“I am fundamentally an optimist. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
Once in a lifetime, history affords us the benefit of glimpses of what the human spirit can achieve in the face of very difficult situations. In this lifetime, no one person has embodied this better than anti-apartheid hero and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, affectionately and respectfully called Madiba. For the many who either experienced him personally, watched and listened from a distance or read about him even after his demise, we are all exposed to one irrefutable trait about the man – his courage in adversity, strength of character and the toughness of his spirit.
An encounter with the life story of Nelson Mandela opens one up to the difficulties he had to overcome and the sacrifices he had to make in his journey to becoming a symbol of peace, freedom, optimism and social justice. His passion for social justice and equity emerged at an early age when he led a protest in his school prior to which he was suspended. This was to be the beginning of a lifetime of fighting institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation even to the point of sacrificing his comfort, freedom and safety.
Nelson Mandela’s quest for social justice and equity resulted in his incarceration for 27 years in the most inhumane circumstances. Instead of this breaking him down and deterring him, his squalor and prison life rather spurred him on because Nelson Mandela saw the fight as his life’s purpose. He expressed this forcefully in a press statement he issued while underground on June 26, 1961 when he wrote that:
“I have chosen this latter course, which is more difficult and which entails more risk and hardship than sitting in gaol. I have had to separate myself from my dear wife and children, from my mother and sisters, to live as an outlaw in my own land. I have had to close my business, to abandon my profession, and live in poverty and misery, as many of my people are doing. … I shall fight the government side by side with you, inch by inch, and mile by mile, until victory is won. What are you going to do? Will you come along with us, or are you going to cooperate with the government in its efforts to suppress the claims and aspirations of your own people? Or are you going to remain silent and neutral in a matter of life and death to my people, to our people? For my own part I have made my choice. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.”
The conviction of Nelson Mandela’s actions as expressed in his own words presents us with a portrait of a man who will not give up because of prevailing circumstances. His focus and aim are constantly fixed on the larger picture and the end game. His dedication and commitment to the emancipation of the African people and indeed all humanity is reflected in his statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the Rivonia Trial on April 20, 1964:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity both as human rights lawyer and a prisoner of conscience and conviction. He did not do this in convenience or in an enabling environment but rather in the face of very strict opposition and perilous times. His is a legacy of optimism, courage, knowledge and possibilities. It is a reminder that human beings are indeed powerful beyond the wildest imagination and we can beat anything life throws at us and triumph.
Today, a dark cloud hovers over the world as the COVID-19 pandemic leaves in its wake misery and death. But whatever the prevailing circumstances, we derive confidence from the knowledge that human beings have the power, capacity and capability to overcome this too. Nelson Mandela’s life teaches us to keep pushing and to pursue things that will change the world for the better. His life and his ideals also make it apparent that whatever we dream or imagine, IT CAN BE.
As an African brand that has evolved and continues to evolve, we have not only developed a positive attitude about Africa and the possibilities that exist on the continent but also we have an unwavering faith in the capacity of the African and indeed the human will and spirit to make anything possible. We believe that dreams matter because they are the fuel that powers the future. As we celebrate the life of one of the greatest people to have ever lived, we encourage the world and Africans especially, to look within and draw strength and belief even in these difficult times for whatever their aspirations are, it can be. Let us continue to have faith and belief in the human will and spirit.
Stanbic Bank Ghana