When I heard the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, my thoughts were occupied with his legacy. One of the reasons I write is to process my thoughts. Sometimes I do it to find out what I think.

At the time of Madiba’s passing, I was reluctant to write anything because the media, and a lot of other people would be doing the same. I’m weary of trying to assess how genuine people are when they cover icons like Mandela at their passing. I don’t struggle with truth, but motives. Are the papers pushing sales and Internet shares and views?

That aside, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the legacy Nelson Mandela has left. Media spoke about him, his life and contribution incessantly. This forced me to keep thinking. Now I’m at a point where I have to write, because Mandela has left a legacy that is worth learning from. There are valuable lessons for both life in general, and leadership.

Because I do a fair amount of reflection through writing I now think aloud on the anatomy of a great legacy – lessons from Nelson Mandela:


Legacy is built on a cause. Every great leader or person that endeavours to live and leave a great legacy must be given to something. That “something” cannot be any random thing. It must be something that matters and makes the world a greater place.

Great legacies start as causes articulated and pursued passionately [Click to Tweet]

Take a leaf out of Mandela’s speech:

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die – Mandela (1963-4 Rivonia Trial)

Can anyone be more given to their cause than this?


Dovetailing from cause, there must be commitment to that cause. Nothing significant can ever be accomplished without commitment.

Commitment is about staying focused on your cause despite circumstance. Madiba not only spoke but did The Long Walk. (See what I did there?). Legacy is built with “long focus”.

Legacy building is a lifetime endeavor. It is something you do everyday. It is not a one time event. Neither is it a convenience thing. People generally suffer from the illusion that being given to something is going to be comfortable.

Great legacies are built through and in spite of discomfort and inconvenience.

Madiba also epitomised integrity. To be given to and live values. It takes a lot of strength of character.


Humilitas is just Latin root for the English word, “humility”. More than enough people have attested to Madiba’s humility.


In this interview, Mandela recounts his experiences during his imprisonment. He says there were many who were more qualified and better suited as a leader than him. He makes a point to acknowledge the competence and roles of others play(ed) despite the spotlight on him.

Great legacies are built on appreciating and acknowledging the value of others. It also means acknowledging the value they add to whatever causes we’re committed to.


Great legacies are ones we allow others to be a part of. They are built on people’s willingness to share the burden of great causes. Not because the cause, per se, is a burden. But they realise they can’t do all the heavy lifting alone.

It take the work of many to build great legacies. What makes Madiba’s legacy great is allowing people to be a part of the cause… I’ll add to be a part of the cause, where they add the greatest value.

Great legacies are not built alone or in isolation [Click to Tweet]

Building a great legacy means giving posterity a responsibility and ownership to build on what you have done. One must not shy away from charging posterity to do even greater. This is  because you realize and appreciate the constraint of time, ability and resources on you.

If you are going to build something that will make the world a greater place beyond your time you have to release and give it to others.

Some leaders, and people in general, think that if they’re responsible for starting something they must hold onto it tightly. See it to the end. You can continue to make a difference beyond your time by allowing others to not only be a part but also own whatever work you do.

Another thing commendable about Nelson Mandela is how he only served one term as president of South Africa. This might not make sense to you if you’re not from Africa, but it is a big deal. You see, he defied the bad norm by some African leaders, where they hold on to power, even to the detriment of their countries.

Great legacy is also built on great succession plans or strategies and their execution.


A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus – Martin Luther King Jr.

Nelson Mandela lived this. There is enough evidence that not everyone initially agreed with the reconciliation route Mandela took after his incarceration. He worked tirelessly to shape consensus. You can never be a great leader if you cannot, at some level, shape consensus.

This doesn’t mean making people abandon their perspectives. It does mean that you don’t overlook difference in perspectives while pursuing an outcome that serves the greater good.

(There are a few more things I had in mind, perhaps that will make for other posts, or not… will see)

Any legacy lesson from Nelson Mandela you’d like to include?

[image credit: MastaBaba]

Published by Blessing Mpofu

just a guy changing the world