Let It Go: An Important Lesson from Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela

Charlene Smith compares how leaders Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela overcame hardships and achieved success.

Queen Elizabeth

She loves thick marmalade over butter that melts into her toast, always with tea, and preferably with her corgis at her feet. He rises at dawn every day and exercises before settling down to a bowl of oats.  She is the Queen of England, and he is Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa to democracy after fifty years of forced racial separation (apartheid).  Two people who appear so different yet have similar lessons about the true nature of commitment, and forgiveness.

In June, the world will celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 86th birthday and her 60 years on the throne in the United Kingdom. Then on July 18, it is the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela. The United Nations has called on all to volunteer 67 minutes of community service on that day as a tribute to Mandela’s 67 years of public service.

Mandela was also born into royalty; his father was a chief of the AmaXhosa, Royal House of the Thembu. But unlike the large palaces that Queen Elizabeth calls home, Mandela grew up in a mud-and-wattle hut with his beloved mother, Fanny. She was his father’s fourth wife. Mandela’s birth name was Rohilalhla which means he who shakes the branches. A teacher at the mission school he attended gave him the name Nelson. The name was intended to honor the famous British naval admiral of the 18th century.

Nelson Mandela
Photo Courtesy of South Africa Tourism


In many ways the lives of Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela were very different yet there are important parallels. She was born into privilege, but during her time as Britain’s royal leader the country had survived scandals, recessions and the shrinking of the British Empire. She has often been criticized, sometimes cruelly, in books, movies, and newspaper columns.

Her dignity, quiet passion for serving the British people, and humility have made her stand out. You never hear her saying how special she is. Nelson Mandela shares those same qualities. They allow their actions to speak.

Mandela trained as a lawyer and became a leader of the African National Congress fighting for the right to dignity and respect  for all of South Africa’s people – not just black people, all people. That is what made him remarkable; he was jailed for 26 years and when he was released from jail in 1991, he showed no bitterness. Just love. Former president Bill Clinton has become a close friend of Nelson Mandela. He says he once asked Mandela: "I watched you walk down that dirt road to freedom. Now, when you were walking down there, and you realized how long you had been in their prison, didn't you hate them [white people] then? Didn't you feel some hatred?"

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Charlene Smith
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