Mandela, Community, and Leadership

Today the world observes the burial of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, his village. As I contemplate the passing of one of the giants of modern world history, I am thinking about reflections from my former colleague Temba Maqubela. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, he wrote:

Nelson Mandela would not have led us as he did had he not grown up in his village … That is where the seeds of leadership took root, where he came to understand the common man, and ubuntu, the importance of each one to another. For Mandela, the battle was never about him. It was always about us.

I wonder about Mandela’s teachers and mentors. What values did they impart to Madiba? How did they inspire him? Mandela shares a brief description of Qunu at the beginning of his extraordinary memoir Long Walk to Freedom, but he is more direct about his time living and learning at the royal residence of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, beginning when he was nine years old. Mandela writes of how his enthusiasm for African history began via the vivid storytelling at Mqhekezweni. He also shares specifically how the Chief conducted his court as a form of direct democracy.

As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavoured to listen to what each and every person has to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. (25)

As a boarding school educator, I naturally think of schools as villages. In our small communities, do we demonstrate care for each other? Do we illustrate thoughtful, reflective leadership? What values do we uphold for our community through our collective behavior?

Some reflections on a wintry night.