By Harry C. Alford
Where do you begin to talk about the greatness of Nelson Mandela? The world has been blessed with very few of his ilk. You think of courage, defiance, principled and many other descriptions of strength and might. Yet, it was Mandela’s strong faith that guided him through his journey. Many don’t reflect on this but it was his strong Christian faith that made him do what no other has done before – defeat apartheid.
Apartheid wasn’t unique. In fact, the White power structure of South Africa – the Afrikaners – took many of the Jim Crow laws of the southern United States as their model when applying this form of racial segregation. They started this in a formal fashion right after World War II as they feared the overwhelming Black majority would rebel and take power at the expense of Whites. They were as rough as American White southerners.
Ironically, Blacks in both nations started to fight against this evil system in the 1950s. While the Civil Rights Movement of the United States was based on nonviolence, in South Africa it was “by any means necessary,” including violence. Mandela headed the “Umkhonto we Sizwe” faction of the ANC movement in 1961. It was responsible for a bombing campaign against government targets. He was eventually captured and sentence to five years in November 1962 which was converted to life imprisonment in 1964.
It was during the next 27 years of imprisonment that he returned to his Methodist roots. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he states “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.” During his youth he was a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible classes on Sundays in nearby villages.
His return to his religious roots was profound. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison….One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”
As he was preparing for his inauguration as president he spoke at Zionist Christian Church:
“The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind! Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Savior over the torture of the cross and the grave. Our Messiah, who came to us in the form of a mortal man, but who by his suffering and crucifixion attained immortality.”
In another Easter speech, Mandela really explained his resolve for peace and nonviolence,
“We have joined you this Easter in an act of solidarity, and in an act of worship. We have come, like all the other pilgrims, to join in an act of renewal and rededication. The festival of Easter, which is so closely linked with the festival of the Passover, marks the rebirth of the resurrected Messiah. Who without arms, without soldiers, without police and covert Special Forces, without hit squads or bands of vigilantes, overcame the mightiest state during his time. This great festival of rejoicing marks the victory of the forces of life over death, of hope over despair. We pray with you for the blessings of peace! We pray with you for the blessings of love! We pray with you for the blessings of freedom.”
My brothers and sisters, we should have our children recite this in school. It is powerful!
Mandela became a great president. He truly united this nation. Forgiveness and reconciliation were his keys to a successful government. At his inauguration he reserved the front row seats for his former jailers. When the world championship Rugby game was played in South Africa, he wore the uniform of the South African Spring Bok team and was the lead cheerleader. For the first time, both races united under one team and won the world championship (shocked the world). He could have stayed president forever but, like our own George Washington, he set the mold with just one term. The success of democracy was his greatest concern.
South Africa secretly became a nuclear power but Mandela had this dismantled after he came to power. The nation economically is now a 1stWorld nation. There is still much poverty but improvement is ongoing and without a doubt, South Africa is the economic power of the African continent. Nelson Mandela led them to the “promised land.” For this he becomes a great leader in the minds of all rational people. I put him just a little under Jesus Christ. I end by saying rest in peace dear brother and thank you for coming through.