Heroes for today: Nelson Mandela

images-5It is perhaps natural for humans to hero worship, and yet I can’t help but think that the individuals put up on a pedestal are often the wrong ones. If asked to name a ‘hero’ I suspect the names that would pop up might include media or political personalities, some of whom might indeed truly deserve the recognition, but many whom are tagged simply because the name is one that is well known. Now remember, I’m not simply asking for a ‘famous’ name, but rather the identification of an individual who has done something significant.

Those two can of course correlate and perhaps being the right person at the right time in the right place is what truly makes a significant difference.

One of my Heroes – Nelson Mandela

If you keep a list of heroes then one name I’d like to suggest you could consider adding is one individual whom I would name without any hesitation – Nelson Mandela. I well recall chatting to a guy who had been a policemen during the hight of the Apartheid era. He explained that the deep fear amongst many when the ANC gained power was that they would seek revenge and push anybody and everybody associated with the previous regime into the sea – it could have happened, and no doubt many inside the ANC would have loved to have done just that, but Mandela rose above all that and instead put national reconciliation at the top of his agenda.

Mandela was everything you might expect in the character of a hero, he lived an austere life, refusing to drink alcohol or smoke, and even as President made his own bed, and was also renowned for his mischievous sense of humour.

His time in prison could of course have turned him into a bitter individual, but it did not, and instead moulded an individual who was not only strong but was both deeply compassionate, gentle, and also willing to forgive.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Was He Religious?

There will of course be various claims regarding this both ways and much speculation. What is clear is that it is not something that he manifested and so I suspect if he was, then it might perhaps have been quite a moderate and not particularly strong belief. It is not really known because he kept it all very much to himself. In the end what truly matters here is not what religious beliefs he adhered to, but rather how he behaved, and so it is actions that make him a true hero. He is an individual who deserves the recognition, not simply for its own sake, but as a source of inspiration and a role model for others.


Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Within his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom“, he writes:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Here is a small selection of other quotes that not only inspire, but also reveal his character, and so if we are going to sing his praises, then let it be his own words that rise up to shine and not my pale shadowy scribblings …

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” 

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” 

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?”


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