Nelson Mandela, even after his death remains a global icon of democracy. Mandela’s journey to leadership liberate South Africa from the White rule seems to have begun from his childhood. After birth, Mandela’s father who was a member of the Thembu royal house, named him ‘Rolihlahla,’ meaning a ‘troublemaker.’ Well, Mandela was not a troublemaker, but the name ‘Rolihlahla’ somehow defined Mandela’ life years later. As he writes, “I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friend and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered”( Mandela 20).
Apart from his birth name, Mandela came from a ruling family, and this played a significant role in shaping his leadership traits. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was chief of Mvezo in the Thembu tribe, a position that Mandela says was not only natural, but he had acquired it through customary means where leadership was inherited. Mandela’s father had inherited leadership from his father, and it was expected that Mandela would succeed his father too. There had been many stories in Mandela’s village that he was the next would succeed the Thembu throne. However, Mandela considered those tales as a myth. Beside, Mandela acknowledges that being a descendant of the lxhiba house was groomed just like his father had, so that he could counsel the leaders who were on the throne (Mandela 20). Mandela believed that his father nurtured some of his traits that he discovered in himself. Mandela describes his father’s personality as one that is proud and rebellious with a stubborn sense of fairness, which is similar to his (Mandela 21).
After the death of his father, Mandela’s mother took him to Jongitaba’s home in Mqhekezweni. His mother believed that Mandela would have a better upbringing with Jongitaba, who was a regent. It was while at the regent’s house that Mandela determined what he started being inspired by Chieftaincy and Christianity. Mandela was not so much into Christianity based on the system of beliefs that the Christians held, but instead, he admired Reverend Matyolo. He says that, for him, Reverend Matyolo’s “powerful presence was what embodied all that was alluring in Christianity” (Mandela 27). Besides, Reverend Matyolo was the regent’s spiritual father, which made Mandela love him more. Above all, Mandela grew great interest and admiration for regent’s universal respect and power.
As such, he saw chieftaincy as a force to reckon with, in which life was centered. Since Chieftaincy was an influential part of his life while at Mqhekezweni, it was only normal that Mandela saw Chieftaincy as the only means that he could become someone respected in the society (Mandela 27). Mandela claims that the regent’s position and his court influenced his later notions of leadership. The regent practiced democracy in his court, which he admired. Mandela says that his leadership followed that the regent had established and demonstrated at the great palace. He adds that he had always made an effort toward democracy by listening to other people’s ideas in a discussion before giving his own opinion. Mandela also added that in many cases, his opinion would be based points obtained from other people’s ideas. He notes that, “I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind” (Mandela 28). Most importantly, it was at Mqhekezweni, in the Great Place that Mandela developed an interest and learned the African History.
Mandela’s perception about the Whites began changing when one poet known as Mqhayi came to address them in Healdtown, during his fourth year. Initially, the South Africans highly regarded the White people and had thought of them as their superiors but this would later change. Mqhayi informed them about what is foreign and evil and told them not to allow the Whites, who do not care about the black culture, not to no rule them. At first, Mandela was not only shocked and disappointed by Mqhayi’s statement, but he was motivated to view the Whites as people who want to exploit them (Mandela 38). At the University Of Fort Hare, where he was pursuing law, Mandela acquired more knowledge as well as experience with the White people. He began realizing that the black and the white men were equal after all and the Africans did not have to take orders from the whites every day (Mandela 42). After graduating from the university, Mandela was looking for employment opportunities that embraced common sense and practical experience rather than those that highly regarded academic qualifications. Despite having a university degree, Mandela could not relate the knowledge he had acquired with the new environment. He was increasingly becoming concerned with the social injustices towards the Black and he saw that it was in his best interests to help his fellow Blacks who had conformed to the White rule. University teachers always avoided discussing or teaching topics, which would enlighten them, such as racial prejudice, lack of opportunities for the African, as well as set of laws that suppressed blacks. However, Mandela tried to address these issues every day while at Johannesburg. He had did not have any skills to change racial injustices as he had not been taught but he had to learn by trying (Mandela 58).
Seeing the racial injustices against his people, the black South Africans, in their land Mandela felt a natural force that compelled him to liberate them (Mandela 64). As a result of the desire to fight a system that imprisoned his people, Mandela joined ANC to effect change in South Africa and free the blacks from the oppressive rule of the Whites. Mandela participated and led multiple anti-apartheid protests. After long periods of nonviolent resistance, Mandela saw the only way they could overthrow the White government is by adopting armed resistance. Mandela later faced a massive court trial whereby he was charged with treason, and during this time also, his marriage to Evelyn was falling apart, but he did not plead guilty. Mandela was willing to die for the course he believed in. He had made a decision that he would not abandon South Africa and as such, he was not going to surrender. He recognized that “Only through hardship, sacrifice, and militant action can freedom be won” (Mandela 167). Mandela considered the struggle his life, which he was willing to endure until his people were free. With such determination, the Apartheid saw the struggle under the leadership of Mandela as a threat and they had to prevent the government from falling by all means necessary.
Mandela was eventually incarcerated for 27 years in a small cell where he was under watch 23 hours a day. While at the prison, Mandela received poor food, did not get to see the sunlight, and was isolated since there was no one he could talk to. Mandela says that the Robben Island prison was the worst in South Africa. He says that it was not only a hardship station for the prisoners, but also the prison (Mandela 227). Mandela’s mother died while he was in prison, and he was not allowed the decency to attend the burial as her first son, which added to his grief. What is more, the government continued to oppress his wife, Winnie, and they even imprisoned her. Mandela also suspected that the government was responsible for his eldest son’s death. However, He did not give up on his course and even when the government offered to free him if he conformed to non-violence as a political tool, Mandela refused.
Eventually, Mandela was released and received a warm welcome from his supporters. While it was expected that Mandela would be bitter with the Whites after coming out of prison, he was not. His grudges towards the Whites had ceased even though his stand to oppose the system did not change. He hates the Whites system the more. By forgiving his enemies, the Whites who had oppressed him, Mandela wanted the nation reconcile since it was the only way that the nation could heal (Mandela 349). Mandela emphasized the need to abandon the apartheid as a way to construct a new South Africa, which would be democratic and non-racial. Mandela even referred to the whites as their ‘fellow South Africans’ and recognized their contribution to the country.
Mandela, Nelson. “Long walk to freedom.” Hachette UK, 2013: 1-402.