Nelson Mandela – A Model For Success

by Patrick Liew on July 19, 2018

Nelson Mandela – A Model For Success

On 26 December 2012, I stood in front of the prison cell that once housed Nelson Mandela, one of the heroes of our times.

It was in that “hell hole,” a term used by the inmates that he spent 20 out of 27 years of imprisonment.

It was a moving experience for me.

As I walked around the prison at Robben Island and moved from one cell to cell, I could hear cries of pain and anguish from the past.

And feel the brokenness of a man who gave up the best years of his life to fight – step by step – for the freedom of his people.

Mandela went through all kinds of humiliation, tortures and inhuman treatments.

He went through them on an almost daily basis but he kept the dream in his heart alive.

He held on to a deep-seated belief that South Africa would be liberated from the clutches of apartheid laws.

This is a set of laws that separated citizens according to race.

It caused undue injustice and unfair treatments to the black, colored and Indian people.

These laws undermined the dignity of those people and degraded their human spirits.

Mandela held on to the belief that South Africa would become a free and democratic country.

A multiracial nation where everybody could live together in harmony and enjoy equal opportunities.

I saw the cell where he slept.

There was barely enough room for him to lie flat on his sleeping mat and to move around.

He had only a thin blanket and a bucket that served as a toilet bowl in the miserable cell.

I looked at the menu which listed the meals that were offered to him.

They were hardly enough food to meet his daily nutritional needs.

To make matters worse, he was starved from time to time as a form of punishment.

I had a chance to visit the quarry mine where he had to toil under the hot sun for about nine hours every day.

There were no proper tools and shelters, except for a small cave which also doubled up as a toilet.

Many prisoners like him would live perpetually with bruises and blisters.

Some of them eventually developed medical problems, especially sicknesses related to the eyes or lungs.

I was told that initially he was only allowed to receive two letters per year, both of which had to be censored by a prison guard.

Besides that, he could only receive two visitors and those were his main forms of contact with the outside world.

Subsequently, I found out that while he was in prison, he received two letters to inform him that his mother had passed away and Thembekike, his eldest son was killed in a car accident.

I could imagine the sorrow that he had to go through, sorrow that was further deepened as he had to struggle with the pain all by himself.

Besides that dark moment, Mandela underwent many other sufferings.

He was literally living through hell while in prison.

I could go on sharing with you about the hardships that Mandela had to go through as a political prisoner and one who served the longest recorded sentence in the world.

Suffice to say, he paid a high price and sacrificed tremendously to fulfill his dream.

Against all odds, Mandela achieved a feat that was beyond normal imagination.

He eventually became the first democratically-elected black President in South Africa on 10 May 1994 – and at the age of 75 years old.

Even after stepping down in 1999, he continued to campaign for freedom, forgiveness, and justice throughout the world. He continued to enlighten communities and inspire many people.

The character and achievements of a great person such as Mandela did not happen within a short period of time.

It took a lifetime of commitment, competence-development, and compassion for the people around him.

When Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, his father, a village chief named him Rolihlahla which means “troublemaker” in Xhosa, his mother tongue.

He indeed became a troublemaker, a catalytic agitator to the people who were bent on carrying out gross injustice in his country.

That’s why I have always said, Beware of what you call yourself because it may just come to pass.

Always value and live up to your good name.

From his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, readers could tell that Mandela had great respect for his parents.

His father inculcated a sense of courage in him while his mother taught him about being compassionate and kind to others.

A potent combination of values to change the world.

Mandela attributed his success to education which he called “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

He went to a Methodist mission school at seven and I’m quite sure he was grounded on good moral values.

Later in his life, he studied and lived at Clarkbury Boarding Institute.

Subsequently, he went to Healdtown, the Wesleyan College at Fort Beaufort, one of the biggest schools for Africans in his country where he completed his high school.

At 21, he earned a place at the University of Fort Hare, a university in Eastern Cape for black students from different tribes and parts of the country.

Even though Mandela did not complete his programme in the university, he was by all count well trained.

He was educated especially at the University of Life and in one of its many campuses, such as the “Robben Prison University.”

And personally taught by many great educators, including Professor Pain, Professor Sorrow, and Professor Game-Changer.

From the wisdom of many of his sayings, one can tell that he has not only thought deeply about many issues, he has also applied many salient lessons during his long and challenging walk to freedom and thereafter.

His life reinforced my belief that without lifelong learning there can be no progress in life.

It is the ignorance of human minds that has given rise to many negative outcomes in life.

Mandela witnessed the introduction of the apartheid laws in 1948.

It did not take him long to realize that he could not and would not stand by and do nothing about it.

They say that in life, some of the things that cause you the most regrets may not be the things that you did but the things that you did not do.

In particular, one of the worst shames in life is to stand aside and watch evil cast its shadow on society.

Fortunately for South Africa, there were great people such as Mandela who would not resign themselves to the winds of negative change.

They rose to the occasion, fought, and turned the tides against them.

In 1944, together with other young black people, Mandela started the Youth League of the African National Congress.

The purpose was to mobilize young people to protest peacefully against the apartheid regime and establish democracy for all South Africans.

Mandela worked with many groups and individuals, including white South Africans, Indians and other colored people in 1955 to form the Congress Alliance.

It was a movement to build a new South Africa that would belong to all South Africans.

The ruling oppressors could not help but thirst literally for Mandela’s blood.

They would conspire and scheme to put him out of action and to stop him from liberalizing the country.

Thrice, the government of that day tried to charge him in the courts of law.

In the first case, the trial went on for four years, and at the end of which the courts ruled that he was not guilty of the preposterous charge that he was planning to destroy the government.

In 1962, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for provoking workers to go on a strike and leaving the country illegally.

In the last trial in 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was not allowed to see his family and friends for the next 27 years.

Mandela continued his fight both in prison and outside until the apartheid laws were finally rescinded.

Today, South Africa can proudly raise its flag as a democratic and multiracial society because of freedom fighters like him.

One of Nelson Mandela’s many legacies to the world was that what seems to be impossible can become possible.

He said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

He had an unshakeable determination that made it possible for him to change the world upside down or right side up.

One of his oft-quoted sayings was, “I am fundamentally an optimist.

Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.

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.”

For too many people who gave up easily when faced with challenges, this was his advice to them, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

All that they needed was courage.

He said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

More than anything else, Mandela was a true servant-leader.

He lived not just for himself but also for the good of others.

The following quote from him resonates in my heart, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

One of my favorite quotes from Mandela is, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Without question, Mandela was and still is inspiration personified. His life can be a constant encouragement to anybody on the long walk to success.

At Robben Island, there stands an 18 meters-high lighthouse.

Commissioned in 1865, it was the only lighthouse in South Africa that flashes and not rotate with an open flame.

It was used as a vital navigational aid for many maritime pilots out in the sea.

Nelson Mandela’s life, wisdom, and action are like that lighthouse.

They have helped many people chart a safe and effective journey to their desired destinations in life.

Model after him. Leave a life-changing legacy to brighten up the world and especially the darkest spots around you.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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