Nelson Mandela and Change Management 3.0

The South African transition from the apartheid regime to a multi-racial democracy in the early 1990s was one of the most successful change management projects in history. It is commonly agreed that Nelson Mandela was the leading figure and without him things would have gone differently.

Although the greatness of Nelson Mandela stands out, present-day change agents can get some new insights.

An approach on the basis of Jurgen Appelo’s booklet “How to change the world“.

Nelson Mandela danced with the system

He had a goal and got people moving for it. His own behavior was the shining example of how he wanted things to be.

At the beginning of his professional life, Nelson Mandela started firstly with very small steps towards the long-term goal of a multi-racial democracy.

He received continuously strong feedback, from his colleagues and his opponents. And he took it. Over 27 years in prison.


Nelson Mandela minded people

He was able to lift the barriers between the black and white in South Africa. He did it on the basis of clear and strong values, by creating a climate of trust, and with the means of an open communication.

He and his fellows were able to create the awareness for the need to change and the desire to be part of the change.

On this basis it was possible to build up the necessary knowledge and ability for the formal transition away from apartheid to the “rainbow nation”.

But a lot of reinforcement is still needed to keep up and build further up the ability to really live the multi-racial rainbow dream.

Nelson Mandela stimulated the network





From the initiators to innovators, early adopters and the majority – it was a very long way. But it was possible to reach the critical mass in favor of a peaceful transition.

With hind side we look at Gladwell’s adoption curve and see that it is the laggards who still today are trying hard to pull back the system into old behavioral patterns – intentionally or unintentionally. Laggards exist on both sides, within the old white networks and within the new rich.

Nelson Mandela changed the environment

The then South African government under Nelson Mandela tried hard to create a conducive environment for the transition. Information on the status and plans were openly dispersed, “rainbow nation” became quite a cool label and contributed to the new identity of the country.

Broad incentives have actually been given to strengthen the “black empowerment”. But as so often with incentives, they still exist although their effectiveness has always been questionable.

Upgraded physical and digital infrastructure and new institutions have always been considered necessary conditions in times of change.


Nelson Mandela led South Africa into a new era. South Africa achieved the unthinkable, a nonviolent transition away from apartheid into modern times.

It has been a very big change management project. The same actually has happened in many other African countries, not departing from an apartheid regime but getting integrated in our globalized world system.

Changes of that dimensions are obviously possible in the non-Western world. But, and that is my strong feeling, in the moment they wouldn’t be possible at all in an “old” European country.


See also Change Management 3.0


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