Mandela: I want revenge but I want something more

There is a line in the movie Mandela, Long walk to freedom which struck for its honesty and insight. 

While still in prison and negotiating with his captors, at a point they say that he ‘surely wants revenge’. 

“I admit I want revenge”, he says, “but I want something more. I want to live without fear and hatred.”

Whether he actually said the words or they are a dramatisation created for the movie, the message is profound particularly when thinking about strategy. 

Mandela could have been caught in his emotions of hatred for what whites and apartheid had done to his people. He realised however that this would simply reverse roles. He said to his captors that if focused on revenge, then the end game would be him caught in the same prison that they were in.

An incredible insight. 

Like a good chess player, he had played out the scenarios and seen them clearer and further into the future than his enemy at the time.

Personally, by acknowledging his want for revenge and being able to put it aside, he was able to go after what he really desired, sustainable freedom for all South Africans.

He lifted the whole negotiation to a different level. 

“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.”
– Nelson Mandela

“I admit I want revenge












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Leadership beyond Nelson Mandela

In today’s Sunday Times, former President Thabo Mbeki called on South African’s to reflect on Madiba’s values. “Mandela’s memory would be best honoured if South Africans assessed whether the country was living up to the icon’s vision of a non-racial society”, he said.  

This is a noble thought and worth reflecting on. I think it is more useful though to think about what we could do personally. Real change always start at home.

We can do this by considering what Madiba would do in the situations we find ourselves in daily.

Finding our own inner Madiba would go a long way to providing us with a tangible and very symbolic moral compass. As with Mandela, leadership like this can go a long way.  

This would also be more in line with how Mandela saw himself, as described in his autobiography, “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

The extraordinary circumstances of today are the perception of widespread corruption in government leading all the way to the door of the president. 

With Madiba now belonging, as Barack Obama described, to the ages, is there someone living who can hold the moral authority which he has vacated?

There are plenty of people shouting from the sidelines about corruption. Most are however, safely ensconced in the ranks of the opposition parties or deep within the political setup such as COSATU. Their cries are expected and seldom with any consequence for themselves or others.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the public protector, has on the other hand many potential consequences in her quest for the truth. She has in recent weeks shown many characteristics of a true leader. She has been resolute, brave and principled. Unwavering despite the numerous attempts that have been made to discredit her and her organisation’s work. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his obituary to Madiba had mostly glowing praise for his friend and colleague. “People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others”, he said.

The only fault he could identify was Madiba’s tolerance of mediocrity which he said, “arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.”

Perhaps in Madonsela we are seeing the emergence of a new leader of significance in South Africa. Although a completely different person, she appears to be guided by her own inner Mandela.

As Mandela, she has a stubborn disregard for anything that attempts to distract her from her role of being the public protector and seeking the truth that benefits the people of South Africa. 

Is Thuli Mandonsela the new Madela





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