Nelson Mandela: His Legacy to Democracy

We recently read an inspiring piece from the Kettering Foundation, an NCDD member organization, that we hope you will take a moment to read. It is a heartfelt tribute to the amazing legacy of the late Nelson Mandela, written by KF Interntional Resident and graduate student at the the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Jaco Roets. You can read it below or find the original here.

Mandela’s work in national reconciliation after his release from prison is perhaps one of the most significant examples in recent history of the power of dialogue to transform conflict. As dialogue and democracy practitioners, we are all heirs to his legacy, and we have some very big shoes to fill. This piece remind us of the importance of our work and the truly transformative impact it can have.


Nelson Mandela stepped out of prison in February 1990 faced by a country more divided than ever. Celebrations surrounded his release, but as a nation South Africa was fragmented. Years of segregation and oppression have blinded citizens to the potential of collaboration towards positive change. Clouds of uncertainty and the smoke rising from violent clashes further obscured a shared vision for the future. And in this chaos, we discover the real Mandela. Mandela became what South Africa needed at the time. He gave us the courage to be who we needed to be. He was not perfect, yet he served as a voice for those who have been marginalized. He allowed us to rediscover our shared humanity.

In 1997 Mandela stepped down as president. His vision was of a nation of active citizens, allowing us to move away from years of debilitating paternalism suffered under colonialism and apartheid. One man could not drive the ideals of democracy alone. Democracy can only thrive where all citizens have the opportunity to agree and disagree concerning the road ahead. Mandela did not want to give us answers. Instead he chose to inspire us, allowing us to believe that if we work together, there can be a better life for all.

His long walk to freedom allowed us to consider the roads that we still needed to travel. He did not offer South Africa the solution to all ailments. He encouraged us to keep talking, to keep dreaming, and to keep on searching for solutions that would benefit us all. I would like to believe that South Africans will remember him for this. I hope that the world will remember him for this. His dream will remain; a vision of a nation where all had an opportunity to contribute and collaborate. A space where citizens have a voice, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, political orientation, religion or race. The power of Mandela did not lie in his politics or in his statesmanship. The power of Mandela can be seen in the reawakening of a people, eager to imagine a future that no one ever thought possible. The power of Mandela lies in bringing a diverse, divided public together. Ultimately he allowed us all to see that we are not that different at all. A rainy day in Johannesburg saw world leaders come together to say farewell to an icon. We are all different. We are often in conflict. We are rarely in agreement. But on that day, for a few hours, we were all Mandela’s children.

Hamba kahle Tata Madiba. In your spirit, we will continue to walk the unsteady road towards democracy. May we always cherish your ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony.

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