a symbol of reconciliation. When he handed over the cup to the team's Captain, Francois Pienner, Mandela said: "Thank you for what you have done for our country." Piennar replied: "No, Mr. President, thank you for what you have done." For me, this was the beginning of true reconciliation in South Africa.

-Nelson Mandela recognized the value of conflict transformation when he used it to negotiate a practically bloodless revolution in South Africa, and the peaceful transfer of power in one of the most wealthy and brutal regimes in world history.

-When he left prison, he realized that if he did not forgive his oppressors, he would remain their prisoner for life! Let Mandela speak for himself: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."

What a wonderful human. How many leaders in South Africa, and other parts of Africa would voluntarily relinquish power without seeking a second and even third unconstitutional term? How many leaders would rather lead from the back than the front like Madiba? How many leaders anywhere in the world would seek to transform conflict at any and every opportunity? How many of us would willingly forgive those who oppress us?

Nelson Mandela was indeed one of a kind, and I shall always try to incorporate his lessons in conflict transformation into my work and everyday life. What about you?

Related Links

*Rescuing Mandela from Sainthood
*5 quotes from Nelson Mandela that inspire activists worldwide

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