By the time you read this, a full week will have passed since the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. He was the anti-apartheid revolutionary... a freedom fighter. A man who unequivocally stuck to his principles, liberated a nation and inspired people around the world.
In some ways, the Brand Mandela became bigger than the man himself. He once cautioned us by saying: "I'm not a saint - unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
As a South African living in Cork Ireland - it has been a surreal week - sad but also celebratory - as people reflect on the life of Tata Madiba - the father of a nation.
Changing geography gives you a different perspective of what it means to be a South African. My generation is unique. We walked a bloody road from oppression to liberation and we saw it unfold. Our upbringing was abnormal - we enjoyed great privilege while injustice & violence seethed on the periphery of the police state we called home.
A week ago the news of Madiba's passing popped up online (where we find out about things first these days). We were enjoying a quiet dinner with friends Paul O'Mahony & David Quaid at Paul's place in Glanmire, Co Cork.
Hearing the news was a sad & poignant moment that moved each of us in different ways. I'm grateful I got to share this moment with friends (and to Paul for capturing it on Audioboo).
You can hear it here: https://audioboo.fm/boos/1778868-was-nelson-mandela-a-saint
At ChangeAgents, Nelson Mandela is one of our heroes. He spent 27 heroic years (10,000 days) on Robben Island. He left prison on 11 February 1990 - putting personal bitterness aside for the greater good of a nation.
At the Rivonia 'treason' trial in 1964 Mandela's made a memorable speech where he said,
“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.”
This got me thinking that to be a true ChangeAgent you have to have principles that you stand on & are willing to die for.
Change doesn't happen if you play it safe or get sucked into the status quo.
If you express your ideals as a vision or cause - people will accept them not only with their heads but also with their hearts. This is how great leaders inspire real change.
South Africa & Ireland have strong historic ties.
They date back to the Anglo Boer War. Both countries are post colonial, post modern English speaking societies. Almost 1 million South Africans claim direct Irish descent. A passion for rugby & republicanism binds us.
Ireland played a pivotal role in the anti-apartheid struggle.
This week, I discovered that Mandela, in an oblique way, had links to Cork - the city my family now call home. Terence MacSwiney the republican Lord Mayor of Cork - arrested in 1921 on charges of sedition by another oppressive force, the British - wrote 'Principles of Freedom' while on hunger strike for 74 days.
The spirit of this book is captured in his powerful quote:
"It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will conquer."
McSwiney's manuscript was used by the African National Congress (ANC) & other anti-apartheid groups to shape the Freedom Charter - a manifesto that laid down the foundation of their vision & core principles for a democratic South Africa.
Despite being beaten, tortured & maimed the leadership relentlessly stayed true & inspired people across all races, colours & generations to bring about real change.
So what can we learn from Madiba?
How can you start a revolution in your life, in your business or in your community?
(1) Have a higher purpose beyond yourself - Mandela was always clear he wanted a democratic South Africa. He built his life and movement for change around this principle & purpose.
(2) We attract who we are - This is why our principles are important. Sometimes we get hung up on goals and ignore principles - because it's easier that way. Mandela was able to attract grass roots & global support even though he was locked away on Robben Island.
(3) Be clear about your guiding principles - The ANC spent a lot of time thinking about & formulating the Freedom Charter. It is important to write down your principles and capture them in a manifesto. Share this with your key stakeholders.
(4) Be a courageous leader - Mandela demonstrated the 3 key hallmarks of great leaders: Humility, Integrity & Generosity. He led the ANC, led Umkhonto we Sizwe
( ANC's armed wing known as MK) and led negotiations to a peaceful transition to a fully democratic, non-racist, non-sexist South Africa.
Joyce Banda, the Malawian President, who followed Mandela's leadership example said "Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and those people falling in love with you."
(5) Take a stand - be willing to stand up for what you believe in. Be clear about what's acceptable and what's not. Use guerrilla tactics if necessary.
(6) Create powerful symbols & cues - the ANC used powerful slogans like "Amandla Awethu" (Power to the People) & "Toyi-Toyi" - a protest dance with liberation songs. Their rich iconography included images of Mandela's face as a political prisoner. The ANC colours of black, green & yellow were used on flags & clothing to create a united identity that transformed into a united country.
(7) Have a common enemy - the draconian Apartheid regime used its power & apparatus to divide & separate people. As a response, people were galvanised into mass action that toppled a government. Fight the enemy and / or the competition - not yourselves.
(8) Create disruptive platforms - the ANC gained international support by arranging protests around Sports events. People like Peter Hain hit the regime were it hurt most and brought an awareness to the cruelty & destructive nature of Apartheid.
(9) Build strong networks - ask people to support you - the ANC created a broad church of coalition partners including: South African Communist Party (SACP), Irish Republican Army (IRA), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), United Democratic Front (UDF) & Church leaders including Bishops Desmond Tutu & Trevor Huddleston.
(10) Communicate aggressively - it's important to make sure that your communication is based around a single-minded Idea - repeat this often with consistency and your message will be heard, remembered & acted on.
In closing on the day of Madiba's burial, I'd like to share with you a poem that Paul wrote paying tribute to a man who has touched many lives - Nelson Mandela.
Hamba kahle tata (Go well, father)