Be a champion like Madiba

In this week as we mourn the passing of music giant, Johnny Clegg, we hear his songs immortalised on radio broadcasts. “Asimbonang’ umandela thina” (meaning we have not seen Mandela) by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, from their 1987 album Third World Child, crossed political, cultural and legal barriers to celebrate Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island and other anti-apartheid activists at the time of song’s release. Students in the 80s sang and united in the struggle and this week we remember those who left a legacy of hope and a way of overcoming our fears. Just as we needed to see our struggle icon, Madiba, now we need to see the hope of our nation through projects celebrating Mandela Day. Viva Madiba viva.

Invictus means unconquered in Latin. It was the name of a movie made to honour Madiba and a poem that Madiba found inspiring while imprisoned. The poem ends with the inspiring stanza:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

(Poem By William Ernest Henley)


Madiba suffered back-breaking punishment and yet was resolute in his self-mastery. Madiba overcame adversity and rose to be a master orator (speaker). Many of us could draw inspiration from his example. So why is it that we don’t step up and do what’s needed? Some are crippled by fear of failure, others give up when obstacles block their path and some just lack commitment. Madiba said, “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Let’s talk about fear. One of the things that we fear in the workplace is speaking up in meetings. Some fear having to give business presentations. Robert Grant suggests two ways to overcome fear: firstly, that gratitude will take your mind off being fearful. Even in moments of despair and difficulty, to pause and feel gratitude, dispels the fear. The second way to overcome fear is to be intentional in your decisions. (Robert Grant). To these two, I would add a third: that we overcome fear with love. When I encourage my students to choose a topic that they love, it is to help them overcome their fear of public speaking. Their passion for their subject empowers them to give their business presentation. For those who have to talk about something that this cannot be applied to (some of you are nodding about work presentations that you’ve been told to do), I suggest that they choose to love their audience and in so doing, reduce the fear of speaking in public. Finally, to love yourself is a way of overcoming many fears, not just in the workplace.

Learning to love yourself is celebrated in the ballad, “The greatest love of all, ” remembered by Gen X as the powerful cover by Whitney Houston (1986). Yet, it was George Benson who recorded the song when it first became a hit in the 1977 movie, “The Greatest,” a biography of world champion boxer, Muhammad Ali. Ali was a hero to boxing enthusiast, Mandela, who said:

“Muhammad Ali was not just my hero, but the hero of millions of young, black South Africans because he brought dignity to boxing. He was an inspiration to me, even in prison, because I thought of his courage and his commitment to his sport. I was overwhelmed by his gentleness and his expressive eyes. He seemed to understand what I could not say.”

“Muhammad Ali – A Thirty-year Journey,” by Howard Bingham (1993)

Madiba drew hope from thoughts of Ali while imprisoned on Robben Island. Both great men represent characteristics we can aspire to, both represent resistance to unjust laws and struggle for the oppressed, and both give hope for the possibility of change for the better.


Ali mourned Madiba in the majestic words of a champion:

“He (Madiba) inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realise, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours. What I will remember most about Mr Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be constrained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”

With gratitude, being intentional and choosing to love, you can overcome fear. You can speak up in meetings and step up to give that dreaded presentation for your boss. Living an incredible life is no accident, you have to do it on purpose, and you can choose to live beyond the constraints of fear, to aspire to be great, successful and conquer adversity. The legacy of world champions like Ali, and our own iconic Madiba, can live on in our workplace through us. We are free to choose and in our freedom, to liberate those still stuck.


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