First Public Speech From ...


Many have correlated storytelling expertise with leadership. Even McKinsey, home to “let the data guide your decision making,” has articulated this point.

Which brings me to the pure definition of leadership, Nelson Mandela

While the front-page stories on Nelson Mandela’s death have recounted his life’s journey, I thought it would be interesting to dust off his first speech after his release from prison in 1990.

Friends, Comrades and Fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands. On this day of my release I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every comer of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release.

Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaigns of defiance and other actions of our organisation and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy. The apartheid destruction on our sub-continent is incalculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed, our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife.

The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been. No individual leader is able to take on this enormous task on his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organisation and to allow the democratic structures to decide on the way forward. On the question of democratic practice, I feel duty bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a principle which must be upheld without any exceptions.

The people need to be consulted on who will negotiate and on the content of such negotiations. Negotiations cannot take a place above the heads or behind the backs of our people. It is our belief that the future of our country can only be determined by a body which is democratically elected on a non-racial basis.

We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts. It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured. We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

In conclusion, I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then. I quote: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have carried 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.”

Reading this speech for the first time, I’m struck by the undercurrent of optimism.

That’s the beauty of storytelling in leadership.

People can feel your optimism without you saying “I am optimistic.”

Rest in peace Nelson Mandela.

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