Julianna Lindsay shakes hands with Nelson Mandela

Stronger South Africans, A Stronger Nation

Hearing of Nelson Mandela’s death took me back several years to the time I spent living and working in South Africa, the unified “rainbow nation.”

Hearing of Nelson Mandela’s death took me back several years to the time I spent living and working in South Africa, the unified “rainbow nation.” This weekend, I couldn’t resist playing Hugh Masekela’s 1987 song for Mandela’s freedom, “Bring back Nelson Mandela, bring him back to Soweto,” and reminiscing about the vibrancy of life in South Africa. I had the wonderful opportunity to live and work in Pretoria from 2005-2008,while working for South Africa’s children at UNICEF.

I recall being struck by the incredible music that sustained many South Africans during the struggle years and the ease with which government officials leapt to their feet to dance during musical interludes at official ceremonies. I remembered how much I learned by reading books by Antjie Krog, Fred Khumalo, and Zakes Mda about life in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. While I understood and applauded South Africans’ impatience with the slow progress to dismantle apartheid’s legacy, I also marveled at how far the country had come in dealing with the role of race in its past – much of which is because of Mandela’s leadership.

Principles and practicality are two of the issues that stick in my mind when I think of Madiba’s legacy.  He was principled on the important issues, refusing to back down on the need to ensure that all members of society, rich and poor, educated or illiterate, are equally important citizens. For example, the children’s hospital that the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund hopes to open in 2014 specifically mentions that it aims to provide top quality medical care to the children of South Africa, “irrespective of their social and economic status.”

Madiba was also practical. One of the first things he did as President in post-apartheid South Africa was to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as a way to recognize the violence and injustices of apartheid and to bring the country together to move forward. Rather than seek retribution, Mandela understood that the country needed healing in order to transition to an open democracy. His leadership on this important issue likely saved South Africa from further violence, and helped the country to rebuild.

Women for Women International (WfWI), where I currently work, has taken a page from his playbook by recognizing that ending conflict, rebuilding communities, and spurring economic growth are challenges that require the full participation of everyone in society. We focus our services on the most socially, economically, and politically marginalized women in post-conflict countries, helping them become agents of peace, reconciliation, and change.

WfWI believes that stronger women build stronger nations, and invests in the most marginalized women in conflict-affected countries to help them, their families, and their communities recover. Through his leadership, Nelson Mandela focused on creating stronger South Africans of all colors and creeds, thereby creating a stronger nation. His inspiring legacy reminds us that even our most daring dreams – of women’s equality, stability, prosperity, and peace – are possible.

Hamba Kahle, Madiba.