In a movie, a hero is thought of as a strong, smart and generally good looking person. In my view however, a hero is much more than that. By definition, a hero is somebody who is admired for outstanding achievement, courage and noble qualities. Therefore, a hero is a person who exemplifies courage, determination, integrity, selflessness and humility. Simply put, a hero is that person who goes out of his way to fight for the betterment of all in the society and strongly stands for the ideals he or she holds dear in his or her life even in the face of adversities. Since my early days in this world, some people have struck me as individuals who care more about others than they do about themselves but none of them outshines the world renowned African statesman Nelson Mandela. He embodies values that have endeared him to so many people across the globe myself included and for this reason, he is my hero. In this paper, therefore, I put into perspectives the life and times of Nelson Mandela with a close look at the values that have placed him in the international limelight as an iconic son of the African continent. To this end, may I first devote the following few paragraphs to take a look, albeit briefly, at the life of Nelson Mandela.
Who is Nelson Mandela? Nelson Mandela is perhaps the most popular person of the 20th century. Almost everybody in the world has at one time or another heard about this man. Nevertheless, not many people understand his background fully. He is regarded as one of the greatest political leaders of his times. He has had so many accomplishments, key among them the Nobel Peace prize which he has earned in 1993 (Mandela, 1994, p54). This honor was granted to him in recognition of his efforts in the fight against racial discrimination in South Africa which was popularly known as the Apartheid. He managed to help in the establishment of democratically elected multiracial government in 1994 with him as the first president.
He grew up in the Qunu valley which is surrounded by hills and covered by grass. He was born to a family of four kids with him as the youngest. While young, he used to look after his father’s herds of cattle and sheep and at times could assist his father to plough the field as well as run errands. At the time of his father’s death, he was just twelve. His uncle adopted him as his son. Nelson was brought up at a time when Apartheid, a very powerful form of oppression against the blacks, had gained momentum. After several years as a poor student and later a law clerk in Johannesburg, he gained entry into the African National Congress abbreviated as ANC, which was by then a civil rights group. He assisted to transform ANC to ANC Youth League in the 1950s (Meredith, 1998, p. 34). He was accused of treason in 1956 though he was later acquitted in 1961 after spending 5 years in prison. Around 1962, Mandela led paramilitary wing of the ANC named ‘Umkonto we Sizwe’ which simply meant ‘Spear of the Nation’. His involvement with the ANC angered the authorities and he was therefore put into prison first in 1962 and then in 1964 when he was handed a life imprisonment at the famous Rivonia Trials.
He served for twenty seven years in prison during which time he symbolized resistance against the white-dominance not just in South Africa but the whole world at large. Granted, his incarceration was a booster to the democratization of South Africa. Following sophisticated negotiations and the eventual lifting of a ban against ANC, Mandela was finally granted his liberty by president de Klerk in February 1990 (Mandela et al, 2003, p. 44). His release from prison marked the end of an era of racial discrimination in South Africa and the beginning of a new epoch. In 1994, Mandela became the first black South African president in the famous multiracial elections. He immediately engaged in an ambitious campaign to provide for economic and social growth for the majority of the South Africans who had hitherto borne the brunt of the Apartheid. Mandela continues to inspire millions of people across the entire African continent and beyond. To thousands of people if not millions around the world, Mandela impersonates hope and the triumph over hopelessness and selfishness and other forms of persecution and evil. Notwithstanding his current old age, he continues to be a major political figure in South Africa and more than that in the entire globe (Sampson, 1999, p. 27). His long walk to liberty exemplifies the undying spirit of overcoming hurdles even in the face of adversities. Most conspicuously, Mandela is respected for his role as a peacemaker and a voice for the downtrodden. Having looked at Mandela’s life, I wish to highlight in the following few paragraphs the various aspects of his life that reflect heroism.
First and foremost Mandela’s life, from whichever angle you look at it, embodies great commitment. Commitment by definition is an undying zeal to go for that which you believe is valuable. From his tender age Mandela was committed to fighting for the rights of the voiceless. Nothing in his life captures this better than his choice to join the ANC League to champion for the rights of his fellow countrymen. Nothing could come between him and his goal not even threats of imprisonment. Clearly this also demonstrates great sense of selflessness.
Secondly, Mandela showed courage in whatever circumstances he found himself. It is worth noting that he started fighting for the rights of the South African at a very young age, in fact, as a student. For a student to stand up against the whites it must have called for a great deal of courage. This indeed was no mean feat for a student who had come from a poor background. He couldn’t allow adversity to come between him and his quest for social and economic justice in South Africa. His courage is amplified even more by his deliberate choice to lead the paramilitary wing of the ANC in spite of the Strong government which he and his peers in the ANC were going to contend with.
One cannot talk of humility without mentioning Mandela as one of those people who are perfect replica of humility. Mandela remained the same simple man he used to be even after his meteoric rise to power. He remained and continues to be a very humble man in spite of the fact that very few if any political leaders across the entire world enjoy the same amount of fame as he has. In my view Mandela is among such globally celebrated people like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and mother Teresa, to mention but a few. In 1998, when everybody expected him to run for a second term, Mandela voluntarily opted to retire from politics and give a new crop of leaders a chance to participate in the leadership of South Africa. Considering that the world in general and Africa in particular is not short of leaders who have refused to cede power even being obviously incapacitated, this demonstrates great humility. Needless to say, he wielded power and he could have abused it if he so wished.
A lot of good things can be said about Mandela but let me highlight the poignant aspects of his life that demonstrated his unparalleled integrity. For the many years he served the public, there was not even one instance when he was implicated in acts of corruption, abuse of power or other forms of ills which have characterized the regimes of the most African leaders; irrespective of the fact that he had all the privileges that come with the trappings of power. In fact, his leadership has been and continues to be an envy of many a people across the whole world.
In conclusion, may I reiterate that I celebrate Mandela as my hero owing to the various reasons that have been highlighted in this paper. In fact, I can say that any person should consider reading Mandela’s autobiography since it contains a lot more things to learn from. All the other leaders, across the African continent and beyond should borrow a leaf from Mandela on how to better govern their countries. Indeed, each and every one of us should try to emulate Mandela and by doing so this world will be better not just for us but also for posterity.