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Honoring Nelson Mandela and his legacy to mental health

December 11, 2013
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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Mandela, who died last Thursday at the age of 95, was honored yesterday at a memorial service in Johannesburg. Besides his leadership skills in leading his country out of apartheid, Mandela left a legacy that is so relevant to mental health. He exemplified resilience during 27 years of the harshest imprisonment, and showed how forgiveness through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, rather than retaliation, was good for his mental health and the well-being of his countrymen. That is applicable to the trauma anyone anywhere suffers, and relevant to those who still live on the outskirts of our society in the USA: those incarcerated (especially young Black-American males), the mentally ill, some minority groups, the poor, and immigrants. But the most separated and most like the apartheid in South Africa - in a kind of aparttime, if you will - are our Native American Indians, who have such high prevalence of alcoholism and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders. We must come to some truth and reconciliation with them.

In my own way of honoring Mandela, I wanted to bring attention once again to a blog I wrote last year about leadership lessons learned from Mandela and Desmond Tutu.


-Orignially published November 14, 2012-


"If we didn't have apartheid, we wouldn't have had Nelson Mandela"

-Tour bus guide in Johannesburg


If you know about apartheid and all the horrors that Black South Africans suffered for most of the last century, you might be astonished by that statement. I know I was.

I heard it on a recent trip to South Africa. I was there in part to present (with my songstress wife) on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission led by Desmond Tutu, which followed the end of apartheid. This was for an international Creativity and Madness Conference. I would come to conclude that the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was a most creative way to treat the madness of apartheid. Maybe even that the human price of the trade-off might come to be worth it. How can that possibly be?

The only adequate answer can be that South Africa will become the kind of light unto nations that it could never have become otherwise. Right now, in our country, we are rightly focused on the historical leadership lessons of Abraham Lincoln, stimulated by Steven Spielberg's new movie. However, the leadership lessons of Nelson Mandela and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu may also be timely for our political leaders and ourselves. If there was ever a vote for the top global leaders of the last century, they would get my vote in a tie.



H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...

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