Nelson Mandela A Great Leader History Essay

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The leader is a man who comes closest to realizing the norms of a group that values the highest; this conformity gives him his high rank, which attracts people and implies the right to assume control of the group. (Homans, 1950).

The underlying need-structure of the individual is what motivates his behavior in various leadership situations. Leadership style thus refers to the consistency of goals or needs at different situations. (Fiedler, 1967).

One of the great leaders who had the above qualities fulfilled in him is the former South African president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. His leadership traits, behavior and the situations that prove him a good leader have been portrayed below.


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela commonly known as Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 to a tribal chief of Tembu – Henry Mandela. In 1944 he was married to Evelyn Ntoko Mase (a nurse) for 12 years and divorced her. After 2 years in 1958 he married Nomzamo Winnie Madikileza who was a political activist and social worker, and divorced her too. He again married Graca Machel (lawyer), 1998. From his first marriage he was blessed with three children, his two sons Thembi (deceased) and Makgatho, and a daughter Makaziwe. And from his second marriage he was blessed with two daughters Zenani and Zindziswa.

His first Bachelor degree was from the University Of South Africa (UNISA) through correspondence in 1941 and later in 1942 he pursued his law degree at the University of Witwatersrand. By 1948 he failed his LLB (law degree) examination; and decided to practice as an attorney.


During 1940s and 1950s he rose rapidly through the ANC hierarchy, was frequently subject to detention, police harassments, and banning.

ANC was outlawed in 1960, that’s when he went underground and a military wing was formed, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). In 1962 Mandela was sentenced for five years of imprisonment for travel without valid travel documents whilst leaving South Africa and inciting Africans to strike. Two years later during his detension in 1964, was charged with treason and sentenced him to life imprisonment for giving a four-and-a-half hours of speech criticizing apartheid which is memorable.

Living in a prison had the same meaning as living in the worst place in South Africa: Robben Island. ANC prisoners earned “D” classifications, prisoners who were the most dangerous and had the least rights. They were kept in cells with hay carpets and thin blankets as beds and iron buckets for toilets. The daily menu was a small portion of corn soup with extra vegetable or meat chop for dinner. The prisoners were given thin shirts from khaki and a pair shorts to wear, even during the winter, and were restricted from reading newspapers or magazines. The prisoners spent most of their time in a chalk mine, where they were made to work very hard.

Being the leader of the group, Nelson received more harsh treatment than the others. He was kept 23 hours in his cell every day, merely lit by a lamp. Because of which he was unable to sleep or know what the time was. He was only allowed to have one visitor once in six months and he was once not allowed to see his wife (Winnie) for two years. He was allowed to write and receive one letter every six months. The letters he received was screened by the guard, who would cut and remove the parts that were considered unsafe or effectively erasing.

Mandela spent twenty-seven consecutive years of his life in detention. For 18 years (1964 – 1982) he was held on Robben Island, in 1982 he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town, and in 1988 he was again moved to Victor Verster Prison, in Paarl, till 1990.

From 1985 on he rejected several offers of “conditional” release which would have imposed limitations on his political activities. His imprisonment improved his political status which resulted in worldwide campaign to release him.

During these 27 years that Mandela spent in prison, he was hidden from the world while he quarried limestone and harvested sea-weed; his quiet suffering example was one of the pressures for the government.

Mandela’s Public discussion was considered illegal, but as the years passed by, he assumed the mantle of a martyr. He was moved in 1982 to a maximum security prison in Pollsmoor, outside Cape Town. This movement was apparently due to the fear, that he was influencing other prisoners at Robben Island, by the South African authorities.

Six years of Mandela life was spent in a solitary confinement, during this period he was allowed a weekly 30-minute visit by his wife. He was later in 1984 was offered a conditional freedom, with a condition that he should settle in a black “homeland” that is officially designated in Transkei, Mandela refused the offer affirming his allegiance to the African National Congress. Mandela was hospitalized in 1988 for tuberculosis. After he recovered he was returned to prison with lesser stringent circumstances. 1990, he was released unconditionally to a joyous scenes of celebration at home and abroad.


A revisionist interpretive approach enables us to understand Mandela’s greatness and his achievement – the deliberate assembly of a messianic personality that originates in a movement awareness of organizational short comes and willingness to compensate them by directing its own ideas through a charismatic individual. This is indeed part of Mandela’s story, for the ANC certainly began to intentionally contrive a public legend around. Mandela’s leadership in “defiance campaign” prior to his imprisonment, in 1952, was when collective decisions and activities attributed to his personal genius. Mandela himself took pains to ensure the media images matched the messages his comrades and he wished to project.

Mandela’s political experiences came when he was enrolled to the University College (Fort Hare), he worked forward to obtain a Bachelor of degree in Fine Arts. During his course, he got elected as the Student’s Representative Council of the student political organization. Soon he was expelled, for participating in a protest in the campus (ANC archive). Because of this, he left to Johannesburg where he finally obtained his degree in BA. After that in 1942, he joined the African National Congress , during World War II. Nelson Mandela formed a group with other members of the ANC under the leadership of a colleague, Anton Lembede. The main focus of the group was to change the African National Congress into a mass movement.

Mandela played a major role in many political endeavors, many anti-apartheid movements such as the Program of Action, a policy based initiative that was founded on the principles of non-violent “civil disobedience, boycott, strike, and non-co-operation”.

In 1962, Mandela was nominated as the leader of the armed resistance group that was formed the same year known as the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Mandela explained his reasoning, he assessed the situation of South African, along with some of his colleagues, he came to a conclusion that: as long violence was inevitable in his country; it was considered unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to preach on peace and non-violence when the government met their peaceful demands by force. In 1991 eventually he was elected as the President of the ANC. Later he was elected democratic manner as the President of the State of South Africa in 1994.


“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

“Communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of Communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements.”


Basic Books, 1965, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”.

Pathfinder Press, 1986, “The Struggle Is My Life”.

Long Walk to Freedom (Autobiography of Nelson Mandela).


In 1980 Jawaharlal Nehru Award from the government of India for International Understanding; in 1981, Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights from the government of Austria. In 1983, he named as an honorary citizen of Rome; Simon Bolivar International Prize from UNESCO, in 1983. And in 1986 he was honored W. E. B. DuBois Medal; in 1987 he was awarded with Nobel Peace Prize and Liberty Medal. The following year (1988) he received the Sakharov Prize, followed by Gaddaff Human Rights Prize in 1989. After 2 year he was awarded with Houphouet Prize in 1991 followed by a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He also received numerous international honorary degrees, doctorate a degree from the Open University of Cape Town in 2004 and another honorary degree in 2005 from Amherst College situaded in New York.


It is true that Mandela had important collaborators who helped him become hero and became the beneficiary of social context and historical circumstances. The iconic status of Mandela is not just his theatrical capacity to inspire or motivate. His actions have continued ever since his supposed retirement.

Nelson Mandela was one man who was able and willing to stand up and fight back. Indeed, we can also see how this man developed his legacies through his years in prison, his activist years and his elaborate life afterwards.

Mandela’s history of supporting terrorism (i.e.; Mandela was on the official watch list of US Terrorist), despite this Mandela was ranked number one South African on the South African Broadcasting Corporation poll.


Nelson Mandela strongly believes in democracy, equality and learning. Despite being repeatedly provoked, he never answered racism with racism. He has always been an inspiration, in South Africa and to the world, to all who opposed deprivation & oppression. Mandela personifies struggle, still leads the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigor and resilience after spending close to three decades in prison. For his people, he sacrificed his personal life and his youth, and is South Africa’s loved hero.

Nelson Mandela reinforces the fact that leaders have very different qualities and that leadership success is more complex than just identifying few traits or preferable behaviors.

He’s endowed with many personality traits; this makes him a natural leader and also has developed many leadership skills and strategies in his lifetime.

Mandela’s consensus attributed to his leadership success. Consensus is considered as a superior decision making process to build motivation and commitment in group members towards their objectives. Using consensus aids in making the best possible decision and utilizes the resources.

In conclusion, Nelson Mandela is considered as a revolutionary leader with an ability to empower and motivate others using his strong regard for consensus and the democratic process.

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