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Thought Thursdays
Mandela Day challenges us to do as Mandela did


For many, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela epitomised sacrifice and service. He spent his entire life being of service, as lawyer, political leader, president – and, finally, as inspirational role model right into retirement. He lived according to an unwavering set of principles. In adhering to these, he realised his ideals and set the stage for a better South Africa. 

When Mandela had completed his term of office as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, he did what some leaders fail to do and that was to hand over the baton. During his retirement he spent most of his time with his family, while still being of service, but never once intervening in the leadership of his beloved ANC and South Africa.

Nelson Mandela followed three rules throughout his life, which required great personal sacrifice: 
​1. Free yourself
​2. Free others​​
​3. Serve every day​​

In reflecting on his achievements, I ask myself how anyone can be steadfast in following these three apparently simple, but demanding rules.

​1. Free yourself: Perhaps we must reflect on our goals and our dreams – and what it is that holds us back. Are we creating our own mental prison? Have we become so battered by the world, in general, and by people telling us what to do that we’ve capitulated to our line managers, parents, families and friends. 

For me, ‘free yourself’ is about living life on my terms and following what I am passionate about. I am constantly pushing myself and not living the same year twice. For me, 2016 has definitely been different as I have done what might have seemed impossible to me, by running my first marathons, namely the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades Marathon, all within nine months of starting to run. I’m still processing the entire experience because it still seems surreal; but the medals prove that it is not a dream.

Mandela used to recite a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which epitomises what is required to free yourself: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

Mandela’s dream was to achieve a free South Africa, a South Africa free of oppression, and for that he was willing to make a personal sacrifice.

2. Free others: I think this is well captured in a quotation, so loved by Mandela, by Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (writer’s emphasis)

Living a life of inspiration and always progressing and growing allows others to see the possibility of doing what may seem impossible.

3. Serve every day: This seems like an audacious expectation, one that requires superhuman sacrifice. The reality proves otherwise. It is natural for us to be of service, be it through our talents, our work, or our everyday interaction. If you are prepared to serve in your workplace, you will exert yourself to the best of your ability, you will have a learning mindset, and you will accept criticism as a way of making progress. 

Leaders tend to forget that they are meant to be of service. They often expect people to be like machines, automated to perform certain tasks without question. Such leaders may have a goal or agenda driven by personal gratification. If we all decide to be of service, we will not only have happier workplaces, but also more productive workplaces. And if we have productive workplaces, we will have a productive economy that leads to job creation. The problem is that our egotistical need to impress results in greed and empire building.

The greatest companies currently in existence came about as a result of wanting to be of service. Such companies are Microsoft, Apple, Google, Uber, Tesla, Berkshire Hathaway, to name just a few. Responsible leaders need to be trained and empowered to bring about change. The achievement of this objective requires a philosophy around being of service.  

Beyond Mandela’s service through personal sacrifice, including action and 27 years of imprisonment, it was his nature as a human being – his ability to make people feel as if they matter – that resonates.

In my small way, I try to be of service not only at work and at home, but also by offering my expertise in the roles of trustee and director of various nonprofit organisations. I am a trustee of the Carel du Toit Trust and the Hexagon Trust, and director of the LifeMatters Foundation. These are all organisations that serve the most vulnerable in our society. 

Of course, we don’t always have to be in the trenches, but can also indirectly use our skills and financial resources to be of service. 

Start now to serve every day! It’s in your hands. Start with what you are passionate about and where you know your actions will have a lasting impact. It can be in the workplace, at home, anywhere. Just be of service.

Jerome Davies is the CFO of USB-ED. He is also a trustee of the Carel Du Toit Trust, Hexagon Trust and director of the LifeMatters Foundation.

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