Leadership is Key
David Welsh’s book, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, was very insightful and highlighted some aspects regarding the ending of apartheid in South Africa that I already had some interest in as a result of some movies and documentaries I have watched on the subject. The relatively peaceful transition was shocking to most everyone who was convinced it would end with far more bloodshed. In what I have learned from this ugly time in South Africa’s history, I am convinced this unexpected result can be attributed to the incredible leadership of Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk, and I appreciated the fact that Welsh seemed to agree with me. The story of their leadership and their handling of this tense conflict is inspiring to me and caused me to feel grateful for the opportunity to learn valuable leadership principles from them and others in the process of the LGP journey. I can only imagine how different the result might have been in South Africa if the leadership quality was far less. Quality leadership displayed in the heat of the moment, to me is the true test of leadership.
As I have analyzed the leadership of Nelson Mandela, I have made a few humble conclusions:
- His compassion for and value of human beings helped him immensely to maintain a loving attitude towards both sides in the process. This love for people is what made him and other leaders great.
- His strong commitment to maintaining a peaceful process went a long way. He didn’t go in with guns blazing, but he did not waver in his stance for what he believed in.
- His patience during the long process of incarceration and negotiations was exceptional. Most poor leaders fold under pressure or get impatient when things don’t go according to plan.
- His faith and trust in his fellow man were truly inspirational, and in my opinion, caused his people to believe in themselves and a brighter future. The people we lead take cues from us how to behave towards themselves and each other.
These are just a few of the leadership qualities I took away from his story, and I believe he was extremely instrumental in bringing a successful end to apartheid in South Africa.
Welsh brought life to the many people involved in the complicated process of ending apartheid in South Africa. This gave a much more human face to the story and all of the personalities involved. It would be easy to recount the story and just look at the facts at what happened, but understanding the uniqueness of each person involved gives a whole new color to the story. This ended up being an interesting feature to the book and brought to light how each person involved in the process shaped how things unfolded. Bringing the human factor to the forefront of any story is always a priority for me, which is why I love being in the business of people and having the privilege of hearing their unique stories.
The other aspect of the apartheid this book brought to light for me was the huge number of senseless deaths that came as a result of this conflict. People being killed purely because of the color of their skin hits close to home for me. Although I did not grow up in a place where people were segregated according to their race, the city in west Los Angeles that I called home had plenty of racial tension. Ironically, I felt like the minority in high school but became very comfortable having a diverse group of friends representing many different races. It seemed normal to me, mostly because it was all I knew and I wouldn’t have had very many friends if they all had to be white. One such friend was named Damien, who happened to be African-American. He lived two blocks from me and we hung out often after school and became pretty close friends. One day while sitting in class during my junior year in high school, I got the horrible news that he had been shot dead the night before in the drive thru of the Jack in the Box on the corner next to our houses. I remember being devastated, shocked and confused, and couldn’t comprehend how the nicest kid I knew could be killed in cold blood by a couple of white thugs. It ended up being another racially motivated killing that made no sense. It was then that I was reminded how our country had not really come that far from the severe racial discrimination of our past. Where one race believes they are better and shows no real value for another race. As a young high school kid, I remember being so angry at the injustice and wanted so desperately to do something to change the culture I lived in.
My mind couldn’t help going to that horrible memory when I was reading about the atrocities in South Africa that happened because of a person’s race. This is why it was so inspiring to me to hear of the leaders who rose up in South Africa to change the tide for generations to come. Even if the democracy that lives on there today needs many improvements, the leadership that brought an end to apartheid should be heralded for their work in bringing more equality to the people of South Africa. My heart was captured by their passion, and grateful the conflict ended more peacefully than anyone expected. Although I was not able to make the changes in the place where I grew up, I am inspired to make a difference in my sphere of influence today by following Jesus’ example of loving and accepting the “least of these” around me and fighting for the underdog.
8 responses to “Leadership is Key”
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Jake– thanks for this post. I think you and I were thinking along similar lines in noticing the power of leaders in the midst of these huge social challenges. I liked how you lined out your thoughts on Mandela and also how you made it personal. See you soon!
I like your take on leadership from Mandela and also Klerk. Everything does indeed rise and fall on leadership, and so did the rise and fall of apartheid rest on the leaders of that generation. I also see Mandela’s commitment as crucial, not only did he work his entire adult life to the cause, but was willing to die and be imprisoned for the cause. I also think it was leadership for Mandela to be willing to take it to the place of violence if need be, saying that that “black south africans would not lay down their arms until the country’s white government did the same.”
And, thanks for sharing your story!
I do not think I will ever forget you talking about the senseless death of your friend. Wowza! I cannot even imagine what that was like.
You are obviously a talented writer and communicator. I can also tell what a fun loving people person you are. At least those are my take. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think you are going to be a leader in our Cohort.
I used to think the following saying was just a leadership teaching cliché, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”(1) Yet, upon further reflection on Welsh’s work and your comments on Mandela, one can see how leadership is the difference that makes the difference.
You said, “Quality leadership displayed in the heat of the moment, to me is the true test of leadership.” I think you have a good theme going here. Nice job highlighting Mandela’s compassion, commitment, patience, and trust in others. I am not sure where Mandela finished with the Lord, but he was raised a Methodist. As a reconciliation-oriented leader, I can see where he adopted some servant leader qualities that served him and the people he led out of the Apartheid.(2) See you in Cape Town!
1-Dave Earley. The Small Group Leader’s Toolkit: Ten Power Tools for Personal Leadership Development. (TOUCH Publications, 2008) 1.
2-Daniel Lieberfeld. “Lincoln, Mandela, and qualities of reconciliation-oriented leadership.” Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 15, no. 1 (2009): 27.
I appreciated the theme of your post – leadership. Your highlights of Mandela’s character and leadership style are a great reminder for us as students (especially as we embark on studying Christian leadership).
I aspire to be as impactful as Martin Luther King Jr. or Mandela some day. They clearly were focused and self-sacrificial on many levels. Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Jake, thanks for your post. I also found the works of these two strong leaders very inspiring. Though I appreciate those who have tried to make changes in our own country, I guess I always feel as though they are always leaning too far on one side of the fence or the other. Their approaches are always found offensive by someone. However, there was a quote by Nelsen Mandela on page 387 that connected with me so much I had to highlight it in my book. In it he said, “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process toward democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom.” The quote continued, but the point is that he did not seem to be talking to only black people, but rather to everyone. The call to end racism and prejudice is not to be expressed to the offender, but rather to everyone, even the afflicted. There seems to be too much retaliation in the race war, and as a result, it never comes to an end. I believe Mandela recognized that. I remember watching one of his speeches when I was younger, and rather than feeling as though he was “calling me out”, instead I felt like he was giving a united call to peace. Sadly, I fear we have not learned enough from scripture and men such as these.
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