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Finding the Madiba in ourselves through ‘Mandela-ity’ – the opportunity to impact


Dr Stavros Nicolaou is the Group Senior Executive, Strategic Trade at Aspen Pharma Group.

Whether its humanitarian crises, ESG policy optimisation, education commitments, healthcare agendas, gender equality or youth empowerment initiatives – and of course tackling the end of extreme poverty – there is a genuine and authentic desire by people within South Africa’s business sector to leave the world in a better place than they found it.

The theme for International Mandela Day this year is: “The Legacy Lives on Through You: Climate, Food and Solidarity.

In death, as in life, Nelson Mandela’s legacy inspires the creation of our own legacies. It’s the essence of Mandela and the purpose of Mandela Day itself. It has always been the great statesman’s intention. We all thought it was about Mandela – he always thought it was about us.

Mandela’s approach to leading a nation that gained political freedom as the world watched through a magnifying glass was steeped in forgiveness and healing and focused on building the greatest nation on earth. 

As we face some of the greatest challenges in a post-pandemic world, the impact of Mandela’s approach of “healing and restoration” is needed now more than ever.

In the theme’s spirit of turning things around to look at our own legacies through the Mandela lens, we are pausing to reflect on whether we are ready to “find the Mandela in ourselves” because, as the world evolves, it has become clear that it’s not about looking for a hero in others, or even in Mandela himself any more, but rather looking for the hero within.

The duality of crisis and disaster is that it brings out the best and the worst in humanity because it can catalyse self-preservation, cruelty, fear, trauma and even conflict and wars – but it also inspires kindness, connection, benevolence, advocacy and an innate desire for unity in the commonality of humanity’s survival.

It is the latter that allows humanity to exist with hope in the face of hopelessness. 

The ability to respond in humanitarian crises or disasters with unsolicited and unprovoked “giving”, for a deep-seated desire to heal, fix and make things better. Human responsiveness is not for everyone; it takes inimitable human beings to help when they are being impacted by the very same challenges, as in the case of the global pandemic, for example.

Mandela shattered the archetype of a statesman in all aspects, from his politics to his fashion sense. From his profiling of “Prisoner to President”, to “Fighter to Healer”, in publicly acknowledging and forgiving his wardens and those who imprisoned and tortured him – choosing to focus on peace and healing rather than war and revenge.

And who will ever forget the first democratically elected president of South Africa in his now famous Madiba shirt, meeting the Queen of England?

While South Africa is currently in the throes of its own challenges, it is a country of diverse and proud nationals who celebrate our South Africanness every chance we get, combining our melting pot of cultures with the legacy of Mandela – creating the emergence of a nation that has created, by default, a concept I like to call *“Mandela-ity: a word that best describes a state of being and a state of mind – “the opportunity to impact the lives of others, especially those in dire need”.

It’s a very proudly South African thing to be, which in our opinion is a direct result of the Mandela legacy – an opportunity to make a difference, to create change and to shift humanity forward to evolve our social consciousness.

And the opportunity and honour have been ours, at Aspen Pharmacare. That’s how we see it.

South Africans “heal, help and fight against injustice, discrimination and hopelessness on a daily basis” – it’s part of our history, it’s in our DNA, and it’s what unites us across racial barriers. It’s who we are as a nation, and, perhaps contrary to popular belief, I don’t think we have completely lost that. Admittedly, we may have lost our way a bit, but in true South African resilience, I know we will find our way back there.

In a world that thrives on sensationalism, the stories of those who have “found the Mandela in themselves” are not always seen or covered in the media – but there are many more than we think. 

The growing “Mandela-ity” trend across corporates, whether it’s humanitarian crises, ESG policy optimisation, education commitments, healthcare agendas, gender equality or youth empowerment initiatives – and of course tackling the end of extreme poverty – is more than just programmes for showcasing. There is a genuine and authentic desire by people within organisations around South Africa to leave the world in a better place than they found it.

I would be failing Madiba himself if I did not mention the more than 9,000 Aspen Pharmacare people from 69 established offices and more than 50 countries across the world, not to mention our partners and stakeholders, who all join in annually on Mandela Day across countries and continents.

Actually, it’s not only on Mandela Day, but it is this culture of “Mandela-ity” that has taken hold of our hearts, heads and budgets at Aspen. The “opportunity to impact” is a financial line item that everyone, from our founder Stephen Saad all the way through the board and to every person in the Aspen PharmaCARE group, advocates.

In honouring Madiba on Mandela Day, on what would have been his 105th birthday, in a country shackled by so many challenges, we want to remember him in the way we think he would have wanted: to give others the gift of opportunity to leave a legacy; the gift of having the privilege to make our mark on society; to potentially heal past wounds and failures; and, most importantly, to have the chance to close the gaps for the marginalised.

So, as part of our response to this year’s theme, “The Legacy Lives on Through You”, we commence with the measurement and evaluation study of the South African private sector’s “Opportunity to Impact”, called the “Mandela-ity Report”.

The report will measure the value of the SA corporate sector’s contribution to initiatives for humanitarian challenges and crises over the last five years since Mandela’s 100th birthday, as well as map the opportunities in all parts of the country where corporates can continue to impact the lives of South Africans that will leave the legacy Mandela wanted for all of us. DM

*Mandela-ity = “The opportunity to impact.”


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