Remembering Madiba: Five things we learned from Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela-1918-2013
Nelson Mandela-1918-2013

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2014 — On Sunday, Nelson Mandela, the beloved leader and former president of the South Africa will be laid to rest. After suffering from a prolonged illness, the man who liberated a nation from an oppressive apartheid regime passed away last Thursday, December 5 at the age of 95.

We may never encounter another person who will be as bold and transformative as to usher in the revolutionary type of change that the man called Madiba did for so many.

For those who have children who may be curious and are searching for a simple way to explain the complex history and man, following are five things that Nelson Mandela personified, and taught us, in simplified language for children:

Courage – There are many people who see injustice and wrong but do nothing. It is easier to do nothing. It is safer.

When Nelson Mandela was a young man he saw his people suffering from the white minority rule of his country. He saw his people suffering from inequality, injustice, prejudice, bias and discrimination and he had the courage to risk his life and the lives of his close loved ones to stand up for change.

For his defiance, he was sentenced to prison, a sentence of hard labor.

What had happened was that under Dutch Rule, and during Colonial times, South Africa was colonized under a system of government which forced the native people to live in segregation. South Afrikaners were only allowed to live in certain areas of their own birth land, their movements were restricted and they were forced to carry identification cards to validate their existence.

The people of South Africa were delegated to second class citizen status.

Many knew this was wrong but they were not strong enough to stand up to the leaders who enforced the stringent biased policies that ruled the land. Nelson Mandela was one that stood up. He organized other young, revolutionaries willing to risk everything for change. They were courageous.

Perseverance – As expected, those who were in power and control did not appreciate a rebel stirring up the masses, empowering them to speak up for themselves to demand justice and equality. Mandela was put in prison for 27 years in the hope that his absence would rob the people of their will to fight.

The oppressors hoped his absence from their sight, his voice silenced, would blanket the uprisings.

It did not work. While in prison, Mandela wrote letters and contemplated his life and struggles. Meanwhile, those on the outside became more outraged over his imprisonment and continued to fight. Others, in nations including the United States, put pressure on the government to not only release Mandela but to abandon their system of government which denied people basic liberties simply because of the color of their skin.

Mandela persevered.  Eventually he was set free.

Forgiveness – When someone hurts another person, it takes a lot of strength to forgive that person. Although Mandela was put in jail for standing up to ill-treatment of himself and others, he chose to not harbor ill-will towards those who placed him in a tiny cell simply for demanding change.

Mandela turned the other cheek, deciding to abandon any violent means he may have condoned in the past to revolt against those who had invaded his land and made it their own.

By this time, generations of colonizers had been born in South Africa too. It had become their native land as well. So Mandela worked with all: Black or white the new face of South Africa had changed.

Eventually, he won the trust of many people, earning their respect to become the first democratically elected black president of South Africa. Before then, all presidents were of the Dutch race of the original colonizers.

As a leader, Mandela forgave those that imprisoned him and segregated his people. He was a president for all.

Humility – After just one term, Madiba, (a name of honor that people used to refer to Mandela), decided that he had done enough. He decided against running for another term in office and stepped aside to make room for others to rule.

That gesture is almost unheard of and is uncommon, not just in Africa but around the world because leaders who have power very rarely want to give it up.  Mandela’s term in office was just four years.

Mandela embodies what it meant to be humble.

Progress – Since then, the nation of South Africa has progressed substantially.  There is ample opportunity for all children and people from all races to do what they want to if they work hard.

Since President Mandela, South Africa has had several black presidents as well as other government officials. Children go to school together and are not separated because of their skin color.

The nation still has challenges, but the people of South Africa are working on them together as one.

Certainly, politics have colored some people’s decisions to disregard the net sum contribution Mandela left on the world instead focusing on minutiae to justify their judgment.

There are those who lose sight of the big picture instead nitpicking various insular reports, decisions or incidents in Mandela’s life that they disliked.

But in a lifetime that spanned nearly 100 years, there are two options that can be taken:

One can choose to excuse their own nations’ Founding Fathers and the respective roles those historic leaders played in allowing the atrocities inflicted on fellow human beings of a different and darker hue (slaves).

They will disregard how historically, it has been necessary to resort to violence to overthrow colonizers and oppressors.

People can opt to selectively invoke a moral high ground in the case of Mandela and in the same breath discount the massive sum of what he represented for millions of oppressed people.

Or two, they can choose to be on the right side of history which will acknowledge Madiba’s role in inspiring and empowering a generation, uniting and bringing together a subsequent generation.

The choice should be simple.

Originally published December 2014

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector. Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities. Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media. She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups. She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.