Tree Shaker- Change Maker
“Once considered South Africa’s most notorious outlaw, Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to lead a peaceful revolution that ended apartheid” states Bill Keller in his New York Times article from 2008. After serving more than 10,000 days on Robin Island, a prison seven miles off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa; Mandela was free to help a “democracy struggling to be born”. After over 300 years of a white minority controlling South Africa, and years of racial divide amongst British, Afrikaners and Blacks in South Africa, the “government created a system of apartheid (apartness) to keep the black majority under control…” states Keller. Richard Stengel says in his article for Time Magazine that one person had the power to “…liberate a country from a system of violent prejudice and help unite white and black, oppressor and oppressed, in a way that had never been done before.”(43) That person is Nelson Mandela. There are several characteristics that made Nelson Mandela the leader that he was, but those in the forefront are: his knowledge, his ability to communicate well, and take risks.
As a young boy Mandela was never satisfied with his education, going from school to school in search of an educational instruction that would fit him. Mandela’s quest towards knowledge is one of the reasons that he was able to accomplish so much in his time as a leader. Keller states that while incarcerated for attempting to overthrow the existing minority government he “…had read, studied, and honed (his) tactics for dealing with white authority. Robin Island was (his) university. (He) graduated ready to change the world.” Mandela’s thirst for knowledge didn’t end after he was released from prison and became the ANC leader, he continued to learn the language and culture of his minority opponent. Stengel states that “He overthrew apartheid and created a nonracial democratic South Africa by knowing precisely when and how to transition between his roles as warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesmen. It could be said that it is Mandela’s knowledge alone that paved the way for African National Congress to be born and a free South Africa to thrive.
It could also be said that Mandela’s ability to communicate is what led to great change in Apartheid South Africa. Mandela was able to organize a new party in South Africa that would eventually rule a democratic nation. It was “under his leadership, ANC began the process of writing a new constitution which would treat everyone equally” states Carly Wheelehan in her book titled Skipping Stones. Mandela had the ability to not only communicate with his own party, but he was able to communicate with his opponents as well. Stengal states that Mandela felt that “…speaking his opponents’ language, he might understand their strengths and weakness and formulate tactics accordingly. He even brushed up on his knowledge of rugby, the Afrikaners’ beloved sport, so he would be able to compare notes on teams and players.”(45) It was though Mandela’s ability to communicate that he was able to take great risks to unite a nation by overthrowing a corrupt minority government.
The risks Mandela took to free his nation are plentiful. The most prominent risk, that is a true testament to his impeccable character, was the risk he took in turning himself in. When Mandela was first charged with the crime of conspiracy to overthrow the government he went into hiding. It was only after a short while that he realized that he could do very little to help his nation while in hiding so he turned himself in. Once the authorities had him captive he was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison Mandela took even more risks: demanding respect from the prison guards while giving respect in return. It is noted that Mandela became so close with the prison guards that he spent time with their families when he was out of prison. Once out of prison Mandela continued to take risks to create change in an oppressive nation “In a typical campaign stop, Mandela’s motorcade would arrive at a black township and roll onto a soccer field. Throngs filled the bleachers, changing ‘Nelson Man-DEL-a! Nelson Man-DEL-a!” says Keller. Mandela could have easily been ridiculed or even assassinated by the large crowds, but he was so dedicated to causing change in his nation that it was a risk he was committed to take.
Some would say that it was simply the right time for a change in Apartheid South Africa and anyone could have led that change, and others would say that only one man had all he needed to unite a divided nation and bring about a functioning democratic government. Whether anyone could have done what Mandela did or not, it is clear that Mandela possessed several characteristics that made him a great leader in causing change. It is through Mandela’s knowledge, his ability to communicate well, and take risks that South Africa was able to end the years of segregation and hate.
Keller, Bill. "TREE SHAKER: The Story of Nelson Mandela". New York Times Upfront. 05 May 2008: 12. eLibrary. Web. 06 Jan 2010.
Stengel, Richard. "Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership." Time Vol. 172, No. 3 21 Jul 2008: 43-48. SIRS Researcher. Web. 06 January 2010.
Wheelehan, Carly. "Nelson Mandela". Skipping Stones. 01 Nov 1999: 8. eLibrary. Web. 06 Jan 2010.