Today we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday and his legacy in advancing democracy and human rights in South Africa and far beyond.  What a gift that a person of his statute enjoys such long life.  What a gift his legacy is.  It has become a moral compass against which current day political behavior is measured.

His principled perseverance to restore dignity and well-being for all South Africans under a democratic dispensation while reaching out to his adversaries to reassure them they were included, resulted in the founding of the rainbow nation that for a long time was considered inconceivable.  He made the impossible happen (obviously assisted by many who had joined him in ‘the struggle’).

Humbly, he realized that once the hill of overcoming apartheid was climbed, new hills on the horizon were to be climbed to ensure that the aspirations for the well-being for all were to be delivered.   Democracy is work-in-progress and not a finished product.  Its construction and consolidation depends on a sustained investment in its basic tenets.

One of the key tenets Mandela once captured as follows:  ‘’If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.”    This lesson is highly relevant for the successful management of transitions to democracy.    The current transitions in Burma, Tunisia and Libya appear to be following this script.

We remain thankful to Mandela for setting standards for honest and inclusive government in societies divided by deep-rooted conflict and low levels of trust between different political forces.  He made the impossible possible.  He showed us that leadership can make the difference for the common good.  His life and work remain an important source of inspiration in building democracy.

Thank you Madiba and best wishes to you at your birthday!