How to Awaken Your Inner Mandela

Real Leaders, October 4, 2018

Anne Pratt is both fascinated and excited about the mysterious ingredients that make up a great leader. It began as a young child aged seven when her mother spent time with her at the Kwa-Zulu Natal Nqutu mission hospital run by two mission doctors near Durban, South Africa and culminated in a meeting with Nelson Mandela.

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A 2020 perspective on this article:

“Early childhood shapes us. It can create a memorable moment, a ‘crucible’ – a defining moment in time that profoundly impacts what we care about in the world. This ‘crucible’ leads us to our purpose, the meaning of our life, and our opportunity for impact and change.”
 Anne Pratt 

Growing up in a home with difficult conversations and deeply cares about the social issues of inequalities and injustices. It embeds a social conscience to serve and ‘make a difference’ to create a better life. Spending joyful time in a cross-cultural mission hospital, with limited resources, collaborative team members, a clear purpose, and leadership excellence made high performance and harmony within the hospital and the broader community. It was a defining moment. It is no coincidence that my crucible experience led me into a leadership excellence business, Memela Pratt & Associates.  

My childhood experience in a rural mission hospital, Nqutu, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, created what founder and executive director of the legal organization Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, calls the ‘power of proximity.’ I spent time in a humble, high-performance hospital, and the fantastic community that celebrated the collective spirit. Bryan, the author of “Just Mercy,” has been described as “America’s Nelson Mandela” by Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Listening to Bryan and meeting him at Harvard in 2019 was inspiring and emotional. It was an ‘aha’ moment. The power of his work and a new narrative evoked sadness, coupled with a sense of hope, inclusiveness, and leadership excellence. So relevant in America today – a country that has turned up the heat and erupted in turmoil and turbulence.   

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done….” – Bryan Stevenson 

What became apparent was how Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s childhood shaped him. Born in the rural area of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape in South Africa in 1918, we associate Mandela with an inspiring journey and a remarkable life. From rustic country boy to security guard, to city lawyer, to liberation leader, political prisoner, president, and ultimately a tireless humanitarian and philanthropist. His fortified moral courage was revered the world over. 


Mandela’s lifelong struggle to create a free and just system gained global attention and international support during the “trial that changed South Africa,” the 1963-1964 Rivonia trial. Interestingly, a Sunday Times article in 2016 revealed how the CIA played a role in Mandela’s arrest in 1962. Instead of testifying, Mandela chose to make a speech from the dock. He held the Pretoria High court spellbound for more than four hours. At the beginning of the defense case, he challenged the South African legal system’s legitimacy in his speech. Was the system a fraud? Mandela’s speech was designed to send a message to the world and garnish international support, ended with the words.  

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.” – Nelson Mandela  

Mandela and his fellow accused, expecting the death sentence, were miraculously given life imprisonment and sent to Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. As a prisoner, he assertively launched a Supreme Court Appeal in 1980 against his correctional officers for non-delivery letters to Winnie Mandela. With a stubborn rebelliousness, a moral decision was learned from his father, informed by his early mentors, and affirmed by the elders in his rural Eastern Cape tribe and community. 


Mandela’s love of children is reflected in his work and launch in 1995 of the Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund, and shared his vision of hope for Africa’s most vulnerable children. The launch speech began with the words: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children.” Life in prison without his children and the playful innocence of children made prison life more painful. In a letter from jail in 1981, he wrote: “Few things make the life of a parent more rewarding and sweet as successful children.” He was a champion of children’s rights worldwide. 


A crucial part of his vision was the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, which with the help of many diverse friends and allies internationally, constructed and opened the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH)., a significant health care service facility including a new oncology unit for Africa’s children. The Canadian government donated R 25 million. Islamic Relief worldwide contributed more than $ 7.7 million. Mandela’s childhood inculcated core cultural and human values of human kindness, connection, and harmonious relationships. Relationships with friends across the world, who long after his passing, made substantial contributions to open the doors of his Children’s Hospital for Africa’s children – a dream come true.   

“I believe our children are our future. We need to nurture, educate, and mentor them with firmness and kindness, knowing we are investing in and shaping tomorrow’s leaders” – Anne Pratt 

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