Day 17. Nelson Mandela teaches us about the power of relationships during lockdown

All over the world, relationships are being tested during this time of lockdown. Some will survive the test, others will not.

About relationships, Nelson Mandela[i] said: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Nelson Mandela and relationships

On the outside, Nelson Mandela had a widespread support system that grew over time. While he was in prison many groups all over the world, worked tirelessly for the Free Mandela campaign

In prison, Madiba was surrounded by his inmates and the guards. Very important friends shared his imprisonment on Robben Island and included people like Walter Sisulu, Mandela’s lifelong friend, and confidante and mentor.

About his friends Madiba said:

‘I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.’

Ahmed Kathrada of the South Africa’s Communist Party was convicted in the Rivonia Trial and Kathrada was also on Robben Island for 25 years. He was a dedicated friend of Mandela and part of a committee which helped Mandela during his months underground.

Other friends on Robben Island included Neville Alexander, Fikile Bam, Strini Moodley and later, Tokyo Sexwale.

George Bizos was Mandela’s lifelong lawyer friend, and a constant visitor throughout the prison years.

Visitors on Robbin Island

During Madiba’s stay on Robben Island Nelson Mandela  received a visit from Helen Suzman, member of the liberal Progressive Party and the lone voice opposing the Nationalists in Parliament. Mrs. Suzman was one of the few, if not the only, who took any interest in the plight of political prisons at that time.

During this meeting he had the opportunity to voice their plight in prison to her, asking for better food and clothes, study facilities and the right to information like newspapers and magazines.[ii]  

Madiba also made connections with the opposition that included people like Dr Neil Barnard, the former head of the South African Intelligence Service who helped arrange secret talks with Mandela on behalf of the government.

Minister of Justice Kobie Coetsee became an important connection as Coetsee initiated secret talks between the government and the imprisoned Mandela.

Christo Brand was a warden on Robben Island while Mandela was detained there. He later became Mandela’s warden at Pollsmoor Prison.

Jack Swart became personal chef to Mandela when he was moved from Robben Island to Victor Verster Prison in 1988.  The most prominent connection with the opposition was of course the connection between Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk, then president of South Africa and a co-recipient with Mandela of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Not only did the relationships with his friends and adversaries alike, develop during Madiba’s lockdown period, they also proved to valuable alliances after his release. Together they worked tirelessly to make equality and one-man-one-vote a reality.

As said before, many weird and wonderful things can happen during the lockdown period.  Don’t underestimate the power of silence, solitude and simplicity.

Relationships and synergy

The word, synergy, means ‘together energy’. It’s one of the steps we need on our path of change and transformation.

A close up of text on a white background

Description automatically generated

Building healthy relationships is the essence of life. It is also an art. Most relationships go through rough times where the ragged edges of each personally get refined.

What all fully functional relationships have in common is; emotional stability, understanding, trust and commitment.  When one part of this foursome falters, the whole relationship becomes dysfunctional and needs healing.

However, relationships that are fully functional and in synergy, can last forever. It takes a lot of inner work to get to this level. Love is the healing everyone needs, not only in their relationships with others, but especially with themselves.

The marriage between Nelson and Winnie Mandela didn’t stand the test of time and the couple divorced after Mandela was released from prison, in 1996. After all the years of separation, they didn’t agree on how to obtain the vision that initially brought them together, anymore.

Graça Machel became the third Mrs. Mandela when she married the South Africa President, Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday on 18 July 1998.

This just comes to prove – there is love after lockdown. There is a time and place for everything.

It is  the dawning of a new generation.

Relationships and vision

Lasting relationships always have a common vision that all parties share. This vision meets everyone’s desires, needs and wants. The vision is what each one believes will make them happy and the other party happy has well.

The vision is what each one believes is in service of the greater good. It is the glue that keeps relationships going and makes them stronger during the tests of time.

Functional, healthy relationships come from the heart. They form the heartbeat of communities, societies and even humanity, as a whole.

This is the foundation of our next step – the birth and development of a new season, a new stage, a new kind of relationship, community, society and humanity.

We all need to ask: What do you bring to the table?     

To do list

Here are a few ideas to help you on this path:

  • What do your current relationships look like? Happy? Not happy? Break it down to: Personal, professional, or just general relationships.
  • Are you in lockdown with someone you want to spend the rest of your life with?
  • Are you alone during lockdown? Why? Are you happy?
  • Are your personal relationships built on love? Do both parties agree on the ‘together vision’?
  • Do you mindfully discuss your vision or do you just take things for granted?
  • Is it time to let certain relationships go? Who? Why?
  • Is it time to renew relationships? With whom? Why?
  • Are you open to new relationships? Why?
  • Open you heart to listen and give and receive love.  
  • Contact us if you need help, assistance and coaching. 
  • To catch up and previous lessons see. Website:
  • Free E-book: Read the free E-book: Coaching yourself to ultimate success. Available here
  • Enrol for the 10-part course: Learning to think, live and lead like Nelson Mandela. There is a special offer with 90% discount for you only available for a short time.  Available here
  • Subscribe for your free Daily Power Tools for Power People delivered to your inbox. Available here
  • To book a personal coaching session via Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp, call and leave a voice message or send a message to (027) 066 29 26808, or send email:  We will get back to you ASAP
  • Book Dr Brenda as speaker for organisational, leadership and/or staff training and as speaker for your next event. Email:

Stay safe – stay connected


[i] Mandela, Nelson, R.  (1994). The long walk to freedom. The Autobiography of Nelson 

             Mandela. Illustrated. Little, Brown & Company. London.

[ii]   See: Long walk to freedom. p.134