Author: Michael Boampong, originally posted January 7, cross-posted January 17 2014:
From the 3-year-old who salutes Nelson Mandela (Madiba) in Soweto to the school children who grip portraits of the icon during a ceremony in India, it is evident that people across the globe feel the loss of Madiba’s passing.
As President Barack Obama noted last week, "We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again." But, perhaps, if young people and adults can draw lessons from Mandela’s legacy - one based on human rights foundations - such as freedom, justice, tolerance and respect - we can witness the rise of a new generation that follows in Madiba’s footsteps.
As we remember the inspirational life of Mandela, we should recognize that the anti-apartheid leader was once an ambitious young man who only trusted in his convictions without probably knowing that his actions at the local and national level will transcend boarders and inspire the minds and actions of humanity worldwide. We should not relent in juxtaposing his core "change" values with the strategies and principles that guide our work and life. Here are some five facts and lessons drawn from Madiba:
- He believed in youth-led social structures: While living in Johannesburg, he immersed himself in anti-apartheid politics by joining the African National Congress (ANC). Dissatisfied with the ANC’s inability to mobilize youth, Mandela helped form the ANC Youth League in 1944.
- He was determined: He failed to obtain a law degree from the University of Witwatersrand; as its only black student. But he never gave up on his failure. Mandela studied while imprisoned and graduated from the University of South Africa in 1988. With his knowledge in law, he offered low-cost services for individuals seeking justices in an unjust society.
- He employed non-violence as a means of change: Like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., he practiced a "surrender-without-a-fight strategy" to promote peace and unity in his racially divided country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established as part of South Africa’s democratic transition, showcased incredible examples of forgiveness. Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for his promotion of peaceful rehabilitation in South Africa.
- He was a strong anti-poverty campaigner: Mandela taught my generation that "Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice." He viewed education as a way of eradicating poverty when he noted that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Perhaps to honor his vision we need to prioritize investment in quality and equitable education for young people, thereby contributing to efforts aimed at meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
- He was results-oriented: In principle and pragmatism, Mandela sought results. According to an anecdote used in the PBS documentary, The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela, after defeating the "enemy morally, internationally, politically," he recognized his actions were not translating into results. So, he adjusted by employing a plethora of tactics (i.e. to scold, flatter, demand and cajole, when needed). Perhaps these tactics could inspire young leaders - especially those involved in various social change movements - to learn about how and when to practically demand accountability and results from key stakeholders. For the development practitioners, Mandela’s values should encourage us to strive for human-rights sensitive effectiveness, efficiency, impact and technical skills in our development interventions.
To the youth of today, Mandela once said, "I also have a wish to make: Be the script writers of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future." He believed in the ability of young people to be catalysts for inclusive growth and development. Together, let’s continue to achieve what Madiba envisioned. Long live Madiba’s spirit, and may it never die in our hearts and minds!
What do you admire most about Mandela and how has it influenced you? Tell us how you intend to honor his values.
** This post was originally made on Youthink!