What Can We Learn From Nelson Mandela’s Approach to Leadership?

Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential Black leaders the world has ever known. His legacy and the way he led his country to freedom after decades of oppression serve as a strong inspiration for Black South Africans and Black people worldwide.


Held back by the shackles of anti-Black racism for so long, Nelson Mandela fought through with immeasurable strength and uncanny grace. Affectionately known as Madiba, his approach to leadership was unprecedented and admirable by people from all walks of life. There’s a lot we can learn about how he led and what he did to elevate Black South Africans for generations to come.


How Did Nelson Mandela Change the World?



Nothing ever seemed impossible for Madiba.

Nelson Mandela’s drive to end apartheid remains his greatest legacy. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela made it his mission to secure voting rights for Black South Africans and end the generations of oppression against his people. His negotiations with the president at the time, Frederik Willem de Klerk, led to the end of apartheid as multi-racial elections were held in 1994, leading to Mandela and de Klerk jointly earning the Nobel Peace Prize.


Furthermore, Mandela’s African National Congress was a pillar in breaking down the hold that apartheid had on Black South Africans which prevented them from accessing quality education and jobs. This congress was responsible for ensuring people of other races stood on equal footing.


How Did South Africa Become White?


The apartheid that Nelson Mandela fought to end started in 1948 when the white supremacist National Party assumed power. The Afrikaner nationalist political party fuelled much of the segregation, introducing racist laws that empowered white South Africans from Dutch and British backgrounds.


The party’s system was rooted in centuries of colonization using Black Africans as a commodity that would transform South Africa into an industrialized society. Miners in past generations passed laws that essentially stole riches from the Black and other South African people of color that they enslaved. The National Party made the miners’ laws more draconian and enforced apartheid, which means “apartness” in the Afrikaans language.


What Is the Majority Race in South Africa?


Out of South Africa’s roughly 60 million inhabitants, 47.4 million of them are Black Africans. The next main racial group is mixed Blacks (over five million), followed by whites (over four million) and over one million people of Indian descent also live in South Africa, marking the largest contingent of that ethnic group on the continent.


Mandela’s quest to end apartheid gave much of its population the voice it deserved — a stark contrast from the South Africa that existed for the 46 years of apartheid.


What Did Nelson Mandela Fight For?


Mandela was known to fight any cause, whether for health or social justice.

Mandela was also a strong advocate for finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. He called for bold measures against the virus after it was discovered that one out of every four South Africans between the age of 15 and 45 was infected. His speech in 2000 at the International AIDS Conference was a groundbreaking moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS, marking the beginning of his firm commitment to eradicate the devastating virus. The speech became a rallying cry for South Africans in desperate need of treatment for AIDS. He later set up an AIDS initiative named after his prison number, 46664, raising money and awareness through international concerts and other initiatives.


Furthermore, his creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 led to thorough investigations of human rights violations and allowed grieving Black South Africans to freely say their piece.


What Made Nelson Mandela a Great Leader?


Nelson Mandela preached change and equality in everything that he did. One of his most prominent teachings was that one should focus on ending right rather than being right. The latter often addresses the past and takes ego into account. Meanwhile, by ending right, one is focused on what one can achieve. At no time must your principles be compromised — you must fight vociferously for what you believe in without trying to humiliate others and sacrifice your dignity.


Peace and forgiveness were at the core of everything Mandela did. He had every right to be bitter after being held captive by a prejudiced system for 27 years. He believed that anger over past crimes should not influence the enactment of future laws. Additionally, his time as a political prisoner helped him to create a better version of himself, preaching the importance of being a strong living example for Black Africans and racialized people everywhere to follow. This concept of self-awareness was what fuelled his desire for reconciliation and peace and is reflected in so much of his work. He was a ferocious leader. But his humility was what made him so revered worldwide.


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