Nelson Mandela at 100
Today the nation celebrates what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. The beloved South African leader led a revolution against apartheid, spending a brutal 27 years in prison. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and a year later Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president. As the world remembers the great leader and peacemaker who fought for equality and justice, Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela, shares another side of his grandfather in his new book, Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather, Nelson Mandela. He talked to The Crisis during a stop at the Library of Congress.
The Crisis: Why did you write this book?
Ndaba Mandela: I wrote this book, of course, as one of the contributions to celebrate our granddad’s life. I wanted to particularly focus on young people, and showcase Nelson Mandela outside of him being a president, and this great icon that he was, to show him as a grandfather, so that young people can relate to him because young people do not understand the value of Nelson Mandela the way we do. I wanted them to relate to him like a grandfather. It’s much easier to relate to a grandfather than the president. I wanted youth to see him in his human form and really understand what leadership is about, and the lessons that Nelson Mandela taught me that very much relates to a universal youth audience. Hopefully that will inspire them in their own lives to seek out the leader that lies within them, and release the Nelson Mandela that’s within them.
What did your grandfather teach you about life either through his words or actions?
He taught many things, but the one thing that he taught me is that you don’t judge people by their looks. Everybody has the potential to achieve greatness regardless of their story, their age, their race, or sexuality. Everybody has the potential to achieve greatness. He taught me what’s important in order to be a leader is integrity, it’s discipline, it’s humility, … a great sense of humor, being patient, … passion for what you do regardless of what industry it is, and [to] understand the people that you serve because as a leader you are a servant. You are there to look after the rights, or the issues or the challenges of the people that cannot speak or do for themselves. Leadership is not about you. If you are not in touch and understand the people that you serve, then leave that job immediately. It’s a soup.
So what did you learn about yourself writing this book?
I learned that I am quite resilient. I learned to be even stronger and to be even more confident in what you’re trying to do and your message. I learned that I need to embrace the fact that I am a leader, and I need to now step up to the plate, grab it by the horns, and I’m no longer at the crossroads, but I have found and chosen the way forward, which is one of leadership and I need to not do this just for myself, but I need to do it for my kids and for our nation.
What would surprise people the most about Mr. Mandela?
He was a great lover of music and a great dancer. He had amazing style. He loved children so much, that’s the one thing he loved more than anything actually — children. You ask him a question, all those years in prison, “What was the one thing that you missed?” And he said all those years in prison he never heard the sound of children, and of course you know what children represent — new life, birth, new beginnings. So it was a really harsh place because without having the sound of children, it kind of takes away the hope for creating a new world. I think children for him represented a future that was brighter, better than you could ever imagine, and that is why he believed you should nurture children as much as possible. We need to spend as much time grooming young people and preparing them for the future.
What do you miss most about your grandfather?
I miss his humor. I miss his stories, his singing.
Yes. He really liked Miriam Makeba, that was his favorite musician of all time. He even showed me the dance, how they used to dance to the song called Pata Pata.
When did you understand the gravity of your grandfather’s sacrifice, spending all that time in prison? When did you understand what it actually meant?
You know I think I only really understood much later because the first time I met him he was in jail. We went to visit him literally two weeks before he came out of prison and when I saw the whole country in jubilation and celebration, and dancing, and singing in the streets, and everybody, cats and dogs were out there celebrating and dancing on the street. That is when I said, “Wow, I mean really, that’s my grandfather? These people are happy for this man, so much, like this? It must mean something.”
You write about mental chains, give me a few examples of the mental chains you are referring to?
It’s the new lifestyle that the kids have been exposed to and taking to — popping bottles in clubs, the social media addictions, wanting to be obsessed with how many followers I have, the drugs, the women. These are the mental chains. But more than anything, it’s really our attachment and our reliance on this capitalism which has spurred on so much consumerism. We’re living in a hyper-consumerist world. All we want to do is take, take, take. I have the best car, I’m popping the most bottles, I look amazing, I’ve got the freshest wear. These are the mental chains. What is really important is not how much you have, but how much you actually give back to the world. As much money as you can make, as many Ferraris as you can drive, are you going to be buried with that? Is that the kind of person you want to be known as, or do you want to be known as a person who took time to mentor young people, took time to give back to his own community, [who] was bothered by the graffiti that was on the wall and decided to clean it up. It is about your character that is more important. Did he have integrity, or was he just a man obsessed with having yachts, and traveling to Monaco every year to make sure he was in the Grand Prix and popping big bottles. What kind of person was he?
The title of your book is Going to the Mountain. What does going to the mountain mean?
Well it’s two-fold. Going to the mountain is what we describe when we in our culture go to the mountain to get circumcised. It is our rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. When you get circumcised physically, and you heal, and during that time you get to learn about your history, your heritage, your culture, and your spirituality and who you are as an individual in the bigger scheme of the world. That is a journey of going to the mountain, becoming a man, earning your manhood and understanding what manhood is all about.
On the second level, this is the challenge that all young Black people and minorities must face in the world today — they must climb a great mountain. They must climb a great mountain in order to apply to university, how will they afford it? How will they pay back that loan? How will they be viewed in society? This is the great mountain that people of color must fight in this country, when they are faced by injustice and the attacks by the police that are unwarranted. This is a mountain that we must climb, and this is a mountain we must go to but like Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill I realized when I was on top of the hill that there are many more mountains to climb.” So that is what I was referring to, is our challenges as people of color across the world.
In the book, you write that your grandfather used to say, “You’re a Mandela.” What does it mean to be a Mandela?
He said to me, “You are Mandela, therefore people will look at you as a leader.” And what is a leader? A leader is a servant. It’s not a person who is there to be boastful about what they have, and what they got, and how lucky they are and who they hang out with, that is not what it is about. It’s about how do you serve, how do you put value back into your community? How are you empowering women or children or people who are in a disadvantaged position?
— Lottie L. Joiner is editor of The Crisis Magazine.
Originally published at www.thecrisismagazine.com.