December 12, 2013
Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first Black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid and tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Mandela was a very educated man who went on to study and practice law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities. These activities caused Mandela to be prosecuted, though unsuccessfully, for treason. This trial lasted from 1956 to 1961. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded a militant group in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela served more than 27 years in prison until an ongoing international campaign lobbied for his release. He was released in 1990. Though Nelson Mandela accomplished many “firsts” in his life, it is his death that has awakened the world. Death before life As I watched the 24/7 coverage of his life and death, it became apparent to me that so many people regard Mandela as a pure example of leadership. His legacy is solidified as a strong charismatic leader, a game changer. As I watched the world’s reaction, I also observed that – as with many people of greatness – the greatest celebration of Nelson Mandela is occurring after his death. That leads to my point that Death often precedes life. In order for a seed to become a tree, it has to end the connection from its original source. In other words, the seed that falls from the tree dies, but life comes from its death, a new tree is born. For us, in order to recognize and fulfill our leadership potential, Nelson Mandela had to die. In my summation, while he was living, we took his leadership for granted. We didn’t recognize that we had a real life example of greatness in or midst. We have been so caught up in the selfish generation that our eyes have been closed to the value of service. Mandela’s death has put all of this and more back in the spot light. No. 1 – Nelson Mandela showed us the value of dying long before his physical death. At one point in his life he was proud militant but to that life he died and became a new man of peace. It was the new life that elevated Nelson Mandela to an international leader with international influence. The take away for us is that, even if we start off rocky, rebellious or on the wrong track, there is always a chance to change course and become the leader that lives inside of you. No. 2 – Nelson Mandela’s death shows us the value of true leadership. All the celebrations, memorials and acknowledgments show us that, when we strive for greatness, we can have a lasting impact on the world around us. I continuously write about the importance of legacy. Through his death, we now see just how much the entire world valued and looked up to him. True leadership transcends death.
No. 3 – Mandela’s death shows us that commitment and consistency win in the end.
Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27-plus years because he chose to stand firm for his beliefs. He was committed to his cause and consistent in his message. Today’s leaders change positions and just to make sure they win the next election. The big mistake that leaders make is their failure to establish a vision for their journey. Many leaders fail to establish the core values that will define their term as a leader. Nelson Mandela gave us an example of what commitment and consistency to a vision and core values can accomplish.
Right before you live you have to die. Die to your old way of thinking. Death to the old relationships that caused too much negativity in your life. Death to the habits that put you in the place where you are not living out your best potential. Death proceeds life for you and, in the case of Nelson Mandela, his death will serve to wake up the next generation of leaders.
East Cleveland Municipal Court’s Judge William L. Dawson is on a mission to help people to Finish First, live their best lives and be Cycle Breakers!
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