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Perfection personified: Humility was Madiba’s natural gift

15 December 2013, 06:21

It is not a sign of weakness, neither it is an indication of a writer who has ran out of ideas, for me to also join the planet in paying tribute to the deceased former president of the ANC and the country, Nelson Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name Madiba. Rather, it is a measure, somewhat, of the enormity of the person of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Madiba was a rare individual. It is uncommon in this planet to come across someone who emulates him. Among many of his countless positive attributes, Madiba’s humility of character stands out. His humble personality has followed him to his grave. In fact, his humility has transcended mere dictionary definitions of the term.

According to, humility is the modest opinion of one's own importance or rank. Meanwhile, defines a humble person as someone who spends his life caring for others. Despite all these definitions, Madiba’s humility has never been documented anywhere else. His was a surprising form of humility.    

During October 1994, after being elected first president of the democratic South Africa, Madiba ordered that his salary and that of his aides be cut by 20% because it was too much. It is reported that, upon receiving his salary advice, Madiba was so shocked that he enquired whether the money was to be paid to him. After the staff in his office responded to the affirmative, Madiba told them to cut the pay.

As a public servant, Madiba understood that his role is different from that of an entrepreneur who is forever chasing profits. He understood that the role of being president of the Republic was firstly to serve the people, then get rewards, rather than vice versa. To many of us mere humans, a salary is never enough for us, despite the many digits it has.

Madiba’s humility was not stage-managed to fit his office. It was not the kind of humility taught to him by image consultants. It was a natural form of humility. It was the kind of humility that thrived even beyond the cameras. It was the kind of humility that existed in dark rural areas where the media is absent.

According to Mzwandile Vena, who was Madiba’s bodyguard between 1990 and 1994, the former statesman would often stop the convoy to greet schoolchildren or hawkers, despite concerns around his safety. Despite being a world-respected leader already, Madiba regarded himself as a mere human, and not a very important person (VIP).

Madiba is one of the first heroes on earth to be credited with treating all humans the same way, despite their positions or statuses in society. He would greet, hug and afford a discussion to the hawker in the street, in the same way that he would to a foreign head of state.

To many of us a hawker is a nuisance that makes our cities dirty, but to Madiba a hawker was a human being like him. He would embrace the child of a stranger in the same way he would to his own child. He was indeed a rare individual.

Mdiba never really regarded himself as an icon. In fact, he was the first to warn people from treating him like a saint. He really understood the Basotho adage that goes; “ngwana kgwale senna o ipolela hoba o motle ha o bolelwa ke batho”, figuratively meaning that one should allow others to praise him, rather than sing tunes about oneself. I really wonder if Madiba, till his grave, agreed with the concept of a VIP or VVIP (very very important person).

Madiba was not a saint; he himself accepted this while he was still alive. He was not perfect. Everybody knows. But he is one of the few individuals in the world who have come very close to perfection and goodness. These are the attributes that have made him so influential to the world. If we can successfully learn from him, ours will be a better society.

If we can emulate Madiba, the world would be a different place. If Madiba’s humility can be replicated in the whole world, we would be blessed. Madiba has taught us that goodness does not rely solely on going to church, or simply praying, but on loving and trusting your neighbour like yourself. He has taught us that the wages of service to the people cannot be defined in monetary terms alone, but also in lasting respect and honour.

Madiba has spent his entire life caring for others. He has never enjoyed his own time with family, except when he was already ageing. This service is a product of sheer humility. To sacrifice a good, relaxed life away from police vans, torture and arrests requires superior selflessness. It is not many of us who could do that. And for this we must be grateful to Madiba and many other freedom fighters. When we sing the song; “Nelson Mandela…ha hona ya tshwanang le wena”, we must sing it with pride because indeed, there is no one like Madiba!!!

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