Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Much has been written in the hours since Nelson Mandela’s death was announced late yesterday afternoon and more will follow. I debated whether or not I could add anything to the strong current of praise and thanksgiving which is attendant upon this good man’s death at the age of 95 and decided to share these few thoughts with you about Mandela.

When I was young I never thought I would live to see two things. The first was the end of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall. It seemed so improbable in the days of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov. When the outlying states started getting “frisky”, Moscow tightened its grip on them and their puppets in the what was then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and East Germany thought nothing of murdering/ imprisoning, torturing countless of their own people yearning to breath free. Russia and the KGB were relentless in seeking out anyone who spoke for any form of genuine democracy and one could see the suffering on the faces of those people. Stalin had established an iron-fist and drawn an iron-curtain and it was impossible for me to think then of any major change in my lifetime. Perhaps it was the foolishness of youth or a lack of faith in the power of God.

The second also  had to do with an “end-game” but this time it was my deeply rooted belief that in my lifetime I would probably never see the end of apartheid in South Africa. I had an occasion to visit South Africa in 1990 during the final years of white domination and while Nelson Mandela was still on Robbin Island, several miles out to sea from Cape Town. I drove through the camps/settlements of the black South Africans and found it rivaling or exceeding sometimes even the enormous poverty of Rio, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Watts, etc. There was one thing one could count on and that was that by a certain time in the early evening, every black South African needed to be back in the townships and off the streets where the whites lived. I knew it would not last because the rest of the world was waking up to its responsibility to help bring it to an end. I just did not think it would come so quickly.  Then the economic embargo began to make a difference. People throughout the world began to divest themselves from corporations doing business in South Africa, thereby propping up the white government rule. The bishop’s conference for which I worked excluded IBM, Ford, General Motors from our investment portfolios (at some sacrifice of earning) and those great corporations gradually either withdrew or radically downsized their presence in South Africa. The white minority could not ignore the growing disasterous consequences of white supremacy.

Through it all, there were two voices of sanity to  be heard. The Anglican Bishop of Capetown, Desmond Tutu, and from his cell on Robbin Island, Nelson Mandela. The African National Congress began to unify the black South Africans and the tide of the end of white rule in neighboring Zimbabwe began to seep South. First, Mandela was released from prison. With passion, conviction and courage, he preached a message of unification which included reconciliation and forgiveness. F.W. DeKlerk, the last white President of South Africa called for genuine elections knowing that he and his party would lose badly and when they did and Mandela became the nation’s president, there were no words of hatred to be heard from him against those who held the overwhelming number of citizens in bondage but only words of forgiveness and reconciliation and an intelligent, wise call for unity.

Majority rule in South Africa has not solved all the nation’s problems, economic and social. Even in Mandela’s government there was to be found instances of corruption though none ever touched the President. Patiently, steadily, steadfastly with a reliance on the help of God, he forged a nation with the intent to get better for all in time but to live in the present for the future without anger for the past. He acknowledged the role of religion and religions in freeing black South Africans from the grip of near-slavery and certainly desperate poverty but knew he could only start the forward progress and others would have to complete it. When his terms as President were up as a result of the new constitution he never threatened as did others in the nations to his near north, to remain in office but rather he retired from the spotlight and allowed, like the North Star,  a single point of light to accompany him till his death yesterday. He, like Pope Francis, and like this bishop, would readily and publicly admit that he was a sinner but he had tasted redemption in his life on earth and he wanted others to have the opportunity to dine at the same table. What a man! What a leader! What an example to a nation and to a world! I would have loved to have been the proverbial fly on the wall when the Lord came to take him home yesterday and I look forward to hopefully sharing eternity with him.

Nelson Mandela, rest in the peace of the Lord.


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