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COLUMN: President Mandela: the continuing legacy

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Some believe he was indeed flawless in the execution of his duty to our society, and others are adamant that he deliberately chose not to fulfill all that he had originally aspired to do.

History will forever place President Nelson Mandela as a central figure to the launching of a new era of South African politics and social cohesion.

The personal and collective sacrifice that he made along with other fellow patriarchs and matriarchs of the Rainbow Nation is uncontested. As with any great figure of history, the legacy he has left for the succeeding generation is debated with numerous points of argument.

Some believe he was indeed flawless in the execution off his duty to our society, and others are adamant he deliberately chose not to fulfill all he had originally aspired to do in the struggle against racial and economic discrimination.

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I, however, am of the view that his legacy is probably one of the greatest lessons any aspiring leader can learn from.

The aspiring leader, when objectively studying Mandela’s legacy, will see a man who was able to read the pulse of the day. Moreover, he was able to relate to the struggles of the ordinary citizen, and could thus articulate himself in a way that vibrated the aspirations of the silent majority wherever he was given space to speak.

The aspiring leader will also see a man who was able to adapt towards the demand of each stage of the struggle.

When the Apartheid government refused to heed the calls of peaceful protests and responded with attacks on an unarmed population, President Mandela and other activists developed the Spear of the People (Umkhonto we Sizwe) to ensure that the struggle would be kept alive and protected.

When he was released in 1990, he took on the means of formal negotiation to ensure that indeed the mandate of disintegrating discrimination on political, social and economic grounds would be fulfilled.

(FILES) A picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl. Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name "Madiba", became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed underground wing of the African National Congress, in 1961, and the following year underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia. After more than a year underground, Mandela was captured by police and sentenced in 1964 to life in prison during the Rivonia trial, where he delivered a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela started his prison years in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island 7Km off the coast near Cape Town. In April 1984 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and in December 1988 he was moved the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. While in prison, Mandela flatly rejected offers made by his jailers for remission of sentence in exchange for accepting the bantustan policy by recognising the independence of the Transkei and agreeing to settle there. Again in the 'eighties Mandela rejected an offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate, he said, according to ANC reports. AFP PHOTO FILES / ALEXANDER JOE / AFP / FILES / ALEXANDER JOE
Picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife Winnie AFP photo files

The aspiring leader learns an invaluable lesson of persistence. Many men in the shoes of President Mandela would have considered a life sentence to be the end of their public career in politics. He, however, never left the vision of ensuring that South Africa crosses over into a new dispensation, no matter how long it would take.

He developed himself while in prison, completing his law degree and acquainting himself with the Afrikaans language and culture so as to place himself at the aptitude necessary to ensure negotiations on common grounds with his counterparts when the time came. As sure as daylight, that time finally came, and the results thereof are evident to this day.

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The most important lesson that can be taken from the legacy of Mandela is that no legacy is complete in its own right. Life is a relay race, and the duty of all who run it is to ensure that we indeed pass the baton so that the next generation can run their lap. It is argued often that President Mandela and his comrades did not fulfill all the aspirations of the liberation movement.

I would argue that the liberation movement is far greater than one man and one generation. It would therefore be unwarranted pressure on anyone to complete all the objectives towards a united nonracial and nonsexist South Africa. Our generation has been mandated to work out the economic model that will bridge the gap dividing society on economic class.

This task requires earnest introspection of the realities of our communities, along with the corporate culture that governs currency circulation therein. Moreover, we must be mindful of the global economic climate. What may have been considered fashionable when some historic documents were drafted may not necessarily fit into the current reality of society.

No nation can survive on its own. Let us therefore learn with reverence from the lessons given to us by history from developing states that raised themselves up to be contenders in the global market when resources seemed unevenly distributed, and the will power to go beyond the normal rhetoric was scarce.

This Mandela day, we owe it to this continuing legacy to understand, as Mandela did, that we are an important component to the global world order. Our development is in the best interest of not only ourselves, but to the stability of the continent and inevitably our world. Let South Africans be great.

Author: Patson Malisa

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About the author

Mashudu Malema