Let me be honest here. I am not a fan of Mandela. No. It would be an understatement to say that I am a fan. He means way more than that to me. So much more. He is Madiba. He is the “father”.
The father that inspires me. Inspires me to be the best I can be for others. The man who showed me that one person can make a difference. A difference that is good for others and oneself.
He is the father that made us a nation. A flawed nation, but a nation nonetheless. Like any good father he loves us for who we are and who we can be. He disciplines us when we are wrong, but he loves us unconditionally. We might rebel every now and again, but we know we are his children. We know because he served us for 27 years while in jail. Never waivering in his belief that we can and should be better than what we were. And we don’t always know why he loves us and cares for us. But he does. He loves us warts and all. Like a father should.
He reminds us of our place in the world. He made us part of a larger family; and of our responsibility to others in this world. Told us to take his family motto of love to the world. To never be quiet when we see injustice done. No matter what the consequences might be. And the world loves him for this. The world that believes in love, peace and responsibility.
He is ubuntu. Believing in others more than himself. Serving others and caring for others not because he has to but because it is what makes him Madiba. Like breathing. He just does what should be done. No hidden agenda. He is because others are. He is us - the us we want to be.
To call me a fan would be an understatement. Get it?
So why do I even start comparing Obama to Mandela? I don’t know. I have been watching him and listening to him. And something in him spoke to me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think it is because he reminds me of my own father - Madiba.
And not just because they look alike. Yes they do, and it has nothing to do with them both being black. They have the same shaped head and thin long jaw. No wait, it’s the mouth and the eyes. Those mouths are the same - just look at those lines next to their mouths. It is a carbon copy of each other. It comes from easy laughs and smiles. And the eyes. Notice how they look at you when they talk to you. They look at you and you can see in their eyes that they actually believe what they say. Of course it helps that they are also build the same. Lean and tall.
Make no mistake - not everyone will like Obama. And that is a good thing. Mandela wasn’t liked by everyone. Not everyone in this world saw him as the peacemaker. They kept him in jail. How could they like him when he told them that what they did were wrong? People have ego’s and self-interest to look after. And Mandela challenged those.
Of course you can’t find those people anywhere now. They just don’t exist anymore. Denying that they ever disliked him - except behind closed doors. They are gone - just like those who hated Kennedy and MLK when they were alive. They just hated Mandela for what he stood for. Someone who asked them to be better than what they were. Asking them to change and get out of their comfort zone. And those same people will hate Obama and what he stands for -- again, asking people to change and be better than what they are. And many of those people who hated Mandela were those in power. Those who benefited from the system. And those would be the people who will hate Obama most. And those who are trying to tell people that the system benefits everyone.
Of course they are wrong. Some people benefit more than others. And some people have more power than others. And those in power will hate Obama the way that Mandela was hated by the Apartheid regime. They don’t want change because they are happy where they are - in charge and in it for their own benefit alone. You watching Washington? But great leaders don’t waver just because people don’t like them. Mandela didn’t and Obama shouldn’t. Stick to the plan. Stick to what your heart and mind tell you are the right things to do. Those who hate you today will be quiet tomorrow.
Don’t expect Obama to be perfect though. Mandela wasn’t. Mandela made some huge mistakes. Just look at his original position on HIV/AIDS. That was a big mistake. And Obama will make mistakes. Who doesn’t? Show me a leader and I will show you mistakes. But great leaders will overcome this and learn from their mistakes. It is not the mistakes that counts, it is how you respond once you realize that you are wrong. Leaders make mistakes. Great leaders learn from them and work through their mistakes.
I don’t get the “Obama is a great speaker” bit that Hillary is trying to sell people. He isn’t. He stutters and doesn't always have an easy flow. But he is great at saying the right things. That’s why they care about what he has to say. That’s why they listen. Because he doesn’t talk to them, but with them. People can sense that when he talks. He means what he says and it matters.
Mandela was much the same. He was the worst speaker you can think of. Same stuttering and lack of flow. But people listened because they knew that what he said mattered. Because he was talking with them. And they could feel that he meant what he said. They knew that they were in the presence of something great. They knew that they were in the presence of someone who will make them better than what they are. That was Mandela and that is Obama. They talk with us and about us. In the same fallible way we talk.
Great leaders lead. They are born to do this. They didn’t decide one day to become a leader. They just lead because it is their destiny. They will tell you that it will be difficult to go where they want to go, but that the end would be better. They don’t try and tell people about every policy and every detail of how they will govern. No. They paint people a picture and tell them to follow. And the most difficult part is when they have to take people to places where they don’t want to go. Outside their comfort zone.
Mandela did that a few times. When popular leaders tried the populist routes and targeted the white communities. They shouted slogans like “kill the farmer, kill the boer” and “one settler, one bullet”. And Mandela stood up and berated them in front of everyone. Asking them who is the leader? Who will lead people to a better place? That it is easy to shout slogans, because it spoke to our worst fears and thoughts. But that real leaders go forwards and take people with them - sometimes kicking and screaming. I know. I was at some of those rallies.
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