Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: Integral Visionary, Mediator, Systematic thinker, Dialoguer, Bridger, and Innovator: Gugo Obang

Rochester, MN, December 10, 2013 (GSN) - Nelson Mandela, South African Integral Visionary, systematic thinker, dialoguer, bridger, and innovator, is gone but his legacy will remain forever. Legacy is about life and living. It is about learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future.

First of all, I would to say the following as attention gathering. Where do you think it is best to plant a young tree: a clearing in an old-growth forest or an open field? Ecologists tell us that a young tree grows better when it is planted in an area with older trees. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by former trees and implant themselves more deeply. Over time, the roots of many trees may actually graft themselves to one another, creating an intricate, interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. In this way, stronger trees share resources with weaker ones so that the whole forest becomes healthier. That is legacy: an interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us.

Legacy is fundamental to what it is to be human. The idea of legacy may remind us of death, but it is not about death. Being reminded of death is actually a good thing, because death informs life. It gives you a perspective on what is important. But legacy is really about life and living. It helps us decide the kind of life we want to live and the kind of world we want to live in. Thus, I am writing this paper to reflect the time when Nelson Mandela was living among South African.

Chief among African leaders, Nelson Mandela, was one of few statesmen to have achieved almost universal respect around the world and across the political spectrum. His role in fighting apartheid, his imprisonment on Robben Island - where he came to symbolize the struggle of oppressed people around the world - and his ability to steer South Africa through the crisis of its rebirth earned him the international reputation of benevolent negotiator and quintessential peacemaker. Despite imprisonment in Robben Island for 27 years, Mandela never lost faith in winning freedom for the South African people. Mandela was one of the few leaders capable of inspiring confidence both inside and outside South Africa. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with former South African president FW de Klerk. While Nelson Mandela’s legacy can be remembered in different ways around the World, I strongly think that most people will remember him as a visionary, mediator, systematic thinker, dialoguer, Bridger, and innovator.

Nelson Mandela was a visionary. Mandela captured and held the vision of the entire apartheid conflict, with all of its divisions and consequences, that it should be abolished and every man and women, black and white of South Africa, must be free and equal in the eyes of the Nation. It was this integral vision that propelled him to do what he had to do, and it was this integral vision that sustained him through the darkest days in prison. He committed himself to holding all sides of the conflict - in all their complexity - in his mind, which led him to liberate South Africa from a system of violent prejudice, and then helped unite white and black, oppressor and oppressed, in a way that had never been done before.

Nelson Mandela had always lived by his values. Mandela believed deeply in democracy, equality and human rights. He had always repressed his own desires and sacrificed his own needs for the greater good of the people. This was a responsibility that came with his leadership and he not only felt it, but lived by it. He was a man of great integrity who has always lived according to his principles, and even if it meant making a personal sacrifice, he would not compromise on them. He believed very strongly in the notion of fairness. Mandela embodies the universal values of honesty, integrity, fair play and truth, not just in word, but more importantly in deed.

Nelson Mandela was a mediator leader. Mandela learned to face the facts of South Africa conflict, understood them and helped the combatants resolve their differences. He became a mediator type of leader, who transformed conflict in South Africa into opportunities. Unlike the demagogue leader who leads through fear, threats, and intimidation or the manager leader who defines purpose in terms of the self-interest of his/her own group, Mandela was mediator leader who saw and acted for the good of all people of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela had strong emotional intelligence. Mandela had strong emotional intelligence that helped him handle difficult people and turned complex situations into situations with paths of open communication, which helped him to avoid vulnerability and difficult situations. Related to his emotional intelligence, I can describe him as he had all the qualities elements of emotional intelligence such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social awareness. In his leadership, Mandela had mastered the two competences of emotional intelligence: personal and social. In his personal competence, he was self-aware and understood his emotions as well as strengths and weaknesses. His self-aware was not only realizing how he felt but why and how it affected other people, which involved controlling emotions, adapting behavior to adverse situations, being truthful, and striving to improve.

Nelson Mandela was a historical man. Mandela was thinking in terms of not days and weeks but decades. He knew history was on his side, that the result was inevitable; it was just a question of how soon and how it would be achieved. His plan was that things will be better in the long run. Mandela’s calculus was always, what is the end that he seeks, and what is the most practical way to get there? He regarded his role in prison not just the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), but as a promoter of unity, an honest broker, a peacemaker and he was reluctant to take a side in this dispute even if it was the side of his organization.

Nelson Mandela was systematic thinker. Mandela thought in terms of systems. In his systematic thinking, he considered every element of a conflict in terms of its relationship to other elements. He had ability to assemble a puzzle by seeing how the pieces of conflict relate. He did not say that one piece was more important than any other. He wanted to show the young black consciousness men that the struggle was indivisible and that they all had the same enemy. The good that came of his regarded his role as the leader of ANC was that Mandela on his own launched negotiations with the apartheid government. This was anathema to the ANC. After decades of saying prisoners cannot negotiate and after advocating an armed struggle that would bring the government to its knees, he decided that the time was right to begin to talk to his oppressors. For Mandela, refusing to negotiate was about tactics, a systematic thinking, not principles. He turned to negotiation after identified all the pieces of the puzzle of the conflict and how they fit together for better outcome. His unwavering principle - the overthrow of apartheid and the achievement of one man, one vote - was immutable, but almost anything that helped him get to that goal he regarded as a systematic thinking.

Nelson Mandela was an empathetic leader. Mandela was not a bubble-gum leader, chew it now and throw it away. When he announced his willing to negotiate with the government in 1985, there were many among his supporters who thought he had lost it. However, Mandela launched a campaign to persuade the ANC that his was the correct course. He went to each of his supporters in prison and explained what he was doing. Slowly and deliberately, he brought them along. He took his support base along with him. When the time came for the negotiations with the government that he had helped give birth to, he allowed others to take the lead while he was just present among the people. His presence, this means when his whole self - mental, emotional, and spiritual - got to be present and available in the conflict situation, everyone see that will change the behavior. When he was interacting with people, he was in the moment. In the presence of ordinary folk, he seldom postures or plays a role and appears happy to simply focus on taking in their expressions, feelings and responses.

Nelson Mandela was dialoguer. In 1994, when Mandela was running for the presidency, he knew that peace among white and black South African was not yet strongly built. Hence, he launched a dialogue as part of his presidential campaigning. It was not round table dialogue, but peace-building symbols. The language, humor and symbols he had always used have the power to move people to follow him in achieving the vision he painted so eloquently. He especially encouraged dialogue because it was an inquiry-based, trust-building way of communicating that maximized the human capacity to bridge and to innovate.

Nelson Mandela was smiler. When he was on a platform, he would always do the toyi-toyi, the township war dance of black South Africans. Toyi-toyi symbolizes a fine example of South Africa’s rare spirit in the face of impossible conditions and abject poverty. From protests to celebrations, the chants capture the emotions of joy, pain, encouragement, heartbreak and solace. But more important was Mandela’s dazzling, beatific, all-inclusive smile. For white South Africans, the smile symbolized Mandela’s lack of bitterness and suggested that he was sympathetic to them. To black voters, it said, I am the happy warrior, and we will triumph. The ubiquitous ANC election poster was simply his smiling face. The smile was the message.

Nelson Mandela was Bridger. Mandela as the president of South Africa, he has always followed the principles he first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Palace. He has always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing his own opinion. Oftentimes, his own opinion was simply representing a consensus of what he heard in the discussion. He always remembered the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. Hence, Mandela able to bridge the most part of divisions and developed trust among different race in South Africa. Eventually, in his bridging strategies, words were not enough. He induced people to actually change of their behavior toward each other or their way of dealing with the conflict. He asked both side to build an invisible bridge spanning the chasm between them - a bridge made up of trust, respect, empathy, understanding, courage, that last forever.

Nelson Mandela was an innovator. Mandela had great ability of innovation. During his term as South Africa president, with people finally open to each other’s minds and hearts and core concerns, he successfully introduced, solicited, and encouraged the development of new options for moving through conflicts so that the peace stays among South African forever. He redesigned the government system and changed the rules that stand for all people of South Africa.

In conclusion, Nelson Mandela was a visionary, mediator, systematic thinker, empathetic, dialoguer, Bridger, innovator and a great leader, but most of all he is a human being. A man who overcame great personal suffering, and yet emerged with his vision for the future still intact and his determination to forgive the past and build a future with all the people in South Africa so compelling, that he swept the nation along with him in his quest. Hence, he is gone but his deeds remain not only with South African but also with people around the world. Actually, this is Nelson Mandela’s legacy, but how will you be remembered? It is you to shape your own deeds so that, if the world or your country won’t remember you, your community may do so.

This paper is written by Gugo Obang, residing in the United States and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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