Stephanie Nolen focuses on the forgiving character of recently deceased South African leader, Nelson Mandela, to explain his remarkable successes in ending apartheid and launching a bi-racial government while maintaining peace between the black majority and white minority South African population.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, political science, international studies

Key Questions to Explore:

Which qualities of leadership were key in Nelson Mandela’s work at repairing the damages of a formally racist government? How did these qualities serve his goals for the country?

New Terminology:

Apartheid, reconciliation, incarceration

Materials Needed:

Globe article, worksheet handout, high speed connection to the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Note: You may choose to have students complete this lesson in class or for homework.

This lesson will engage students in a critical reading and analysis of Stephanie Nolen’s Globe article on Nelson Mandela. Working individually with the supplied worksheet, students will produce a short report based on the article, focusing on the ways Mr. Mandela’s character was key to transformative government. When students have completed their individual assignments, engage them in a second discussion at the end of class, or the next day if they do this assignment for homework.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Begin by showing the video–ten minutes in length, link below–which can serve to engage students’ interest and which can also provide an introduction for students who are not familiar with Mr. Mandela and/or augment what other students may already know. Next, engage them in a brief discussion about the content of the video.

Questions to guide discussion:

  • What is meant by “apartheid”? (An official system of racial segregation in South Africa)
  • Which two European countries were the primary homelands of white South Africans? (Britain and the Netherlands)
  • When did Mr. Mandela die? (December 5th, 2013, at the age of 95)

Next, provide students with the Globe article along with this work sheet:


Working alone, read this article as you work through the following questions and tasks.

  • How did prison officials determine that Mr. Mandela was a natural leader?
  • Why would they then choose to punish and humiliate him, in your opinion?
  • Explain, briefly, these terms: skilled tactician, ruthless adversary, able politician, incisive and catholic thinker about liberation and oppression. (Note that this use of catholic does not refer to a religion)
  • How and why did he make forgiveness a key to transforming South Africa, in your opinion?
  • How did Mr. Mandela turn his time in prison into a constructive project?
  • What key strategy was derived from the policy of non-racialism? How do you understand that term?
  • In what ways was Mr. Mandela’s approach to forming and running a new government practical?
  • List two examples of the ways Mr. Mandela lived his policy of non-racialism?
  • Considering ongoing issues between First Nations in Canada and the Canadian government–such as land claims, historical abuse in residential schools, inadequate housing on reserves and so on–do you think Canadians could benefit from following Mr. Mandela’s example in reconciling the two parties? Explain.

Consolidation of Learning:

Ask students to volunteer reading aloud their responses to the last question. Encourage discussion and debate.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

Successful completion of the worksheet assignment; contribution to class discussion; thoughtful responses to the last question.

Confirming Activity:

Evaluation of students’ completed work sheets.