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Remembering Nelson Mandela: A True Youth and Development Advocate

Michael Boampong's picture
Nelson Mandela

From the 3-year-old who salutes Nelson Mandela in Soweto to the schoolchildren who grip portraits of the icon during a ceremony in India, it is evident that people across the globe feel the loss of Mandela’s passing.

As President Barack Obama noted, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.” But, perhaps, if young people and adults can draw lessons from Mandela’s legacy – one based on human rights foundations -- we can witness the rise of a new generation that follows in his footsteps.

 As we remember Mandela’s inspirational life, let’s remember that the anti-apartheid leader was once an ambitious young man who trusted his convictions without knowing that his actions would inspire others worldwide.

Here are five lessons we can draw from “Madiba”:

He believed in youth-led social structures: While living in Johannesburg, he immersed himself in anti-apartheid politics by joining the African National Congress (ANC). Dissatisfied with the ANC’s inability to mobilize youth, Mandela helped form the ANC Youth League in 1944.

He was determined: He failed to obtain a law degree from the University of Witwatersrand. But he never gave up. Mandela studied while imprisoned and graduated from the University of South Africa in 1988. With his knowledge, he offered low-cost services for individuals seeking justice.

He employed non-violence as a means of change: Like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., he practiced a “surrender-without-a-fight strategy” to promote peace and unity in his racially divided country. Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for his promotion of peaceful rehabilitation in South Africa.

He was an anti-poverty campaigner: Mandela taught us that “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice.” To honor his vision, let’s prioritize investment in quality education for all.

He was results-oriented: According to an anecdote in the PBS documentary, “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela,” after defeating the “enemy morally, internationally, politically,” he recognized his actions were not translating into results. So, he adjusted by employing a plethora of tactics  -- scolding, flattering, demanding, and cajoling, as needed. These tactics might inspire young leaders to learn about how and when to demand accountability and results from key stakeholders.

To the youth of today, Mandela once said, “I also have a wish to make: Be the script writers of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future.” He believed in the ability of young people to be catalysts for inclusive growth and development. Together, let’s continue to achieve what Madiba envisioned.

What do you admire most about Mandela, and how has he influenced you?