Mirrored by the yearning to awaken the masses to the set deplorability of the status quo, be it a repercussion of political or social factors, true leadership essentially calls upon for the resurgence of the mental frames and redirection of the cognitive orientation of the masses. Burning with the zest to evoke sustainable change, such leadership proceeds well beyond the gimmickry of garnering support through a ridicule of oppositional forces. On the contrary it establishes its veracity as the potential authority through an unequivocal affirmation of the needs of the masses mandating earliest attention.

The physics of such intellect coalesced leadership is echoed well in the style of governance of the first black South African president , the late Nelson Mandela, whose centennial birthday celebrations are being commemorated this week to honour his services rendered in the name of democracy and human rights. Struggling for a period of over forty years with eighteen out of twenty seven years of incarceration spent at the infamous Robben Island, Mandela’s leadership prowess verges on a dissent of institutionalised racism and bigoted governance against the Blacks of South Africa denying them social and political parity with the whites.

Mandela’s leadership exists as a fulcrum balancing his approach towards life itself since it was a necessary derivative of Gandhi’s philosophy of “being the change one wished to see in the world”. Mandela knew he had to lead by example for the masses would conveniently emulate what he practiced. For this reason precisely he framed the policy of leading a non-violent opposition against the apartheid rule in South Africa, as opposed to the armed resistance previously practiced, for he believed that the convenient and callous expression of emotions of hate, angst and anger would slay any potential for peace.

Strongly persevere in his resolve to unshackle South Africa from the clutches of apartheid discrimination, Mandela even when offered freedom in exchange of repudiating resistance to the government by African President Botha , rebuked him by stating , “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of people remains banned?” Instead of abandoning his political and social goals, undeterred Mandela decided to serve his full imprisonment, refusing to breach his commitment towards a racially equal South Africa, thereby redefining leadership.

Mandela proved time and again how erudition is essentially a lifelong journey, since one always learns something with each curve ball thrown towards ones path in life. This is best manifested from his decision to encourage privatisation after meeting the leaders of Vietnam and China, to help revive the faltering economy in South Africa, as opposed to his previously firm support for the policy of nationalisation which by and large was “inconceivable” to change in Mandela’s own words. Having been a staunch socialist throughout his life and having led the African National Congress during the decade of 1990’s that had categorically espoused anti-privatisation economic policies, Mandela’s pro-privatisation espousal meant garnering resentment at the hands of the general black population, but he was well aware of the economic pitfalls of South Africa that commanded a conscious economic policy overhaul, instating privatisation in place of nationalisation.

In a world where personal and political grudges form the basis of central conflicts amongst leaders, Mandela took the road less travelled by and practiced forgiveness, by deciding to forgo the horridness of the past that would have compromised the social progression of South Africa. In 1998 when Mandela took President Bill Clinton on a visit to the infamous Robben Island showing him the space where he had spent 27 years in hard labour and physical subjugation, he strongly maintained that in revisiting this space he felt no anger, nor any need for retribution for if it would have been so, despite having come out of prison physically, he would have been “in the prison of his own making”.

This constituted towards was his pragmatic realization of inclusivity being a guarantor of a progressive South Africa. Being marginalized as the racially inferior Black during the apartheid rule, Mandela learned that pigeonholing humanity, where people are afforded and denied opportunities as well as respect on the basis of the color and texture of their skin is an abuse to the dignity of man himself. This is precisely the reason why even after being subjected to gruesome modes of violence by the whites in South Africa, Mandela’s inclusive vision allowed him to find reconciliatory means to bridge the white-black social and political divide.

Believing that “sports has the power to unite people in a way little else does” , Mandela lent support to South African Olympics team for the 1992 Olympics , despite the fact that it comprised of ninety-five White athletes and only eight Black ones since he knew that for the way forward, he had “to start somewhere”. Similarly , in 1994 while delivering the inaugural presidential address Mandela was well cognizant of the fact that over a billion people would not only be watching him pronounce his policies but also assess his leadership posturing. This awareness impelled him to use the opportunity to proclaim the idea of national and social togetherness and the creation of a “rainbow nation” , asserting a common vision for South Africa since he knew that “none of them can achieve anything alone” and for the “birth of a new world”, all factions “must act together”.

Today as the world stands confronted with a myriad of issues, ranging from refugee crisis, the scourge of terrorism, to an overt display of violence, revisiting Mandela’s intellect coalesced leadership is the need of the hour. From imparting perseverance in testing times, to practicing forgiveness and encouraging re-conciliatory politics, Mandela essentially laid down a blue print for the world leaders to follow, making him the loving Madiba we all revere today.


The author is a freelance columnist with a profound interest in Local and Global politics , English Literature and Psychology.