I recently participated in a Leadership Training program with a diverse international group. This training was led by an older white facilitator who opened the discussion by stating that he was born in Rhodesia. After stating this and having heard me speaking in English, he gave me several quick looks as he tried to determine if my country of origin was Nigeria, Kenya or South Africa perhaps in order to gauge my response to his birthplace. For me, the fact that he was born in Rhodesia or South Africa was not instantly a major issue as I prefer to see people as individuals when possible.
Yet, it was his next comment as he began to recall his early experiences that led to his leadership development skills that were very interesting. He talked about his experiences as a young man in the military in Rhodesia where he fought against “terrorist operatives!” In a room with about 10 other colleagues and as the only person of African descent in the room it was clear that most of them had no cultural or historical context to understand what was being said. Unlike me they were not questioning the term “terrorist operatives” nor did they strive to understand how in the beginning the facilitator was born in Rhodesia and then later in the same training stated he was born in Zimbabwe. In fact, later one Arab participants admitted to not knowing this country called Rhodesia and had pondered if it was near Malaysia or Indonesia!?!
In another leadership session, the same facilitator when recalling his past experiences commented on how he fought in the Bush War. A civil war which lasted from 1964 to 1979, the Rhodesian Bush War was what ended white-minority rule in present-day Zimbabwe and the ascendancy of Robert Mugabe to power in Zimbabwe. Again, I alone filtered these comments as he later went into a discussion about using personality and other psychometric tests for hiring new staff and in response to my comments regarding the impact of culture, race and environment on these test results he quickly said it was all about genetics. The ability to pass or fail these tests was about genetics and nothing more!
This training session and the recent death of Nelson Mandela, a courageous leader, has left me with a profound sense of loss. Yet, I am also left with a sense of urgency because it is imperative to preserve his legacy intact. When the facilitator used the term, “terrorist”, I caught my breath as I knew this was one of the many charges leveled against our beloved Madiba who said,
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” Nelson Mandela
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
― Nelson Mandela
If you ask why must we preserve the legacy and tell our story? Then I will tell you the story of The Hunter and the Lion that was once shared with me. In this story,
Each night the grandfather tells his grandchild a bedtime story about a hunter and a lion. In this story, the hunter always slays the lion and always tells everyone that he was victorious. After hearing this story many times, the grandson says, “Grandfather, will the lion ever win? Will he ever be victorious against the hunter?” The grandfather responds saying, “Only when the lion tells the story will the ending ever change.”
As parents, teachers, mentors and friends we need to be lions to tell and re-tell the story of the legacy of Nelson Mandel to ensure the ending stays true to all that he is and all that he gave to his country and the world. Perhaps the hunter will define him as a “terrorist” but the lion in all of us will say he is the man who destroyed apartheid and for this we are better!
South Africa and World Mourn Nelson Mandela http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25252626
Nelson Mandela's Life In Pictures http://photos.essence.com/galleries/nelson-mandelas-life-pictures-1#237186_237196
A Giant Among Men has Passed http://www.nytimes.com/
This is an imperative and excellent expression of the truth. May the lion in each of us continue to rise and speak the truth of our experiences. Thank you for publishing and sharing this. C. Roseman
Very thought provoking. And oh so true. Very powerful about how a story can have a different ending by the story teller. We as Lions must never forget the real story of Mandella and Obama. B. Cunningham
Powerful words. I miss being in regular dialogue with you, so thanks for sharing this. I was a senior in college when Mandela was freed. I will NEVER forget watching the African students and especially the South African students singing, dancing, and chanting in celebration. An image that is as vivid today as it was in 1990. Mandela's work and life has left a lasting imprint on my life. It is our cause to make sure that his works are not lost. D. Hunte