Nelson Mandela: My Cornerstone

nelson mandela statueCornerstone International Group Chairman Simon Wan finds inspiration in the life of Nelson Mandela

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa.   A highlight of my trip was a visit to the Apartheid Museum, which celebrates the life and achievements of founding father Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 — December 5, 2013).

An inscription of Mandela’s words at the entrance to the museum gives a measure of the man – why he transcends his own country and speaks to the world: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.


An activist in the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) beginning in 1944, Mandela was imprisoned several times, culminating in receiving a sentence of life imprisonment for sabotage in 1964. After his sentence was passed, he uttered these famous words from the prisoners’ dock:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela served 27 years in prison.


Amid international pressure and growing fear of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990.   In the multiracial general election of 1994, Mandela led the ANC to victory, becoming President. Still immensely popular, he stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as he had promised.

invictusA quick Google search reveals the wealth of print resources on Mandela and his legacy. But if you have not already seen it, I highly recommend the insightful 2009 film Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood.  Morgan Freeman, nominated for an academy award for his performance, does a great job portraying Mandela.  The movie is based on real events in South Africa: Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg as a bridge to help bring the nation’s suspicious and resentful populations together.

Nelson Mandela provided his country with a new foundation on which to build a better society. The basic elements of courage and vision animating his life have inspired people around the globe – myself included. I find it so fitting that “foundation” and “basic element” are supplementary definitions of “cornerstone”, because he is a cornerstone of my life. If you have not done so already, I hope that one day you will visit the Apartheid Museum and see Invictus, inspirations for reflections on the cornerstone in you.

Here are some famous and inspiring Mandela quotations to think about.

  1. After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
  2. A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
  3. The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
  4. There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
  5. There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
  6. If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
  7. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
  8. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
  9. It always seems impossible until it’s done
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