Living Madiba

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Madiba’s passing was inevitable, as is the case for all of us, when our time arrives. However his death has still left me speechless, but very contemplative. The magnanimous pouring of sadness, gratitude and love has caused me to introspect on what our founding father has thought us. I would like to share a few.


When you know better, you do better

Sophie Mokoena, SABC Journalist, recounted her earliest interactions with President Mandela during his divorce proceedings from Mama Winnie Mandela. She brought to his attention the lack of invitations to female journalists to the Presidential Press Briefings. Mr Mandela rectified this oversight by asking his spokesperson, the late Parks Mankahlana, to request Mokoena to compile a list of female journalist colleagues so that he can meet with them and involve them in future briefings. This story captures a hallmark of a great leader. Positional leaders do not always react well to feedback, particularly when it is negative. They tend to get defensive, to become irritable and to be passive aggressive by ignoring what they hear and making the messenger the villain. Madiba’s response demonstrates Maya Angelou’s saying that “When you know better you do better.” That is part of learning, growing and becoming better today than you were yesterday.

Choices have consequences

Makaziwe Mandela shared the difference in her relationship with her father, the prisoner versus the free man. She lamented the reduced attention because the moment he walked out of bondage, Madiba’s 24 hour days became split amongst millions of people. In her account there was deep sadness and acceptance. The lesson is that every choice has consequences. Therefore one must live consciously and forgive oneself with every decision made because whether the consequences are positive or negative, you have to live with them. I was overcome with sadness for Madiba because though not with maliciousness, he did hurt his children through the choices he made when he responded to history’s call. Children do not choose to be born. When parents make choices for their own lives that may be perceived by their children as not prioritising them, in the immediate term, it must be so gut-wrenching. Madiba and his family have forgone much – in terms of sharing time and memories together. I wonder how many calls we ignore, whether from the workplace or the country because we are not willing to pay any price. One cannot make history without rising to the call, no matter what the scale. South Africa has enough challenges that need selflessness and sacrifice, beyond our immediate families, so that we can make life better for other people as well, in the long-term.

No ‘I’ in UBUNTU

It is undeniable that Madiba is the embodiment of ‘Ubuntu’. His humanity has been affirmed through the reaction to his passing. The question is how can any of us be satisfied to just live a life that resolves only around ‘I’ in a country where there is lack in so many areas? Opportunities to be of service to each other are numerous through giving of our talents. An interesting exchange happened which showed me how disengaged we are growing from each other. One guy asked another to join him in a game of golf. The guy responds that he does not play golf because he does not think that he has achieved his dream in life to deserve so many hours on a golf course and that he would rather use those hours doing things for others and contributing to society. The golfer was very confused by this statement because he focused on the evident career and financial success of the person making this comment. Observing this interchange, it struck me how it is so easy to be disengaged from the rest of humanity and to live in a cocoon of the relentless pursuit of pleasure and excess. The struggle for our generation is to feel connected to people outside of our own economic strata and to choose to contribute, according to needs, to other people beyond our immediate families and comrades. There are still conditions that exist in our country that impune human dignity and are at odds with the progressive constitution we are proud of.

Ask and do not take ‘No’ for an answer

Business people, celebrities and politicians have been regaling us with stories of receiving ‘the call’ from Madiba and their inability to say ‘No’ to any of his requests. When one is in a position to assist someone else, regardless of who the person is, we should. The person’s status, position and title should not be the deciding factor, but rather the intention and what impact the asker will make on receiving the assistance. It is important that our intents are noble and that we pay things forward as we receive. However it is just as critical that we do not ‘class’ each other and that we help each other to achieve goals because in so doing, we also help fulfil the possibilities of Madiba’s South Africa. It is said that “the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do nothing for him.” I believe if we adopted this ethos we will not have a country rife with corruption, nepotism and bribery because doing things for people and getting things done will not hinge on expecting something in return – whether financial, in glory or power.

The world and even some of us are convinced that a post Madiba South Africa is doomed to fail.  Tata always told the world that he did not make South Africa what it is on his own. Through our actions here forth, we will either prove the father of our nation a liar or show him the gratitude that he did not give up his life in vain. We deserve the South Africa we get based on what we are willing to do for it.

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