By Ibukun Akinnawo
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela turned his country around, impacting the entire world, leaving behind a legacy and blazing a trail for others to follow. Here are four lessons everyone should learn from this great South African's memorable life.
1. Find whatever it is you love and throw yourself into it till it consumes you whole.
Mandela was so consumed with his passion for equality in South Africa that he read books by political influencers such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. He did not just want a revolution; he wanted to know how past leaders had done it. Even in prison, Mandela had access to smuggled newspaper clippings and held secret meetings with world changers. This man refused to let the wardens' death threats at Robben Island break his spirit.
This is not to say that the 27 years Mandela spent in prison were rosy, they were not. His cell was dank and cold causing him to contract tuberculosis — the disease that eventually killed him; the wardens refused him sunglasses to protect his eyes from the glare of the lime in the quarry, damaging his eyes permanently. When he was finally released in 1990, Madiba strode out of prison, fist raised above his head in victory with his wife, Winnie, by his side. He was 72 years old.
2. Have principles and stick with them no matter what.
Mandela was prepared to join the Communist Party because he was impressed that Europeans, Africans, Indians and coloureds were relating to each other as equals but walked away from it simply because their atheistic beliefs collided with his belief in God and because he saw the South African struggle as being racially based rather than class warfare.
3. Learn from your mistakes.
Throughout Mandela’s term as President of South Africa, AIDS ravaged the country so much that by 1999, 10% of South Africa’s population was HIV positive. If there was nothing he was criticised for not handling well, it was the AIDS situation. After stepping down as president, Mandela came out publicly to announce that his son had died of AIDS. He set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 1999 to focus on combating HIV/AIDS, rural development and school construction.
4. Love wins.
After the Sharpville massacre, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, abbreviated MK) with Sisulu and the communist Joe Slovo to fight against the government. This arm of ANC was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the South African government. In fact, it was because Mandela refused to refrain from terrorist attempts to overthrow the government that he was sentenced to life in prison. When Mandela came out in 1990, he walked out armed with enough love to eradicate racial discrimination in South Africa forever. Instead of seeking retribution and carrying out a vendetta against his enemies, and the enemies of his people, he sought reconciliation with the white ruling power and also worked to bring all groups together. Mandela assured the white population that they should fear nothing from him as president and the ANC which was now ruling as a result of winning the 1994 elections. To demonstrate this, he retained many of the white ministers of the previous regime; even white nationalist apartheid officials became ministers of energy, environment and minerals.