Madiba, Dalibhunga, Rolihlahla: Nelson Mandela’s gifts to the world
In the year the Broederbond was formed, a black boy was born in a far-flung village of Mveso in the Transkei to Inkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Henry and Nonqaphi Nosekeni Mandela.
Legend has it that indigenous communities used to get excited when they heard that one of the women in the village had become pregnant. The excitement was a result of an enquiry about the gifts that this new being would bring to the world.
For Mandela, there are three names that provide a metaphysical map of what was to be his gift to the world during his transient visit to the earth realm.
Madiba is his clan name. A clan name speaks to an ancestor from which a person has descended. Madiba is the name of an inkosi who ruled in the Transkei in the 18th century. Just like totems and family heroic poetry, clan name gives one an indication of their origins.
With a clan name like that, young Madiba started off in the earth realm accompanied by a powerful spirit. Thus, he was no stranger to regal and royal leadership. It is not a coincidence that at a young age, he was entrusted to Paramount Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo to be sharpened for his future role.
Entrusting a young person to be mentored by an elder in indigenous communities can be likened to a practice of consulting a life coach in contemporary society. According to traditional belief, an elder stands at a juncture between the past and the future, as well as between the natural and supernatural worlds. This makes him or her a custodian of spiritual wisdom.
Unfortunately, in modern society, we tend to confuse chronological age with wisdom. It is not all old people who are wise. There are those who have failed to graduate from their earlier years of conditioning and they remain trapped in myopic thinking and limited choices of the ego.
If we consider the belief that the decision of when to be born and which clan one chooses to be born into is sealed prenatally, the impact of Madiba’s leadership beyond South Africa should therefore not come as a surprise.
Little did we know on July 18 1918 that on December 10 2013, which is UN Human Rights Day, this boy would bring together heads of state in a gathering that resembled the UN General Assembly in a soccer stadium not far from Soweto to celebrate his life.
Little did we know that a man who was once a herd boy in a rural village of Transkei would create an atmosphere where enemies and allies would shake hands across race, class, ideology, and many other man-made boundaries. We certainly had no idea that it is possible for an African to challenge Coca-Cola as a brand.
Madiba provided a mirror image of what it is like to be free in an unfree world. He also provided a glimpse of what it is like to work for peace in a world that profits from manufacturing conflict.
It remains to be seen if this gallant leader will be another historical figure whose words we will quote endlessly but whose actions we will not dare emulate. Unless and until such time that we are ready to step into his shoes, our tributes to him will remain hollow, in spite of being flowery.
This is the name that was given to him at age 16 after he had undergone a process of initiation into manhood. Dalibhunga means founder of the council, or convener of the dialogue. Convening a space for dialogue for purposes of turning adversaries into allies is one of Dalibhunga’s greatest achievements.
To master the art of reconciliation, several virtues such as tolerance, forgiveness, active listening, courage, restraint, generosity and compassion are necessary. For the purposes of this article, I will only focus on tolerance.
Being tolerant is not the same as being sweet. Rather, it is about confronting contradictions, difference, imperfections, ambiguities, obsessions, fears and ignorance that exist in the world. And that includes your world. It is about giving yourself permission to be blown away not only by other people’s ignorance but by your own blindness and prejudice. What this adds up to is that you realise that you are an integral part of the collective human dysfunction.
The truth is all the ugly labels we use on others speak volumes about our sense of self. Our acts of intolerance express some degree of discrimination. A difference between you and me, based on colour, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, tribe, religion, political ideology and many other barriers allows me to treat you indifferently or badly believing that as I do so, I am protecting myself from being harmed by you. What I fail to recognise is that treating you badly is essentially what harms me most.
In the end, tolerance is about being courageous enough to leap beyond the edge of the familiar knowing very well that you will either be crowned or persecuted for your actions. When he decided to share a cup of rooibos with Mevrou Verwoerd, Dalibhunga must have known that stepping out of an imprisoned mind makes a release from Victor Verster seem like a walk in a park.
Making a choice to leap beyond the edge is about giving up the power that emanates from our wounds. Many of those who were once wounded hold on to the power of being a victim for one simple reason: to use the power of their wounds to control people or situations. Dalibhunga had no interest in investing in the wound of his imprisonment. Instead, he used compassion to heal other people’s wounds as he healed his own.
The name Rolihlahla means “pulling the branch of a tree”. It was given to him by his father. Colloquially, the name means troublemaker.
If apartheid was to be likened to a tree, which tree would it be? Let us for a moment imagine that apartheid is a wild fig tree called a Wonderboom which is found in a nature reserve in the northern parts of Pretoria.
The Wonderboom, which means wonder tree, is older than 1 000 years. Legend has it that it grew this big because a chief of an indigenous tribe lies buried beneath its roots. At one time, the tree is reported to have been big enough to provide shade for over 1 000 people. Over the years, however, the tree has got smaller.
At this point, the tree is 25 metres high. The main trunk has a diameter of 5.5m. Some of the branches have grown longer until they touched the ground only to take root as daughter trees that have now formed a circle of new trunks.
If your name is Rolihlahla and your life purpose is to pull the branch of a tree, which Wonderboom branch do you pull? What do you do with the ones that are now rooted in the ground?
Even with a towering body, an astounding mind and a compassionate heart, there are limits to what Rolihlahla could do as an individual. The white supremacy branch is one he managed to prune effectively. There is, however, a big chunk of this branch that still needs to be pulled and cut out. Rolihlahla has done his part. The rest is in our hands.
One branch that presented a serious challenge for him was economic transformation.
Even as racist laws were repealed in Parliament, apartheid capitalism failed to change, except for a few black elite who managed to harvest a few fruits that fell off from slight branch shake-ups.
In the days since Rolihlahla’s passing, analysts have written several opinion pieces that interrogate his contribution to economic transformation. In his article, Patrick Bond asks several questions: Is the crisis of the time solely the result of the current leadership, or were the seeds sown earlier? Did Mandela cement the worst features of an exploitative economic system, or did he just undo it’s correlation with racism?
Similarly, in his article Don’t blame Mandela for our failure, Ron Jacobs argues that it would be easy to blame Mandela and the ANC for accepting neoliberal policies in the wake of the first democratic elections without acknowledging the fact that there wasn’t much room to manoeuvre in the face of imperialists disguised as development financiers.
In the end, Rolihlahla did his best to pull the branch of a liberation tree within the confines of a corrupt, racist, sexist, homophobic, repressive and unequal world. To blame him for not transforming the status quo is like blaming President Jacob Zuma for polygamy.
The time for the strong leader who will, like Moses, lead us from Egypt to Canaan is over. From his humble beginnings, Madiba, Dalibhunga, Rolihlahla demonstrated to us that the great leader lies within. Upholding the memory of Nkrumah, Nyerere, Lumumba, Sankara, Sobukwe and Biko is meaningless if we fail to use the human mind to recreate our world.
On its own, politics is limited as a tool for societal transformation. Radical economic transformation is required. That too is not enough. We know from history that political and material power in the hands of egoistic, mentally ignorant and spiritually immature leaders can be catastrophic to humanity.
There is a reciprocal relationship between psychological and spiritual emancipation of a leader and the liberation of the nation that s/he leads. A truly empowered leader is one who foregrounds service to the greatest number of people as a critical component of political leadership. As President Joyce Banda of Malawi said at Mandela’s funeral in Qunu: “You have to fall in love with the people that you serve.”
Instead of eulogising Madiba, world leaders must demonstrate their commitment by bringing an end to the politics of domination and economic exploitation. Politics is not a dirty game. It is the players who choose to play dirty. The same can be said about money. Money is not the root of all evil. People’s greed is the root of evil.
Through Mandela’s example, South Africa is at a critical bifurcation point. Are we at the beginning of an end or end of a beginning? Who among us is prepared to become a channel of transformation and inspiration as we explore a kind of leadership that goes beyond the mundane? Who among us is ready to lead us on a new path of politics as unusual?
» Mmatshilo Motsei is a spiritual life coach and author of Time is upon us: From political revolution to evolutionary love and five other books