Thursday, 5 December 2013

A saint that walked among us

There will no doubt be some of the most touching eulogies written about Nelson Mandela in the coming days. It stands to reason because like so few of our time, he lived an exemplary life and stood by his principles till the very end. He wasn't perfect but he was an example of human potential - our potential to be good, to stand by our beliefs and to put the greater good before our own personal needs and wants. 
When the news broke this evening, I was chatting with a group of friends on whatsapp and we were divided on whether we should feel sad or just grateful to have lived in the same time at this incredible man. I felt the latter emotion - gratitude for his long life - for the fact that even after spending 27 years in prison he was blessed with a long and very fulfilling life. He found happiness even after he separated from the woman, who was once considered his 'other half' in every sense of the word. He was able to achieve something that many who struggle for self-determination only dream of - to become the leader of the country whose independence he fought for so tirelessly.
It goes without saying that many of us idolise Nelson Mandela and with good reason. Good, honest people are so hard to come by. To argue that human beings are good at their core, ignores the reality of those who lead our societies  - be they politicians, businessmen, so-called philanthropists or community leaders. So few of them can be considered exemplary - truly exemplary. Even when they claim to be 'in it' for the greater good - I'm thinking of the Bono's and Bill Gates of this world, or the ones who inspire us with their words like Barack Obama or Richard Branson and even those who do or have done so much for their country's advancement like Paul Kagame or Jerry Rawlings, they are so deeply flawed that we end up feeling ambiguous about looking up to them or commending them for their achievements. That they are our only choice - our modern day heroes if you will, can leave us feeling quite short-changed.
While Mandela was no doubt a flawed human being, he was a giant among those who hold positions of power. Although I believe that many people in the world are good in every sense of the word, I find it regrettable that true altruism is hard if not impossible to find in leaders, those who have the ability to effect real change.

Madiba was one of a kind, gentle, thoughtful, selfless to a fault. He sacrificed his freedom for his country and continued to serve his people until he was physically unable to do so. He is truly and inspiration for all of us. He gave us more than we can ever expect a single person to give us so rather than mourn his death or start speculating about some man-made impending disaster that will befall his country because of his passing, we should show our gratitude for his life and for the lessons he taught us.
We should be inspired to be the best that we can be, to be good, not just as ordinary citizens but also when we are in positions that can influence society and bring about change. We must remind ourselves each day when we achieve the goals we set out to achieve, of the dreams we had as children, the lofty ambitions we held to one day make a difference. In being principled even when we do not stand to benefit personally, we will ensure that the legacy of this modern day saint lives on. Rest in peace our beautiful Madiba. May we do you proud!

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