As the world remembers former president Nelson Mandela as the foremost political moral compass globally and celebrates his centenary, it is crucial to reflect on the significance of his contribution to humanity and to demonstrate how his vision can be used as an appropriate leadership template to create an inclusive world.
With the unprecedented upsurge in ultra-right wing sentiments worldwide, epitomised by the elections of strong men such as Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, insidiously undermining the values upheld by progressive leaders and tangible and palpable progress to create an inclusive world, it becomes even more compelling to reflect on Madiba’s values, as he was the greatest unifier.
Renowned US scholar and philosopher Cornel West, in a ground-breaking lecture titled the Meaning of Mandela – His Legacy, amplified Madiba’s prowess as a great unifier and visionary: “Without the grand unifier of Nelson Mandela it is likely that there would have been a bloodbath in this country. We should never forget that. Leadership makes a difference. These are individuals who muster courage to shape their sense of character and make a difference.”
Although Madiba was part of a multifaceted leadership, his distinctive leadership qualities made him tower over peers.
He was able to graft a grand vision for the betterment of our society and pursued it to the end against all odds.
Despite rigorous efforts by the apartheid regime to convince the world of the legitimacy of its policies, Mandela was able to lead and convince others at home and abroad why change was needed and how our common humanity could benefit from the desired outcomes and why the effort was worth the investment of sacrifices, dedication and resources.
Because of his inspirational leadership qualities and wisdom, he was able to mobilise enthusiasm for the required fundamental political changes in our lifetime.
He kept the rest of the world determined to fight apartheid, even when it did not appear to be worth its attention and support, amid a flurry of efforts to counter the promotion of the broader societal goals of justice, equality and peace.
Because of his distinctive leadership, he ensured that the negotiated political settlement adhered to procedures as agreed by the negotiators, so that it could not be rejected or undermined by the minority groups, including vested external interest groups, such as investors, for lack of adherence to an inclusive process.
As a seasoned negotiator Madiba was instrumental in ensuring that the process was inclusive and consensus-building.
He was able to guide the negotiations to achieve closure at the proper historical moment otherwise any progress made could have been derailed by unnecessary dialogue and dispute.
Through his outstanding leadership qualities and hard work Madiba taught us not to be indifferent to the plight of the most vulnerable groups in society, be they the poorest of the poor, children, women, the elderly and people living with disabilities.
He also taught us to uphold the constitutional rights of many poor communities and the rule of law and to confer the fundamental human rights with regard to security and peace as set out in the Constitution; to create opportunities for them so that they could live by the sweat of their brow.
As Madiba said at the African Renaissance Festival, in Durban on March 27 1999: “None of us can enjoy lasting peace and security while millions of our compatriots live in poverty. No country can enjoy sustainable growth and development while any of its neighbours are troubled by conflict and instability.”
This becomes more compelling as the world is increasingly experiencing high levels of populism and protectionism which makes it more unstable, resulting in less-developed nations’ socioeconomic needs treated as matters of peripheral interest. The world is grappling with increasing levels of inequalities as well as widening wealth gaps.
We have to work harder as we cherish Madiba’s legacy to promote and strengthen our collective self-image as a nation and, to a large extent, a part of humanity.
The force of my argument is that his extraordinary leadership taught us that, without the ideal, inspirational process and decisive political leadership, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to achieve approval for the desired change and to maintain it in a sustainable manner.
His high-quality leadership and statesmanship as well as personal authority made a difference.
This is what defined the phenomenon called Madiba.
We are not arrogant when we say Madiba’s legacy offers a confluence of inspirational values that can serve a greater purpose of uniting humanity.
Mokoena is a public servant in the Gauteng government