The Peaceful REframer: Nelson Mandela, from a prisoner to a world leader

Essentials about Nelson Mandela:

  • south African anti-apartheid revolutionary
  • first black President of South Africa (1994-1999) elected in a fully representative democratic election
  • descendent of a tribal chief, raised for leadership, taught to respect and own responsibility, allowed to sit in the council meetings.
  • studied law (the only black African student, facing brutal racism in 1941)
  • commited with ANC to overthrow the white-only government that established apartheid (racial segregation that privileged whites).
  • advocating direct actions, such as boycotts and strikes, designed to follow the path of nonviolent resistance influenced by Mahatma Gandhi
  • influence on large audiences(10.000+)
  • arrested and briefly interned in Marshall Square prison
  • in 1953 opened a law firm, the only one in the country, dealing with cases of police brutality
  • arrested again in 1956 alongside accused of “high treason” against the state.  
  • burned his passport in solidarity with the 69 protesters who died in the Sharpeville massacre (including women and children). 
  • co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”, abbreviated MK) Inspired by Fidel Castro, bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines, and transport links at night, when civilians were not present (not involving killing)
  • sentenced to five years imprisonment as he left the courtroom, supporters sang “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika“(Lord bless Africa).
  • refused to defend himself because this could legitimize states case
  • used the trial to highlight his political cause; at the opening of the defence’s proceedings, Mandela gave his three-hour “I Am Prepared to DieLISTEN to original audio recording of this speech
  • 1964, Mandela and two of his co-accused were found guilty and condemned to life imprisonment on Robben Island.
  • At 71 years old he is named as head of ANC
  • Nobel Peace Price in 1993 for his work for a peaceful termination of apartheid
  • elected as a president at 75 years old
  • 1999 – stepped back from presidency, continue to work with human rights organizations

The Context:

“You are not in Johannesburg anymore, you are not in Pretoria. You are on the island. You will never leave it again. You will never touch a woman or a child again. You will die here. If you have any complaints, well that is just too bad. Nobody on the island gives a shit! Nobody in the rest of universe will ever know. It’s a pity they didn’t hang you. I am going make sure you wish they had”  – The Robben Island Prison Commander

HOW Nelson chooses to REframe after receiving such a “sweet” welcome:

First thing when he sees his small cell shouts “Amandla!” which means POWER! Self-encouraging mantra for him and for all the rest who could hear him.

He is keeping his physical condition, training, work-out

Self-aware about his new position, adapting to it with a wise strategy & patience

Remembers beautiful moments of his family that fills his heart with positive feelings

Imagines what his wife would have written in the censored letter he received from her

Amandla! Making the Power gesture to empower his friends and other prisoners. He is keeping his inner strength.

Keeps his dignity even in bad conditions

“What rights do they have to insult us?” – Mandela talking with the prison commander about guards “nice” treatment

Having perseverance in what he wants to achieve (even there are small things and he knows they will take time)

The following 3 images are the steps from sharing his idea to ask for long trousers with the other prisoners, to ask directly to Commander and finally gets it.

Strategy on long term. Winning the power step by step

“We start with something small”

Never stops writing letters to his beloved family to keep himself emotionally connected, to fell that he belongs to something more positive than the four prison walls.

Understands that he has to make this sacrifice for his beliefs on the way to achieve his goal (end of apartheid and freedom for black people)

Suffers in silence when he receives the telegram telling him that Thembi, his son died in a motor accident.

Focused on gardening that could cultivate his wisdom, calming his mind & spirit, detaching from outside world.

REinforces himself to lead from prison

“Together we are strong”

Changes his perspective and strategy on HOW to win the “fight”against white domination (“This is how it begins”)

REframes his point of view into a peacefully and reconciliation based leadership (“My freedom and your freedom cannot be separated”)

Self-confident when he needs to take action even in the presence of his guards (“I have to speak politics. The president is waiting for my answer”)

Dreams for freedom, refusing terror that is lived by white men who are leading South Africa (“I’ve seen what fear made to your people”).

Educating his family to treat white people with respect. (“So you are doing that because of the color of their skin?”)

He is the change he wants to see in the world (truly following Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy). “This is what they do to us. We must do better”

Keeps his dignity even after he is released.”I don’t want you to be there in that moment”

He brings back the power to black people (The Power gesture encouraging people to believe in achieving their goal)

How his REframe and different approach to the harsh prison environment impacts the world (from guards to entire countries):

The Prison commander recognizes Mandela’s strength & value behind his ironical words

Guards become more human by allowing a friend to visit him to ease his pain after find out that one of his family members just died.

People across Africa and abroad are asking for Mandela to be released organizing massive street manifestations.

He is moved to another prison after 18 years

He receives a proposal to be released under certain conditions

Allowed to touch his wife

Moved to a private villa (another kind of prison)

Released without conditions

Leading with no violence and reconciliation (“I have forgiven them”)

Leading by personal example

Voted as a president and respected by white and black people

N.Mandela about himself and his role (beyond the movie, from public interviews):

“My power of persuasion is sufficient. I have win the power as a prisoner without occupying any position”

“I greet you all in the name of peace and freedom for all”

“I stay here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of You, the people.”

“It was my responsibility as the man who is leading the majority of party to heal the wounds of the past”

“I am alive because people gave me love and support”

Others about Nelson Mandela:

“The legacy he left for the future generations is a legacy of hope, kindness and equality….Got imprisoned, got tortured, but when he came back, he didn’t’ came a bitter man… When you have a bitterness you fail to lead (Jackson Mthembu – African National Congress)

“He is a big example for his fight for freedom, courage but for his spirit of reconciliation and peace” (Manuel Barroso – President of EU)

“He was a good man who changed the world and the way we see it” (Joe Biden – Vice President of the USA)

“He had two languages – a deep historical language based on his own tribal background and a language of the law. He brought that together in a language of human right” – (Yvette Christianse – Prof Fordham University)

This article is based on the following online resources:

Long Walk to Freedom Movie:


Documentary movies:

Special thanks: To my brother who recommended me this movie few years ago

If this article gave you a new perspectives or inspired in a way please share it with your friends, partners, etc. I will be grateful to you!

If you want to explore more articles about other creative leaders I wrote about you can find a short list here (only in Romanian for now)

If you want to explore HOW we REframe, change perspectives and find solutions I invite you explore our concept, people’s testimonials and Private /Business options you might be interested in.

I wish you a peaceful day!

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