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In memorium | Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Admiring Nelson Mandela from afar was nothing like what I experienced being in South Africa during the last few years of Mandela’s life. My dear friend, Diann LeRoux, has told me more than once (and she heard this from another): “For some people, South Africa affects you at the cellular and so, you are forever changed.” This happened to me the first time I went there to lead Enneagram programs and has only increased each time I return. Part of it is the history, but just as much the environment (dynamic, serene, volatile, still) and even more the people. They also have more ways of grouping people by what might be thought of as race/culture/skin color than I could have ever imagined. My programs, thankfully, seem to draw people from all of these groupings. Many people who come to my Enneagram programs are alert, awake and have some connection (direct or indirect) to the Freedom Movement, and they all share two essential elements: they love their country and they love Nelson Mandela.

What enneatype was Mandela? At some level, this seems a foolish question because based on who he was and how he processed and integrated his ordeal, he seems to have moved beyond type. Such was his transformational process. From the outside looking in (as an American, perceiving what I saw of him in more recent times), I thought he might be a 9. The mediator, peacemaker able to bring all sides together. And, of course, he appeared so serene and at peace. That all changed when I went with an Enneagram colleague (a Black South-African woman) from Pretoria to a museum in Johannesburg where we saw his life story in actual photos. Looking at this collection from early to old age, I began to wonder, so I asked. She had not only followed his trajectory closely, she had also been in his presence. Her answer was simple and direct: Mandela was an 8, a fighter for social justice his entire life; a boxer and lawyer willing to take on anyone and any cause he believed in; always a strong and forceful man who would engage in confrontation in various forms and without hesitation, should he believe this was required. I believed her and the photos aligned. She also said that Winnie Mandela was a counterphobic 6, which was very interesting given Winnie’s checkered past. I recently read some interviews with his granddaughters who said even in his old age, he was formidable and demanding of them, even as (or because) he loved them.

It is my hope to pass on what I know and feel about Mandela’s legacy to my 22 year-old son; that is my commitment. To understand Mandela’s legacy (Mandiba as he was called by many, his clan-given name), I want to share the words of people I know from South Africa, to whom I wrote an email of condolence right on the day he died. Although my intention was not to use any responses in a blog, they were so compelling and, I think, express Mandela’s legacy in South Africa, from people who loved him up close and from afar.

In their own words…

“It has been a strange and surreal day here today.”

“The amazing thing about Madiba is that even in his passing he has the ability to bring us together and whilst we mourn his passing, he brings out the best of us as a nation. His legacy will live on forever in our hearts and minds.”

“We all honour the passing of a great man. He has definitely made an incredible mark on South Africa and the world. I hope that everybody will aspire to his strong conviction for equality and fairness.”

“A very mixed feeling – sad – joy – anxiety but mostly a huge determination to live the legacy.”

“Now the challenge is for us as a nation to live his legacy and do right by his ideals and to do so with the same humility.”

“It is a very sad day for us all.”

“While we as a country felt prepared for this knowing how ill our beloved Madiba has been and, of course, his 95 years of age it has left a deep poignancy in all of our hearts. The media coverage and ongoing tributes here today are quite overwhelming and are celebrating and providing a balanced view of the whole man – the essential iconic qualities and challenges he faced, fought against and embodied in his most human self. This is having a truly reflective and inspiring effect on all of us as we remember who he was, what he stood for, the Reformer and Moralist and Father of the African nation and crusader of peace and dignity and determination of the human spirit. A time of great remembrance, indeed. By remembering ourselves, his vision and returning to this higher principle I think will be his greatest memorial and legacy.”

“I am very sad and also hugely inspired, proud and grateful at the same time. Our media is filled with beautiful memoirs, and I trust and hope that he will live on in our memories and continue to be an inspiration, example and guide for all of us, in South Africa and globally.”

“South Africa is such an emotive place, I feel so blessed and privileged to be South African and to live here. It is a strange and quiet day here. It is odd because it feels like everyone did lose a father.”

“Our country is facing immense challenges post- apartheid…. democracy brought heightening hope for the improvement of the lot for the have-nots which are still to be realised. This is creating tensions within our communities which we need to face head-on day-in and day-out. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment remains a challenge. Be it as it may, we are drawing strength from the qualities of the late Madiba.”

“I’m thinking back this morning to the times I met Mandela and to the impact of the depth of his presence had on me each time. We are all blessed by his peaceful deliverance of South Africa and the legacy that creates for each of us.”

“A big loss for us and for our SA youth that need someone wise to look up at. We hope and pray for peaceful tomorrows.”

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