Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Nelson Mandela And Transformation II

Hagafen Cellars, Napa Valley, California, USA

December 5, 2013
Reposted March 5, 2020

"Nelson Mandela 1918-2013: Death of a giant - He transformed his country and himself." ... USA Today front page headline, December 6-8, 2013

"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." ... William Ernest Henley, Invictus, quoted by Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Madiba Tata (uBawom)Khulu Mandela
"It doesn't always have to be like this ... all we need to do is make sure we keep talking."  ... Stephen Hawking quoted by  
This essay, Troublemaker: Nelson Mandela And Transformation II, is the companion piece to
  1. The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In South Africa
  2. Heroes
in that order.

It is also the sequel to Nelson Mandela And Transformation.

It is also the prequel to South Africa Leadership.

I am indebted to Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Madiba Tata (uBawom)Khulu Mandela and to Prince Cedza Dlamini and to Laurine Platzky and to USA Today who inspired this conversation.

Imagine you could rub a magic lamp and the genie will grant you one wish: you can hang out with Nelson Mandela. Just the two of you. No one else. The catch is you can only choose one  chapter of his life to hang out with him. Which chapter do you choose?

When I consider this for myself, there isn't one shred of doubt in my mind which chapter it will be. It won't be during the golden years as he's surrounded by family and visiting heads of state paying their respects. It won't be at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg during his Invictus  inspiration which brought South African rugby so impossibly back from world ostracization to world domination in 1995. It won't be during the truth and reconciliation  years as he single-handedly steers South Africa away from a probable almost certain  colossal bloodbath and race war, the likes of which the world has never seen. It won't be during the presidential years as he's the first black man presiding over South Africa.

Neither will it be as he walks, triumphant and free, through the gates of Victor Verster prison. It won't be while he completes his sentence of hard labor on Robben island and solitary confinement in Pollsmoor prison for a potentially soul destroying twenty seven years. It won't be while he gives his famous "It (democracy) is an ideal for which I am prepared to die"  speech upon being convicted of terrorism and treason at the Rivonia trial. And it won't be when he co-founds the first black law firm in South Africa with Oliver Tambo. Each of these chapters (there are countless others) alter history. However remember: the genie says you can only choose one. So which one will it be?

This is the chapter I choose to hang out with Nelson: when as a little boy, he herds cattle in the hills surrounding his childhood village of Qunu in the Transkei - just a little boy, the grassy hills, views to die for, peace, quiet, a stick, and lowing cattle - with which Xhosas have an almost mystical connection. Later the study of jurisprudence will culture his legal mind. Later the prison years will culture his philosophy and legendary "befriend your enemy"  politics. But here in the hills around Qunu is where the maturing young boy first spent free time alone in the presence of his own thoughts. This is where the possibility  which bloomed later as Madiba  first saw the light of day. This is the chapter I choose to hang out with him. There's no question about it.

Photograph courtesy Wikipedia Commons

President of South Africa
on the eve of his 90th birthday

Johannesburg, South Africa

Nelson Mandela
Nelson has six first names. The little boy herding cattle in the hills surrounding his childhood village of Qunu in the Transkei, was named Rolihlahla  (not Nelson) by his father (Nelson is the name given to him by his primary school teacher because she couldn't pronounce Rolihlahla). Rolihlahla means "pulling the branch of a tree" and it also means "troublemaker"  which would prove to be an unerringly accurate omen for the white apartheid regime who stood in his way later then imprisoned him and later stood aside for him.

When he was initiated into manhood at age sixteen, he was named Dalibhunga  which means "creator of the council" and it also means "convenor of the dialogue", again unerringly accurate given the conversation for the transformation of South Africa he was destined to lead. When greeting him with this name, you didn't say "Hello Dalibhunga" nor even the Xhosa translation "Molo  Dalibhunga". The correct form is "Aaaah!  Dalibhunga!" conveying full recognition of who he really is.

The name Madiba for which he is most famously and endearingly and internationally known, was given by his Thembu  clan (Thembu means "big men"), Madiba being the name of a Thembu chief. Madiba, then, means "chief of big men". He is also named Tata  which means "father" (as in "father of democracy"), as well as Khulu  which is an abbreviated term of endearment from uBawomkhulu  which means "grandfather" and also "great" and also "paramount" and also "grand".

I was in South Africa on the day Nelson was jailed. As fate would have it, I was also in South Africa on the day he was released. I didn't plan it like that. It just happened that way. Between those two dates on one of my visits there, a visit which lasted a year, I led the first guest seminars which started Werner's work in South Africa. Those guest seminars came directly out of a conversation with Werner in the kitchen of his home on Franklin Street in San Francisco.

Given South Africa's entrenched segregation at the time, delivering those seminars to so called "mixed" audiences (that is to say racially  mixed audiences) was illegal, the cause for which Nelson was in jail. During the guest seminars, one of the most important functions assigned to an assistant was to be on watch in the parking lot outside the venue in case we were raided by "BOSS", the dreaded so-called "Bureau Of State Security" for contravening the apartheid laws since all our introductory events drew people of all races. Fortunately no such eventuality occurred - we (literally) dodged the bullet.

My drive home after these events frequently took me along the picturesque coast road which meanders along the west side of the Cape Peninsula from which Robben island, the Alcatraz  of Cape Town, is in clear view. I visualized Nelson imprisoned there. I thought about him often. I fully expected he would meet with an "unfortunate accident" and die there. If they killed him in jail, it would have simply been business as usual  in the South African prison system - especially for black political prisoners. How Nelson escaped an untimely death in prison at the hands of his white jailers, astounded me. It was just a matter of time, I thought. They'll murder him and pretend it was a suicide or an accident. However destiny, as it turned out, had other ideas for him.

Delivering transformation in South Africa in those days, we didn't yet have the language of possibility. Yet during the seminars when we spoke what Werner's work could provide, we asked people what they wanted out of it. Almost everyone in one form or another, in addition to the possibilities they envisioned for their own lives, included Nelson's release and the end of apartheid as outcomes which they would have naturally occur just in the process of Life itself. So when both eventually, inexorably  happened, I asked myself "Did we cause that?".

Nelson, when referring to the end of apartheid in South Africa, correctly said "Nothing of what happened in South Africa was the work of any one individual" (he was actually talking humbly about himself when he said that). He continued "The transformation of South Africa came out of a partnership between many, many people" (and yes, he did use the actual word "transformation" - it's when I realized how personal it had become for me). Again I asked myself "Did we cause that?".

We said the end of apartheid was possible. We created Nelson's freedom like a possibility. That was our stand coming from transformation. We provided the words, the tools, the linguistic implements, the language for the conversation for transformation. We said it would happen. And look what happened.

All that said, the word "transformation" once in popular use is almost always used inaccurately. Mostly the word "transformation" when used in the context of the end of apartheid in South Africa, isn't transformation. It's change. Nelson's life, on the other hand, can correctly be described as "personal transformation" and even "humanity's transformation started". And here's the thing: you and I will complete Nelson's transformation of humanity started. How will you and I complete Nelson's transformation of humanity started? And: what's the accurate usage of "transformation" - as in South Africa "being transformed"?

South Africa has changed as a result of what Nelson's conversation set in motion - dramatically  changed. Nelson's conversation changed South Africa in ways that not so long ago were considered absolutely, totally, and utterly impossible. And because we really live in a global village  (as Marshall McLuhan may have said), Nelson's conversation also changed the world  in ways that not so long ago were considered absolutely, totally, and utterly impossible.

Listen (try this on for size): when I look at Nelson and I say "He's a great man, he lived the life of a great man, he did great things", while it's true, it's also distracting. Really! But it does illustrate the mindset surrounding Nelson changing South Africa. Now try this  on for size: when I can look at him and say "Because of the possibility Nelson revealed for me, I'm  a great man. From now on I'll live the life of a great man: I'll do great things" ... that's  transformation not change.

If you distinguish the implements of language Nelson used to accomplish what he accomplished, rather than merely be distracted by his greatness (which is so easy for you and me to do, yes?) you'll notice he was a man who honored his word as himSelf. And when we notice that's who he was, we notice we have the exact same ability to honor our word as ourSelf. You'll notice he spoke the way it is. You'll notice he spoke the possibility of the way it was going to be. He never wavered from speaking it the way it is and the way it was going to be. Look what happened: eventually his word became law in the universe (as Werner Erhard may have said). But if all we notice is Nelson's integrity and his authenticity, we make the deadly error of thinking integrity and authenticity are only Nelson's qualities, qualities he was somehow born with, without noticing and without being responsible for and without bringing forth and without exercising our own.

Noticing and being responsible for and bringing forth and exercising integrity and authenticity is what Nelson exemplified. That's what made him so powerful. That's what made what he did so effective. But if you leave it simply as something he was able to do because he was uniquely great, if you don't take it on for yourSelf, if you don't take it out into the world  for yourSelf, then his entire message is disempowered, and a vast  opportunity is squandered.

Now, when we each take on noticing and being responsible for and bringing forth and exercising integrity and authenticity as who we really are  in our day to day lives - in the way we relate to all people of all races in South Africa, in the way we relate to all people of all races in the world, in the way which has all aspects of South African society working for everyone  with no one and nothing left out (and anyone who knows how South African society works today, knows we still have a long, long  way to go in this regard), in the way which has all aspects of the world working for everyone with no one and nothing left out - then we will complete Nelson's transformation and the transformation of South Africa and the world.

Thank you Rolihlahla, beautiful boy herding cattle being the possibility of Madiba making big trouble, like David for Goliath, for the once unstoppable, unswayable, all powerful apartheid regime juggernaut. It will be a while before Qunu and South Africa and our world will be blessed with the likes of you again.

We, the billions who call Planet Earth our home, thank you. We salute you. We got it. We've taken it on.

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