In Praise of Mandela


My Granddad's name was Nelson. He was a well-loved man who worked his way up from chipping weeds beside the railway tracks (forever getting told to 'lean on your shovel a bit more' because the guy on the other side didn't have a work ethic), to the very Grand position of Station Master. I remember him as an ancient man, a living relic like an old gnarled tree to my child eyes, rocking gently in his green and yellowed vinyl rocking chair with his twisted arthritic fingers doing his best to stroke our cats. I loved him so completely I didn't even realize it, like a fish doesn't realize water (we imagine). Because he had always been there I suppose, and his presence was loving and steady. I only realized how much I loved him really, when he died - I was seven. It was one of my 'coming of age' from child to 'big kid' moments. He left a big hole in my life for a good while.

This same awareness is now a reality for several generations on the planet Earth today regarding another old and much loved man called Nelson. For decades now, Nelson Mandela has been part of the air we breathe and the water we drink. 

He has 'been there' consciously for thirty years of my own life (I am 54). I have never met him but he has influenced my life significantly. I became aware of him as a young police officer during the Springbok Tour of New Zealand, and since then his story has found it's way to me from many, many directions. He is perhaps the most universally known man alive (as I write). On his visit to New Zealand in 1995 he touched the essence of the country with his wisdom, sense of fun, gratitude and humility. His stand for people to have the right to determine their own destiny strikes a chord deep within us. It is a note that transcends race or religion, gender or status. 

The shadow side of Mandela's life has spilled over too at times (and we all have one of those) and yet it all pales in the face of his fortitude, his leadership, his capacity for forgiveness, his openness and his general like and lovability. What else will he be remembered for I wonder...? 

I don't know him up close, but from afar I can see him as a comforting presence in the world. He has been like my granddad Nelson was for me as a child. Knowing he was there held me in a space where the world was ok. The reassurance of his very presence banished any fear of what might happen if he was ever gone. That thought is now planted in the global psyche as Mandela's health has deteriorated over the past weeks. We are getting to used to the idea he will one day be gone. 

Nelson Mandela has surely been and is, a truly global human blessing not just to his own family (who missed out on him the most in so many ways), nor to his own country, but to the entire world. He has taken being a 'global human' further than perhaps any other human ever has - never his intention I'm sure. He seems to be a man who just did what he saw needed to be done - on behalf of human decency. 

I will miss his presence in my own life going forward, and I dare to hope that we humans can learn from his example in life, and stand for human decency and our higher qualities the way he has. 

I will not forget Nelson Mandela. The vigil for this wonderful man is righteous. May he be released from the responsibilities of leadership now. He has served Humanity well. It is time to release him. The [email protected] of his life ought to be a show of great appreciation by the rest of us. He has been and is a great teacher, in life as he will surely be in death. 

Amanda Fleming


Amanda Fleming is Director of Presenter At Large Ltd, an organisation dedicated to presenting highly stimulating and effective learning events that produce lasting positive results.

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