As the world wide outpouring of grief for Africa’s greatest statesmen is played out on the 24 hour news channels I found myself wondering why this man’s story, as incredible as it is, resonates across the nations?
By and large, African countries are largely ignored on the International stage. Their leaders tend to be viewed as cautionary tales; not as secular saints. Yet Nelson Mandela stands out, not only from among other African leaders, but with the great statesmen of history.
How did he do it?
In many ways he encapsulates the traits Jesus highlighted you would find in someone who is advancing God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 5) He was:
* A Peacemaker
* Persecuted for righteousness sake.
He forgave the captors who stole 27 years of his life and turned his enemies into his allies.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
I have many white South African friends and have been part of their community since the end of apartheid in 1994. Here’s the thing; Every single one of them sings Mandela’s praises.
They love him!
They credit him with keeping together a country that could have (should have?) torn itself apart. Mandela reached out to the South African people, both black and white, with a dream that would have made Martin Luther King Jr. proud. It was the impossible idea that a man who had been imprisoned by the white apartheid government for 27 years could could win the hearts of his captors.
That white South Africans would see Nelson Mandela as their president as well!
“Respect was what apartheid denied black people. Mandela won respect by giving it to others.”
Simon Kuper- Financial Times
Mandela crossed racial lines…which are possibly the toughest lines to cross. He made white South Africans feel they “belong” in the new South Africa and they reciprocated by loving him as their president!
2000 years ago Jesus demonstrated an alternative way of ordering society; one founded on love reinforced through mercy and forgiveness rather than power reinforced through hate and vengeance.
When dictators come to power they traditionally exact retribution on their political enemies. Mandela chose to invite his enemies to break bread with him instead. In 1994 he invited South African Army General Constand Viljoen, who was seen as leading a possible white led guerrilla movement against the new post-Apartheid government,
So Nelson Mandela invited him over for tea. When Viljoen and three other retired generals arrived at Mandela’s house in Johannesburg, they expected a maid to open the door. Instead a smiling Mandela greeted them, shaking their hands and expressing his delight at seeing them. Then he invited Viljoen to his lounge for a private chat.
“He asked me if I took tea,” Viljoen later told John Carlin, author of the new book Knowing Mandela (and a contributor to the FT). “I said yes and he poured me a cup. He asked me if I took milk. I said yes and he poured me milk. Then he asked me if I took sugar with my tea. I said I did and he poured the sugar. All I had to do was stir it!
Speaking in Viljoen’s language, Afrikaans, Mandela persuaded him that a guerrilla war would lead nowhere. Instead, he urged him to stand for parliament in the multiracial elections. Viljoen left the house purged of warlike thoughts. “Mandela wins over all who meet him,” he told Carlin.”
Simon Kuper- Financial Times (Link here)
My evangelical friends often say people are not “accepting Jesus”.
I beg to differ.
I believe the world is crying out for Jesus. People are groaning for a world governed by peace, joy, mercy, and love. Mandela personified these traits and was loved for it.
Nelson Mandela was by no means perfect. In fact sadly, sometimes the “myth” overshadows the story of what fallible men and woman can do…
…fallible men and women with Grace on their lips and the Kingdom of God etched on their heart.
Nelson Mandela was a Kingdom man full of grace…and he will be missed!