Fondly known as “Madiba” to so many, Mandela made an indelible mark on the world and we are celebrating his actions, values and indomitable spirit. His leadership, his extraordinary humanitarian contributions and the model of his life are unparalleled. As South Africans, we should be proud that such a great man lived among us and was our leader.
However, our pride and celebration are tinged with a sense of sadness. Some of us are sad that the values Madiba lived by and taught us are today trampled on by some of the current crop of leaders. Madiba was no saint and was always at pains to emphasise his human frailty and mortality. But, even so, he had values and qualities worthy of emulating by all of us, politicians and citizens alike.
Today offers an opportunity to revisit Madiba’s values and qualities, assess our deviation from these, and retrace our steps to what the founding father of democratic South Africa stood for. We have to make this reflection, especially given the leadership challenges we now face as a country.
There are three qualities in his life I want to focus on: integrity, compassion and uniting.
Madiba was a man of integrity. The word integrity is defined as “the adherence to moral and ethical principles; the soundness of moral character”. It is a synonym for honesty and uprightness, and is a vital characteristic for those in political leadership. Political leaders who possess integrity can be trusted because they never veer from inner values, even when it might benefit them to do so. This requires the highest standard of integrity.
Political history tells us that there was a time during Mandela’s incarceration when the apartheid government offered him conditional freedom. Though he would have personally benefited, Mandela responded by saying:
“I cannot sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free.”
Here was a man who had not seen his wife and children for nearly two decades but refused to succumb to a kind of freedom that would benefit him but exclude his people. Today, it is greatly disappointing that we have leaders who are prepared to sacrifice this country and its sovereignty at the altar of dubious friendships.
The unpurified sludge coming out of the Gupta leaked e-mails bear testimony to how far some of our political leaders have deviated from Madiba’s values. South Africa today needs men and women in political office who, when the crooked make them corrupt offers, will respond like Madiba and say: “I cannot sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of my people”.
For, indeed, when leaders facilitate the looting of public resources by their friends, they are, in effect, selling the birthright of South Africans.
Those who are friends with the Guptas and have helped them to unduly enrich themselves from what are public resources, are guilty of the highest betrayal of Mandela’s legacy. They confirm the truth that you can walk with a man and learn nothing from him. Judas Iscariot in the Bible did.
The second value Madiba espoused was compassion.
Compassion is the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something to alleviate that suffering. While many see compassion as a weakness, true compassion is a characteristic that converts knowledge to wisdom. Good political leaders use compassion to see the needs of those they lead and to determine the course of action that would be of greatest benefit to all those involved.
The very fact that Madiba got involved in the struggle for liberation was because he had seen the suffering of his people and wanted to do something, even if it meant taking up arms, to end it.
It was the same compassion that saw him mobilise resources and support from various sectors of society to tackle the huge infrastructure backlog facing schools that serve South Africa’s poorer children. And we know he was doing it not for public relations purposes, or to conceal any nefarious activities, but because he had genuine compassion for children from poor communities.
He followed his compassion with action.
The last quality is that of Madiba as a unifier.
I think it was Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who described him as unifier from the moment he walked out of prison. Incarcerated for close to 27 years, Mandela emerged from prison not a bitter man. He was the epitomé of forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation. Whether at the level of his political organisation or at the country’s level, Madiba worked hard to unite people.
As a nation, let us walk in his racial reconciliation legacy and refuse to be sidetracked by the shenanigans of the Bell Pottingers of this world - the British PR firm that sought to divide us along racial lines in pursuit of their client’s narrow interests.
Pastor Ray McCauley is the president of Rhema Family Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council