Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela
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Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King have been acclaimed as some of the greatest and most influential leaders of all time. They led in different continents and different circumstances but fought for the same cause. Both Mandela and King were fighting against the discrimination of blacks in their societies; Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa while King fought for equal rights between whites and blacks in the United States. They were both symbols of inspiration for the freedom struggles happening in their respective nations. There are numerous similarities between their leadership styles just as there are differences too. this paper discusses some of the similarities and divergences in the leadership styles of these two great men and leaders.
Both Mandela and King were charismatic leaders. They had a huge following and great support among the people they were fighting for. They were both skilled orators who were able to connect to their supporters emotionally. So string was this bond that in Mandela’s case, the people did not forget him in the 27 years he was imprisoned and even voted him as the first black president of South Africa. In King’s case, his charisma led to many people attending his speeches. Even after his death, he was and still is regarded as the ultimate symbol of the black struggle in the United States. It is the charisma that these two leaders possessed that follows them even in their death. To the blacks in America, Martin Luther King Jr. is their hero and to the blacks in South Africa, Nelson Mandela is their hero.
Both Mandela and King were moral leaders. They had very strong principles and did not waver even in the face of criticism. Both leaders held firmly to what they believed in without fear of losing popularity. For instance during his tenure as president of South Africa, Mandela refused to meet President George Bush because he (Mandela) was opposed to the war in Iraq. Most world leaders would have done anything possible to have a meeting with the leader of the free world, but not Mandela. He had a message to pass and he did it in spite of the perceived consequences. Upon his release, ANC was for more radical measures to be taken against the apartheid regime, but Mandela did not want to take part in any vengeful missions. This showed the strength of his principles. In 1965, King spoke publicly about his opposition to the Vietnam War. He did this even if he knew that this would cost him significant numbers of white supporters including President Johnson. This served to show the lengths he was willing to go to guard his principles.
Both Mandela and King advocated for democracy. They both wanted the blacks in their respective nations to have equal rights as the whites. Mandela upon his release worked to establish a proportional representation of all colors in parliament. Just like King, Mandela fought so that all races could have the right to run for office and vote. King argued that segregation was unconstitutional. Indeed after his release, Mandela spoke at the Yankee Stadium in the United States pointing out that the blacks of South Africa and black Americans were connected in their motive for struggling for freedom. King on the other hand saw the similarity in his fight and that of Mandela and in December 1965 he gave a speech about the apartheid in South Africa in which he said “In South Africa today, all opposition to white supremacy is condemned as communism, and in its name, due process is destroyed…… A sophisticated form of slavery is imposed by a minority upon a majority which is kept in grinding poverty. The dignity of human personality is defiled; and world opinion is arrogantly defied.” Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day there would be racial equality in the United States and Nelson Mandela treasured the ideal of a free and democratic society. Both men were prepared to die as they fought for democracy.
Mandela and King were leaders who led by example. They did not sit tin their offices and give orders to their supporters on what was supposed to be done. They took to the streets with the supporters and they demonstrated with their supporters. For example on the 28th of August 1963, King took part in a March where he delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Mandela on the other hand disguised himself as a chauffeur and travelled across the country organizing a stay at home strike scheduled for 29th May, 1961 and making ANC’s new structure. King and Mandela did what they preached and did not expect their supporters to do anything that they themselves could not do.
One of the differences between the leadership styles of Mandela and King is that King advocated for a strictly non violent struggle while Mandela and the ANC used threats of violence and civil disobedience to pass across their message. Mandela was in fact the leader of ANC’S paramilitary wing and the mission of the ANC was to make South Africa ungovernable. King was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non violence and encouraged his supporters to be peaceful in their demonstrations. The fact that he advocated for non violence did not always work in his favor and King was assassinated in 1968. In 1964, King was given the Nobel Peace Prize for using nonviolent ways to fight for equality between blacks and whites. Upon his release, Mandela advocated for peace and reconciliation but pointed out that ANC’s armed struggle was still ongoing as “a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.”
Whereas King’s fight was anchored on religion and in particular Christianity, Mandela’s fight was political and secular. King appealed to the Christian values of the nation but Mandela appealed to the political awareness of the people. This can partly be owed to their backgrounds as King was the son of a preacher and Mandela was the son of a Xhosa Chief. King preached Christian values and love to the whites in the hope that this would move them to be fairer while Mandela used political forums like the African National Congress (ANC) to give air to his points.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have often been mentioned together. Indeed President Barack Obama did compare them in his speech during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Their fights are considered similar and although their methods at times differed, they are both acclaimed as successful leaders of all time.

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