The passing of Nelson Mandela has inspired amazing eulogies from writers across the globe. Writers have talked about all of the facets of Mandela’s life and what his legacy will be for South Africa and the world. Looking back at what Mandela achieved, and the way he did it, I think it is clear that we will not see anyone like him again in our lifetimes.
My first reason that we will not set the likes of Mandela again is that Mandela was a leader that was handed the throne, took the mantle and handed it back.
Many leaders have led critical revolutions over powerful regimes. Countless leaders have been a near unanimous pick to lead a new country’s young government. But only a handful of those leaders have had the integrity to be able to hand the baton to the next person and do it in a way that keeps the peace.
The standard story of a rebellion usually includes a leader who replaces a despot and then only leaves when they are forcibly removed. The temptation to overstay a welcome is usually stronger for the very first leader after a major change because the people are usually happy to keep them around for as long as they will stay.
George Washington ran into the same situation in 1789. The framers of the United States government were ready to name him king. Not only did Washington insist on a different title, but he also insisted on leaving once his duty was done. Clearly, it’s easy to see that this is a rare feat for a leader.
My second reason is that Mandela overcame an evil that was overdue to be overthrown.
Humankind has witnessed all sorts of evil perpetrated throughout time. Regardless of where and when the evil exists, it can only be defeated with the exact right combination of circumstances, personalities and courage. When that combination is not struck exactly right, the evil continues.
The apartheid based regime that ruled South Africa during Mandela’s life should have seen its end long before 1994. But, opposition revolts and international sanctions were not enough to push it to an end. All of the eventual pressure both internally and externally needed Mandela’s personality and leadership as just the right time. But, Mandela also needed the efforts that were happening around him to finally make the change. Many great leaders have failed to realize change because they lacked the right allies and circumstances to make it happen. Mandela brought the exact right kind of leadership to the exact right time to pull off the end to apartheid.
Finally, my third reason that we will not see someone like Nelson Mandela again in our lifetime is because he was one of the rare revolutionary leaders to live to see the fruits of his labors.
The leaders who hold the kind of place in our society that Nelson Mandela does predominantly died well before they could witness their work come to fruition. Whether it’s John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., seeing the Promised Land was simply not in the cards. Leading a revolution is usually rewarded by martyrdom, not retirement. That designation is not just for American leaders, it’s an international trait that makes the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela even more amazing.
As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, it is important to note the legacy he leaves behind. But I think we can have a greater appreciation for what he accomplished when we come to the realization that we will not see someone like him again. To combine leadership, integrity, and courage with the exact right combination of circumstances and allies and then to live to enjoy the fruits of your labor is simply not something that comes around very often.
The world may see Haley’s comet a few more times before we see someone like Nelson Mandela again.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.