Both as a regular person and as the president of newly free South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s life was full of qualities worth emulating. The book Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years by himself and Mandla Langa contains some remarkable exemplifications of notable aspects of this iconic world leader’s life. Here are ten of them:
Mandela insisted on washing dishes after his cook made him meals. He always made his bed despite there being someone assigned to do such chores. Whenever he contacted other people, he called himself rather than have a subordinate staff member call for him as he waited as is the custom for people with the kind of profile he had.
Mandela had a regular work-out routine throughout the course of most of his life. Even in prison, the leader maintained an uninterrupted routine despite what the day would be about.
“It was 4:30 in the morning of Sunday February 11th, 1990,” writes Dominique Lapierre in A Rainbow in the Night. “A clear summer’s day broke over the hills of Cape Town. After 10,000 days and 10,000 nights without freedom, the oldest political prisoner on the planet was about to cast off the chains that were supposed to shackle him until his dying breath. He started the last day of his life sentence, as he had every morning for the last 27 years, with a workout.”
Reading the Times
Mandela knew when and how to play handball and when to cave to what pressure. He knew when it was inevitable to engage the enemy. A good example is while he was negotiating his release as well as the stance he held on de Clark’s terms on lifting the state of emergency. Another great example is when he and his compatriots decide to launch uMkhonto we Sizwe “Spear of the Nation,” ANC’s armed wing.
“Time for passive resistance has ended,” declared Mandela then. “Passive resistance has been a useless strategy. It will never overturn a white minority regime bent on retaining its power at any cost. Violence is the only weapon that will destroy apartheid. We, my friends, must be ready to use that weapon in the near future!”
Peace Over Violence
Mandela preferred and worked for peace and abhorred and campaigned against the use of violence to settle disputes. He, for example, called for an end to war at a time when such a plea made little sense even to members of his own party. A case in point was in the aftermath of Chris Hani’s murder, when he called for peace stating that retaliation with violence would be in keeping with the murderer’s motives and not in service to what Hani had believed or practiced.
He and his ANC party stuck to positive messaging in their campaigns even as de Clark and the National party soiled their name and leveraged fear and racism.
He made it a duty to travel with young leaders like Trevor Manuel and to involve them in his activities including answering high profile questions after his speeches. Trevor Manuel went on to be one of the most remarkable leaders in SA.
Once he entrusted other leaders with responsibility, Mandela cultivated a sense of trust by minimizing supervision. He had a hands-off style of leadership unless he was convinced a matter really needed his attention.
Division of Labor
Mandela divided tasks among his cabinet and himself according to each member’s expertise letting each concentrate with their docket. As one of the two vice presidents for instance, Thabo Mbeki was tasked with running all cabinet meetings and ensuring the smooth running of the cabinet.
As president, Mandela endeavored to cultivate and maintain a sense of equity across racial, national, and party lines. He formed and smoothly ran a Government of National Unity (GNU) in which all political parties were involved. In running government and in his ANC party, he advocated and pushed for the inclusion of people from all South African nationalities and from all races.
The Bigger Picture
Mandela always thought about the possible outcome of his and other people’s words and actions, then spoke and acted accordingly. He did not allow instant emotive gratification to blinden his course of action.