As a student in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, the “Free Nelson Mandela” song inspired hope for Africans and the world, still wrestling with racism, segregation and its the despair it breeds on all who partake of it. We boycotted Barclays Bank, Reebok and South African fruit exports across Africa and the momentum picked up among high schools, colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. Africa’s star was rising; as was a pride of being black and African.
We are a continent dogged with war and woes, rarely instigated from within but as dominions of European nations, aligning ourselves to their interests with apparent abandon. Nelson Mandela’s quiet, dignified demeanor to apartheid’s oppression showed the world that Africans had turned the corner. Black consciousness without violence aroused a renaissance that rippled and tide to the present day. We can thank Mandela for his incredibly powerful humility in leadership, without greed and a paranoid need for self-preservation!
The South African product boycotts came to an end and a new South Africa was born in 1994. Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president, ushering in a dignified and visionary leadership that changed the world. In March 1994, as I boarded a flight to South Africa to attend a work conference. I fought the nerves and anxiety of visiting a nation with the very oppression I campaigned against as a student in England. My boss, a white Kenyan, reassured me with kind but firm words, ‘Not to worry, once we get there, we will stick together!” I smiled and picked up my hand luggage and strode onto the plane with a smile and a lion’s heart beating in my chest, in sheer anticipation. Our visit was a huge success, with ample time for personal visits to family friends and shopping. We returned to Kenya, assured of South Africa’s new Rainbow status, encouraged and inspired!
Nelson Mandela gave us lessons in leadership, in times of change and turmoil, which resonate with the whole world at a time when economies and political systems fall far short of expectations. Change is inevitable and for the most part, beyond our control. Like Mandela, Africa need to sight the wave, catch and surf as best we can! Madiba, Tata! You inspire us to be better people. If only we would live simply and aspire for the greater good, without personal agendas as our first priority. We have a library of great lessons from Nelson Mandela. We have a great future if we learn from our past. We have an even greater future, if we learn from great leaders. We thank God for Mandela’s life lessons! Fare thee well, Madiba!