The wheels of American Airlines Flight 6447, the plane I was aboard, touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday, December 7th — two days after President Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. As my pastor has since assured me, this was divine destiny: to be in that country, at that time. It was my first trip to the Motherland, and as I took my first steps on Africa’s hallowed ground, I was anxious about what I might see and experience.
To be sure, Johannesburg (“Joburg,” as South Africans affectionately call it) defies the stereotypical images perpetuated by American media. Little is “Third World” about this great city. With a population of more than 3 million, it has more people living in its city limits than the number of people living in my current home of Chicago. The district we stayed in, Sandton, is a bustling, modern mix of business offices, shopping malls and upscale hotels. It is the neighborhood where Oprah and President Obama stay when they visit Johannesburg.
President Mandela lived a couple of miles away from Sandton in an elegant suburb called Houghton. The neighborhood reminded me of driving down the best-manicured streets of Kenwood-Hyde Park in Chicago or Bel Air in Los Angeles. Huge houses are protected by large fences, walls and gates. A security guard stood on the red brick sidewalk leading to the golden-walled home that Mandela lived in until he passed. What was most striking about Mandela’s house was the dense, 6-foot wall of flowers that surrounded it (pic above). The rows of flowers had been there for months — repeatedly replenished by admirers of “Madiba” (as South Africans call him) since he had fallen gravely ill.
The people of South Africa, indeed the people of the world, love Nelson Mandela. The current of that love washed over me like a spiritual tsunami, as I stood not too many steps from his front door. And as I spent the next several days with South Africa’s people, I learned a lot about why Mandela was so beloved as a leader. Here, I share five attributes, or lessons, that made his leadership style so irresistible and effective. (more…)