Mandela Chose Future Gratification Than Immediate Gratification


“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,”-Nelson Mandela

As the world mourns President Nelson Mandela, the words of author Gary Wills rings true of “the radical leader” in his book Certain Trumpets. Wills describes such leaders as people who vote with their life. Others follow them because they are ready to die for their cause.

In his opening statement before the Pretoria Supreme Court in April 1964, Mandela said: “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.”

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, I have fought against black domination,” Mandela told the judge. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic rule 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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” the anti-apartheid leader defiantly assured the world.

Such leaders who are prepared to die so that others could be free are rare, but we see them throughout history. The power of example is the greatest motivator there is. In the past century, no one has matched the value and the profile of an individual like Mandela. His middle name Rolihlahla which is Xhosa for “troublemaker,” ironically turns out to mean peace maker.

It was the decision of the Africa National Congress (ANC) to sponsor military action that started his long walk to history. In his interview in 1961, he categorically and unequivocally stated that “There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people,” argues Mandela. “And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences at this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.”

As the head of the armed wing of ANC, Mandela was arrested, charged, tried, and jailed for life. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems calls forth our courage and our wisdom, indeed they create our courage and our wisdom.

It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems. It is through pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.

Mandela spent 27 years in Robben Island before his release in 1990. A worldwide campaign against apartheid pressured the regime into releasing Mandela in 1990 at age 71. He was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, serving one term. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with South Africa’s president at the time, F.W. de Klerk.

Mandela’s 27 years in Prison provided the much needed tools of confronting and solving problems: delayed gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. They are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided. It took 27 years for him to mellow from an angry man, better still, a troublemaker to a peacemaker and apostle of forgiveness.

The role of the wilderness in the preparation of a leader cannot be overemphasized. Quality leaders can almost always point to a wilderness experience as part of their leadership preparation.

The Robben Island Prison served as Mandela’s wilderness where he fought spiritual battles and overcame temptations to take shortcuts, where he learned discipline and the art of depending on God, where self-sufficiency and self-promotion were broken, where he solidified his sense of mission, and where he gained his perspective.

A man with a deep sense of destiny, he refused to be released on conditions and without the release of other comrades. He had always fought for inclusion. He was released on his own terms.

He campaigned for the presidency in his now familiar manner of stressing reconciliation and forgiveness: “Never, Never, and never again shall it be that
this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” Mandela told South Africans.

His life was littered with tragedy: one of his sons died of Aids, another died in a car crash while he was still in jail, and 13-year old Zenani Mandela his great, great grand daughter was killed in car crash on her way back from a World Cup opening party in 2010. Through it all, Mandela has demonstrated that every time he was under the weight of adversity, he was being prepared to better serve God and lead people.

He chose to suffer in the now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue with immediate gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary. He came to accept the necessity of suffering and to embrace the paradoxical nature of co-existence. Mandela taught us by example that the life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.

Mandela exemplified the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. By his life, we know that among humanity, love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy. His life informs us that our personal involvement in the fight against evil in the world is one of the ways we grow, we live, and to be remembered.

To win trust, a leader must exhibit both character and competence. Mandela’s charisma, stoic optimism and reconciliation toward adversaries and oppressors endeared him to the world as the world’s most respected statesmen of the 20th century and a hero of South African democracy. He not only liberated a nation from oppression, but he forgave the men who stole his life. He seemed to be saying, “We swim, we sink, we fall, we take our fate together.”

It is not good enough to declare days mourning or have national flags fly at half mast or deliver oratorical eulogy full of flowery imagery and eloquence. As long as the continent is being ruled by the likes of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Nguema Mbasogos, Eduardo dos Santos’, Blaise Compaores, and other incompetent rulers, Africa would remain behind human race and civilization – forever!

With immense popularity, Mandela was forced to retire from retirement. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” Mandela politely and respectfully pleaded with the people. Madiba, your wish is granted now. We wished we could call you but not anymore.

Madiba, when you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. But when you died, you rejoiced and the world cried. This is the essence of life – to live for others, any lesson for African leaders!

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