Thursday, December 12, 2013


Ubuntu – we are because you are; I am because you are… and a lot of what is, or could be, good in us, is because of you, Madiba!

Your long walk to freedom, freedom… from all that you owed us, from all the lessons you had to teach us, from more of the acid rain of hate we keep pouring on ourselves and would have been drenched to the bone with, if not for you and your compassionate example, Madiba…!

Farewell ye, oh greatest of fragments of The Great Spirit. The ocean of humanity that walks in your wake will miss you, but the nation that your vision fathered will miss you most of all.

The long walk to freedom may have finally ended for Nelson  Rolhilahla Mandela. But it has only just begun for the people of South Africa. It is now more than ever that their resolve to live by the tenets of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation will be truly tested, with the fading of the towering figure of Madiba who will no longer be walking by their side, holding the young fingers of the rainbow nation and guiding them away from every perilous prism lurking in the corners of history.

A lot of people who know a lot more than I will ever understand have eulogized the unparalleled greatness of Nelson Mandela for the world to get to know this great life and its lessons better. So I write these words, not because Mandela needs  yet another requiem nor because you might have the stomach for yet another obituary, but because like so many other unread authors, I too, on this occasion, have this irrepressible desire to speak of this man to the winds for it take them where it will…

If you walk across the hall of heroes from the beginning of time, you will be hard pressed to come across a name more luminous than Madiba’s. Mahatma Gandhi, the man Mandela had claimed as an inspiration, awash in the romance of another time, was a great man indeed. But compare the fractured and blood splattered legacy of partition with the unified harmony of the rainbow nation and you will have to acknowledge that the pupil has improved tremendously on the master’s design.

But let’s not belittle our heroes by pitching them against each other for that is not the point of this piece.
Instead, let us light a candle in our hearts to the examples that Mandela set. He said he is no saint but he performed miracles that merit canonization. Many saints have spoken of love and forgiveness. But tell me how many do we remember who have been born of men and had the heart to embrace their own oppressors and welcome them into their hearts with open arms and unconditional forgiveness? There would be some, though it would be tough to tell where legend meets logic, but admittedly there indeed would be a few… But tell me where would you find such a leader of men who not only forgave and embraced those who sought to hurt, harm, destroy and subjugate both him and his people, but did so without for a moment hurting their dignity and pride? And now I ask you, show me a leader of men who not only managed to forgive and win the hearts of his oppressors but inspired an entire nation of oppressed people to set aside their anger and hurt and embrace their former oppressors as brothers. Madiba indeed was a rare one…

During my time in B-school, I was taught about the roles and responsibilities of an ideal leader. And I grew up to understand that an ideal leader is one who knows who to, when and how to command, motivate, inspire and delegate. And for a long while, I felt that that alone was all one needed. And perhaps for most leaders in most scenarios, indeed little else is needed to meet goals at work and straddle the gap between wants and demands at home. But the extraordinary circumstances of Nelson Mandela’s life demanded extraordinary leadership skills. And it is only when I began reading about how he led his people and his country - blacks, browns and whites, together beyond the rainbow that I began to realize that truly great leadership, in any sphere – from sports to religion and even that swampland called politics, is not possible without spiritual awareness and integrity.

Next  week, the sendoff prayers for Madiba would have grown quieter and perhaps that would be the time to delve a little less into the man and to focus a little more on his methods. And until such a time as that Madiba, when we’ll invoke your undying spirit again, may you rest in comfort and peace. God bless…


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