Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Meeting Mandela: The concept of legacy

Submitted by Zdena Mtetwa

Many of us have attended those sessions where we are asked “What inspires you?” or “Who is your role model?”

Sometimes we settle for the ones that are closer home, like “my mother”.

Of course, some, if not most of us actually mean this. Our mothers are usually wonderful people, and sometimes, let’s face it, we have to admire mom. She is usually the safest bet because for many reasons, people to actually look up to in the public arena are becoming fewer and fewer.

Other times however we give answers like, the late Princess Diana, the late Mother Theresa and yes, Nelson Mandela. At the stage when we are all naming our famous role models, what we have in common is that they are a dream to us.

We internalise their values, we read about them, we admire their work, they are an image, they are a cloud whose shape we perceive in the sky and know that we can assume that shape ourselves, but we will probably never physically touch that cloud. In our strife in becoming something better, someone meaningful, we set their values as our targets; we set their faces as the cheese that lures the mouse. But things change …

Things change when our senses are awakened. Things change when our senses come into contact with that cloud. They change when the mouse smells the cheese, touches it. They change when our role-models speak to us, because at that moment, suddenly their values are not something we read about, or see in buildings they have put up and jail cells they have conquered. All we have experienced from a distance, in souls they have freed and lives they have changed, come alive when we meet our role-models. All we have admired, all we have spoken about and praised, all of it is made complete by our senses, when we touch, talk to, listen to, and laugh with our role-models. This realisation crystallises when we finally meet the person we want to be. It is, in a way, like meeting our ideal selves, meeting our future, and how many times in one’s lifetime does one get to do this? Some of us never get that opportunity, yet some of us do … and those of us that do, owe it to those that do not, to process the meaning of it, to unfold it, and to become it.

Sitting there with Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest legendary figures of our time, the meaning of time began to unfold. Being in one’s youth, and sitting with a legend, suddenly brought to mind that time will pass, things will happen, political regimes will change, climate will change, the world will continue to globalise and before we know it, the generation that is youth today will be the elders of tomorrow. The time will come to ask oneself, where did I leave my fingerprints under the sun?

Sitting there with Nelson Mandela made is easy to realise that our fingerprints are not entirely our own. For with every hand we shake that inspires us, and leaves us a little different from how we were before we shook it, our fingerprints change. Every page that we flip through that gives us thoughts we had not previously ventured in before adds something to our fingerprints. Every wise word, every deed of gentle encouragement, every good deed that empowers us does the same. And when the time comes, because it does come, to give back, we give back on behalf of those who have added something to the basket. And whatever is in the basket is not ours to keep, but ours to give.

One day, we too, will be role-models to some, and they will learn from us, the same way that we the Mandela Rhodes Scholars were honoured to learn from Nelson Mandela, not only on the day we met him, but also through what he has imparted to us through his life.

They too will be inspired to process and become, and to give back. This is the whole concept of a legacy. It goes on, from generation to generation. Nelson Mandela said to me that it is important to advance as much as possible in education, even it if means getting two doctorates, why not? Of course, this is for the benefit of empowering other people, to be a source from which others can be empowered. To be the pillar that stands for reconciliation, leadership, education and the empowerment of others. To continue the legacy, to inherit and to let be inherited from. This is what it means to meet Nelson Mandela.

Zdena Mtetwa is a Zimbabwean student studying toward her Honours degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Zdena remains positive about love, life, and everything else and wishes everybody could start smelling change in the air, just as she does.