Madiba chose to serve humanity, he was no sellout

Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Winnie Mandela.
Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Winnie Mandela.
Image: Johan Kuus.

As the world celebrates Nelson Mandela's centenary during this Mandela Month, it is worth extolling his leadership virtues and his legacy as a monumental sociopolitical and moral compass.

His leadership, anchored on selfless service to others, was second to none.

This has become necessary in the context of some public discourse that seeks to depict him as a sellout, and as someone who single-handedly delivered a flawed, negotiated political settlement, regardless of superior counter-arguments.

More disconcerting is that some of the narrative has opted to forget that although he was born into privilege as a member of the abaThembu royal house, Madiba chose to be a commoner.

Many of us would not have opted for this. Instead of enjoying his royal prerogative, Madiba elected to serve humanity.

To paraphrase David James Smith, the author of a book titled Young Mandela: As part of an emerging cohort of black intellectuals, as well as political activist and future post-liberation leader, Madiba deemed it fit to defend the rights of others against the injustices of the oppressors.

Madiba did so voluntarily and used his superior legal knowledge, skills and financial resources to fight the injustices that plagued the masses, despite their inability to compensate him for his legal services. Madiba firmly believed in the old adage "If I don't serve, I don't deserve to live".

It is tragic that there are some among us who have not yet harnessed the values bequeathed by this visionary leader in a quest to support the country's nation-building efforts.

We must learn from Madiba's reconciliatory spirit and support noble interventions aimed at the nation. This will enable individuals to liberate themselves from racial prejudices and anti-outsider violence and ethnicity which seem to be gathering pace.

The constitution states that our democratic state is founded on "human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms and non-racialism, non-sexism", among others.

I do not understand why some among us have elected to cling to views that Madiba was a sellout who single-handedly initiated the negotiated political settlement.

There is overwhelming evidence that Madiba's vision was based on the foundational values of his generation, and the political climate at home and globally.

I am reminded of the words of Advocate George Bizos at the launch of the latest book about Madiba, Dare not Linger: The Presidential Years, which formed part of a series of robust dialogues that took place as a build-up towards the celebration of Madiba's centenary.

He emphasised that Madiba never took decisions alone without reasonable consensus on diverse contentious issues. This was despite unbearable conditions in which he found himself.

To entrench Madiba's values and promote moral leadership, it is critical to initiate a global leadership award named after Madiba in recognition of some of the most cutting-edge exemplary leadership achievements.

These are crucial considerations, as failure to ensure that Mandela's legacy serves as an appropriate leadership template - to advance democracy and social justice at all levels of humanity - would undermine efforts aimed at enhancing social justice and global solidarity.

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