The entire world is now sending condolences on the occasion of the first black South African president Nelson Mandela’s death, honoring the man who managed to bring an end to apartheid in his country. The Day asked South African political analyst and futurologist Daniel Silke for a comment on Madiba’s (as the late leader was called in South Africa) significance for South Africa and the world.
“For South Africans, now is a very emotional moment as they need to come to terms with the fact that he is no more. However, Mandela was out of public life for many years. He served just a short five-year term as the nation’s leader, its president. Thus, he had no direct impact on policy making in South Africa in recent years. Of course, South Africans will mourn over the next few months, but many challenges facing the country – economic, domestic, political (in the ruling African National Congress), the problems related to effective leadership in South Africa – all of these will, of course, remain. I think that Mandela’s legacy will be revised after his death. South Africa faces serious challenges every day that must be addressed. Globally, I think that the world has lost an icon, a leading figure of the past century, perhaps its most well-known and admired political personality. The loss of Mandela will be noticeable worldwide, too. World leaders must have a look at Mandela’s legacy and accurately learn the lessons of his leadership if they are to succeed in the future.”
What is the Mandela phenomenon?
“The Mandela phenomenon needs to be looked at in the context of the period in which he came to power or when he was released from prison. This phenomenon came from the era in which he worked, the time when South Africa was an exception, a country with a society deeply divided along political and racial lines.
“The Mandela phenomenon arose from his ability to reconcile opposing forces in South Africa. He was able to not only attract his followers, but be a sole leader for them on the road to the new South Africa. But most importantly, he was able to come to terms with his former oppressors among the white minority and defeat those considered his traditional political opponents, and he did it with sincerity and great humility. I think that his very ability to go beyond the limitations and narrow ideology of his party to unite all South Africans may be considered another part of the Mandela phenomenon.”
What impact Mandela made on South Africa and the world?
“I believe that his message of reconciliation in the global world was what South Africa needed if it was not to slip into the disastrous abyss of racial cataclysm. Reconciliation declared by Mandela stimulated the emergence of the South African story in the pages of the world media and the ability of South Africa to overcome even the worst things coming from abroad. It put Mandela on the world stage. It was not easy to refrain from retaliation for a man who was kept in a high-security jail for most of his adult life. But Mandela had no time for it, he was concerned with how to bring people together and to move South Africa forward. I think this message clearly resonates with the wider world and has given Mandela an iconic status of the reconciliation movement leader who sought every opportunity to reconcile with his former wrongdoers.
“I think he left a legacy of forgiveness and understanding of the importance of finding a compromise between various social forces. It was an important aspect of Mandela’s leadership. He led by his empathy for various forces in South Africa. At the same time, I believe that Mandela was a strong world leader who knew how to win power and how to build power structures. He refrained from dogmatic or arrogant approaches when doing it. Thus, an important part of his legacy of leadership is the call to care about issues of reconciliation more than ideology.”
What lessons can current political leaders learn from Mandela?
“Current leaders can use his approach of reconciliation and involvement in government, be less rigid in their views and political doctrines or ideologies. In other words, the real care for the lives of their fellow citizens must be the paramount concern, far above playing according to a particular ideology or political philosophy’s rules. I think this was Mandela’s message, as his calls for reconciliation often resonated with the position of his party. He was willing to compromise on the ideology of the party to preserve the national integrity. I think this is his main lesson for politicians all over the world.”