The true inspiration of Mandela is that he was an ordinary man

Former US president Barack Obama delivering the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture last Tuesday. Obama was one of many speakers who spoke of the greatness of Madiba.
Former US president Barack Obama delivering the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture last Tuesday. Obama was one of many speakers who spoke of the greatness of Madiba.
Image: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP

Last Wednesday marked 100 years of Nelson Mandela's birth. To commemorate this centenary, former US president Barack Obama delivered a riveting lecture on Tuesday.

The problem is that the speeches and events marking the centenary left the simple lessons of Mandela's human life buried in the grandiosity of the narratives presented by various people seeking glory from their exaggerated familiarity with Mandela.

Listening to all the speeches, a young South African must be thinking: Who am I ever to aspire to Mandela's lofty heights? Below we decode four simple ingredients that made it possible for Mandela to be what he became. We show it is not impossible for young people to surpass Mandela.

The first ingredient: the power of ordinariness. Those who have been to Mandela's village of Mvezo cannot but wonder how it was possible for a global icon to be born in so ordinary a place.

The circumstances of Mandela's birth show that the humbleness of one's birth does not preordain the humbleness of one's destiny. A young person born in the humblest of rural villages can grow up to become whatever they want to be. Don't let the remoteness of your location moderate the ambition of your dreams.

The second ingredient: the power of education and knowledge. There are many black people who were born on the same day as Mandela. That Mandela went to school and they did not was among the most defining factors that placed Mandela ahead of them. If two babies are born today, the one who will go to school will be guaranteed a better future than the other who remains unschooled.

Look around your community, and you will see that those who are educated enjoy a better life than those who have not been to school.

Education goes beyond improving one's material conform; it awakens an individual's consciousness about his place in the world. Knowledge enables an individual to see possibilities where others see obstacles.

Armed with knowledge, Mandela had confidence that he could change SA.

The third ingredient: the power of truth and conviction. The more you read, the more you fall in love with the truth, and the more you develop firmly held ideas. The love of truth and ideas fortifies character and strengthens personal conviction.

People who love the truth are always the ones who champion change. They are not easy to intimidate. That is why Mandela stayed in jail for 27 years for his beliefs. Always ask questions about the moral soundness of what you see around you. Don't avoid passing judgment and taking sides on issues.

The fourth ingredient: the power of organisation. In history, individuals are drivers. It is not possible for an individual, acting alone, to change even the smallest community.

If you have a burning ideal, find a way to make other people see its value, and motivate them to work with you to realise that ideal. You do this by making them see how their own lives would be better if they were to live under conditions that are organised around the principles of your vision.

The task of establishing an organisation is daunting. But, you don't always need to form a new organisation to realise your ideal. You can choose from existing organisations that you think are aligned to your vision. Mandela chose the ANC.

Alone you are weak, with others you are stronger. Mandela would not have become the great leader we now revere had he not been part of the ANC.

Even Obama would not have become president had he not joined the Democratic Party. The party was a vehicle that drove him to the White House.

These four ingredients look simple, but they explain how Mandela achieved greatness. Apply these ingredients to your personal life, and you will be the next Mandela.

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