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Ambassador lectures on Mandela’s leadership

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014

South African Ambassador to the United States and anti-apartheid leader Ebrahim Rasool presented the 20th annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy on Tuesday, in which he detailed Nelson Mandela’s legacy on South African and global state building and peacemaking.

The lecture, titled “Relic of the Past or Template for the Future: Nelson Mandela’s Impact on Peacemaking and Statecraft in the 21st Century,” featured both Rasool’s personal reflections on his friend and colleague Nelson Mandela and a broader explanation of his significance to peace movements around the world.

Rasool said Mandela captivated the world with his strong yet peaceful leadership, an attribute rarely seen in the world today.

“[Mandela] captured the global imagination for his unyielding sacrifice, indomitable spirit, consistent dignity and remarkable generosity,” he said. “Most of all, the world saw in him leadership that was principled yet pragmatic, firm yet flexible, decisive yet popular.”

It would be easy to forget the impassioned and strenuous service Mandela performed, Rasool said, but those who wish to continue building peace and progress will look to Mandela and his legacy as a model.

“The people who yearn for something better are the ones who see Nelson Mandela as a template for the future,” Rasool said. “They look at his words, spoken when facing a death sentence when having no prospect of emerging from prison, when leading a risky negotiating process, when assuming the presidency of a fundamentally flawed country, when launching a constitution that directed a nation to its highest ideals which it had not yet discovered … From his words, they extract a template for peacemaking and statecraft for this very troubled world in the 21st century.”

Rasool said Mandela’s legacy can serve as a basis for future movements because of the way in which he learned to develop peaceful and dignified relations.

“What makes Nelson Mandela a template for the future is precisely that his leadership is … hard-won,” he said. “In his self-deprecating ways, he tells stories of learning to overcome prejudice, controlling his anger, disciplining his soul and embracing the counter-instinctive. Certainly what he teaches us is that courage is learned.”

The simple dictum of “firmness of principle and flexibility of tactics,” which Rasool said Mandela lived by, allowed the South African people to recognize the system in which they lived caused the evil they experienced.

“It’s because we recognized our enemy as a system that we could then embrace white people even as integral in the anti-apartheid struggle,” Rasool said. “There was no predisposition against the capacity of white people to be good and the possibility of black people to betray a vision of freedom.

“The struggle against apartheid was therefore both a struggle against an evil system as well as a struggle for the redemption of people.”

Rasool said people today must not lose sight of the struggle Mandela led or grow complacent because of the progress he made. It is up to present and future generations, he said, to carry on Mandela’s legacy.

“We must fear so much today the lynchings of the south or the bullets of Sharpeville, but we must fear the deadening of our consciousness and its intended complacency that tells us that our struggle is over and a post-racial dawn has arrived because Nelson Mandela once strode the Union Buildings and Barack Obama occupies the White House,” he said.

“The long walk to freedom is not over. In words of Nelson Mandela, more hills are waiting to be climbed. He is not here to light the path with his courage, but we are here. We must continue the long walk until we have won a world that is more equal, where women are respected, where the stranger is not ‘otherized’ and where our young can dream again.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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