Nelson Mandela: a legacy of miracles

mandela-legacy-of-miraclesCivil rights giant Nelson Mandela died today at the age of 95. He leaves an astonishing legacy of hope, community, and forgiveness. During his lifetime he saw prison as well as the Presidency of post apartheid South Africa. Nelson Mandela leaves this world as a champion of peaceful conflict resolution and for the elimination of poverty. He leaves us a legacy of miracles.

“Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the twentieth century. He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace.”

Paul Simon on Nelson Mandela’s passing, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela leaves a legacy of miracles

Mandela was criticized for being for being a revolutionary and shadow Marxist. He was seen by white Afrikanners as the devil. However, having had the opportunity and honor to meet several Southern African leaders, I have been able to learn more about the impact of Mandela on his countrymen and our times.

Gatsha Buthelezi Nelson MandelaFor instance, I once attended a conference in Iowa (of all places) where I met KwaZulu chieftain and subsequently Home Advisor in the new Republic of South Africa, Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi. He was 6’5″ at least, and even overlooking the cornfields of Sioux Center IA, he dressed in traditional garb and carried a pretty impressive looking scepter of office. A staunch Christian and anti-communist, Buthelezi, was branded an apartheid collaborator by leftwing Marxist radicals that drove the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa during the 1970s, even though he had opposed apartheid designs on the Zulu territories and Swaziland. Even so, Buthelezi insisted that Mandela be released from prison prior to any binding post-apartheid negotiations.

These were tough times in South Africa with tough talk with heated words verging on revolution and serious bloodshed and civil war of which most Americans cannot fathom. There were razor sharp ideological lines pressed by leftist radicals that tried to manage Mandela’s image in their attempt to remake the transition to an equal and democratic South Africa some Marxist inspired revolution. Even so, Buthelezi’s involvement in the transition plainly speaks to Mandela’s foresight and ability to engage leaders from across the spectrum to the cause of peaceful transition.

Desmond Tutu Nelson MandelaI’ve also had the chance to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu preach several times. A little man, Tutu is a firestorm of faith and hope. It was Tutu that opened my heart to think differently about the Mandela legacy of miracles. For one thing is certain, insisted Tutu, (paraphrasing)

That the transition of South Africa to a post-apartheid democracy without widespread bloodshed and recrimination was nothing short of a miracle from God, with Mandela holding the rod of Moses. That the new found Repbulic’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped air grievances, expose crimes, and provide forgiveness and reparations where it could, instead of fomenting bloody reprisals across the Southern continent, is a testament to Mandela’s wisdom, courage, and faith in the peaceful resolution of bitter, bitter hurts, atrocities, and human betrayal.

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  1. says

    Nelson Mandela, Christian
    A little-appreciated factor in his political development
    9 December 2013
    Nelson Mandela lived several lives: Communist militant, pacifist prisoner, and charismatic president. He was also the only recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize to receive both the USSR’s International Lenin Peace Prize and the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. What was the thread linking these successive and somewhat contradictory lives? Let me propose a hypothesis that his prison guards would certainly confirm, as would the Afrikaners who negotiated the end of apartheid with him: Mandela’s Christian faith led him from violence to redemption.

    Mandela was a Christian, as I learned during a long conversation with him at a 1992 meeting in Durban of the South African Foundation, a business-backed anti-apartheid organization. The aura surrounding him then, felt by all who spoke with Mandela, was more mystical than political. Most South Africans, whatever their skin color, are Christians. The country’s ruling Afrikaners saw themselves as a tribe of Israel in exile. They adhered to an assiduous reading of the Old Testament, and an understanding of Christianity that they spread throughout South Africa. The reconciliation between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid government of F.W. de Klerk (president until 1991) was an act of shared faith between two men who belonged to the same syncretic Christian tradition. The West’s economic blockade contributed to ending apartheid but did not bring Mandela and de Klerk together. It was not only the boycott of South African oranges by European and American consumers that overcame apartheid, but also belief in Christ.

    Faith also explains and clarifies the path that led Mandela from Communism to liberal democracy and from violent action to peaceful reconciliation. Recall that in 1962, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for his role in organizing bombings of police stations—a very real crime. In the years when Mandela played a significant but not leading role in the organization, the ANC was a branch of the Communist International. With Soviet support, the ANC preached violent revolution. Mandela’s incarceration was politically unjust, but it was well-founded legally, as Mandela himself never denied. While in prison, he lost faith in revolution and in Communism. Was this because of the collapse of the USSR, as his adversaries believed at the time? Or was it the result of a personal meditation? The latter seems more likely: Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, filled with his books and manuscripts, had something of a monastic spirit.

    Christ was not the only prophet who served as inspiration to Mandela in his cell. There was also Gandhi, who, like Mandela, had practiced law in South Africa. In his work in the Indian community of Durban, where he conceived of and applied the principle of nonviolence to overcome white racism, Gandhi acknowledged the direct inspiration of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The lesson was not lost on Mandela: non-violence and the force of truth (satyagraha) are more effective than violent confrontation, but only when applied within a society that shares the same Christian and humanist values. As Mandela would, Gandhi appealed to the conscience of whites, both in South Africa and beyond; he won effective recognition by the British as the figurehead of Indian independence before he arrived in India. Similarly, Mandela was “recognized” outside of South Africa as the obvious leader of national liberation, before achieving this status domestically. (Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, who succeeded in persuading American and British Protestants that the end of apartheid was an ethical imperative, played a key role as well.)

    Mandela’s faith made possible not only the reconciliation of blacks and whites under the same national flag, but also—and this is often overlooked in Europe and America—the reconciliation of enemy groups among South Africa’s numerous black factions and communities. In the age of apartheid, hostility between the Xhosas (Mandela’s ethnic group) and the Zulus (ethnic group of the current president, Jacob Zuma), was at least as intense as that between blacks and whites. In those days, the Zulus often sided with whites against the Xhosas, Indians, and other “mixed” minorities. South Africa was then, and remains, an ethnic puzzle.

    The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, founded by President Mandela and led by Bishop Tutu, is perhaps the most concrete example of Mandela’s Christian faith. Instead of the vengeance and reprisals that were expected and feared after years of interracial violence, the commission focused on confession and forgiveness. Most of those who admitted misdeeds and even crimes—whether committed in the name of or in opposition to apartheid—received amnesty. Many returned to civil life, exonerated by their admission of guilt.

    Few twentieth-century statesmen have improved our world. Even fewer were inspired by religious faith rather than ideology. The European Union’s Christian founders —France’s Robert Schuman, Italy’s Alcide De Gasperi, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer—prayed together before making decisions. Poland’s Lech Walesa and South Korea’s Kim Dae-Jung, both fervent Catholics and Nobel Peace Prize winners, forgave their Soviet and military oppressors by explicitly referring to their faith. This is the paradox of an age we call secular, but which is in truth haunted by transcendence.

    Guy Sorman, a City Journal contributing editor and French public intellectual, is the author of many books, including Economics Does Not Lie. His article was translated by Alexis Cornel.

  2. Valerie Sloven says

    Mandela was a giant of a man. I will always remember the amazing scenes when black South Africans were finally allowed to vote in their own country.Many had waited a lifetime. The old and frail walked for miles and stood in line for hours in the heat. It was such a powerful and moving sight. Mandela made the world a better place.

  3. says

    This was the official announcement from our President=—>

    BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
    A PROCLAMATION

    Today, the United States has lost a close friend, South Africa has lost an incomparable liberator, and the world has lost an inspiration for freedom, justice, and human dignity — Nelson Mandela is no longer with us, he belongs to the ages.

    Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man. His own struggle inspired others to believe in the promise of a better world, and the rightness of reconciliation. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, he transformed South Africa — and moved the entire world. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the life of nations or our own personal lives.

    While we mourn his loss, we will forever honor Nelson Mandela’s memory. He left behind a South Africa that is free and at peace with itself — a close friend and partner of the United States. And his memory will be kept in the hearts of billions who have been lifted up by the power of his example.

    We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. It falls to us to carry forward the example that he set — to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; and to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice. For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

    As a mark of respect for the memory of Nelson Mandela, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, December 9, 2013. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

    BARACK OBAMA

  4. says

    It should also be noted that Mandela was one of the driving forces for South Africa to shut down its nuclear weapons program and help avoided a massive wave of bloodshed in the wake of the end of apartheid.