Christians differ on Madiba legacy
Nelson Mandela spent his 95th birthday today in a Pretoria hospital, where the surprise latest news is that his health is improving remarkably well and he has smiled and nodded at birthday visitors.
The streets outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where the former President has been for the past 41 days after being admitted with a recurring lung infection thronged with well-wishers today amidst tightened police security.
And around the country thousands of people honoured Madiba by participating in 67-minutes ‘Nelson Mandela International Day’ acts of community service. Elsewhere in the world the United Nations-designated day was marked by special events to pay tribute to the ailing elder statesman who won international respect and admiration for his conciliatory leadership during the difficult first five years of post-apartheid South Africa.
Along with famous and everyday people at home and abroad, many Christians in South Africa took time out to participate in Mandela Day and wish Madiba ‘happy birthday’.
IOL News reports that leaders of various churches gathered at the hospital to wish Madiba well on his birthday. It says they assembled at the Park Street entrance to the hospital to say prayers, asking God to heal Mandela. Leading the group was Reverend Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party.
“Religious leaders believe in prayer. When someone has done good, it is our duty to thank God for sending us such a person,” Meshoe said.
“We are here to ask God to bless Mandela and his family. We have a peaceful South Africa today because of him (Mandela).”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who like Mandela is a past Nobel Peace Prize winner, spent his 67 minutes of community service helping to paint a school outside Cape Town, saying Mandela makes South Africans “walk tall” and urging compatriots to refrain from divisive behavior.
And South Africa’s last apartheid era president, F W de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993, said in a statement that Mandela’s birthday “should be a time for quiet and respectful contemplation — and not for unseemly squabbling over the ownership of Mr Mandela’s heritage.”
He continued: “Throughout his life he has been a loyal and stalwart member of the ANC — but I believe that through his example and through his unwavering commitment to national reconciliation — all South Africans, regardless of their race or political affiliation, can now proudly call him their own.”
Gateway News however this week received several emails from South African Christians who say they are concerned that people are making an idol of Mandela and are ignoring negative aspects of his legacy such as legalising abortion and pornography. They also criticise him for never renouncing ‘terrorism’. This viewpoint is articulated in detail by Dr Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship, in an article entitled ‘Mandela Day and the Making of a New Religion’.
It is a historical fact that Mandela approved the legalisation of abortion on demand which has tragically led to the lawful killing of more than a million babies in their mothers’ wombs since 1994. This raises the question in my mind: who has more to answer for to God in this matter? Is it Mandela for signing the law or the Church (which disapproves of abortion) for allowing this evil to continue on our watch? Mandela has much to teach many of us Christians about having the courage of our convictions.
In a statement released today, the ACDP, a staunch opponent of abortion, honours Mandela for his “selfless devotion to the people of our country”.
“Very rarely will one find a man who, after suffering the humiliation of over two decades in jail, will walk out of prison and ‘turn the other cheek’, by calling for peace and unity, when others called for war and mayhem,” it says.
The ACDP’s tribute to Mandela is clearly made in spite of their disapproval of some of his decisions. However, when it comes to our modern culture, it is true that it does have a tendency to idolise celebrities and that in this age Mandela is virtually worshiped in certain sectors. We as Christians in South Africa need to worship Jesus alone but should we not also thank God for the timely gift of a leader who paved the way for peaceful political change? Some Christians are concerned about violence and vengeance they fear could break out once the restraining influence of Mandela is gone. We should remember that before 1994 Christians prayed against mass violence that was feared when power changed hands. God answered the prayers and gave us Madiba. In the last year South Africa has been soaked in unprecedented prayer: our hope is still in God.
On the topic of prayer, the news in the past 41 days has been full of reports of Christians praying for Mandela’s recovery. For most of that time the official status of his health has been “critical”, while court documents in a Mandela family wrangle referred to Mandela being “in a permanent vegetative state”. Yet today, on his birthday, we hear he is smiling, alert and responding amazingly well to treatment. Are we not witnessing another miraculous answer to prayer? Let us pray that in his final days Madiba will trust fully in Christ.
Meanwhile, Gateway News Volunteer Reporters from different parts of South Africa have sent in reports on how churches and Christians have observed today’s call to dedicate 67 minutes to acts of kindness.
From Johannesburg, Debbie Hemmens reports that in its fourth year there are signs of the campaign becoming more routine than heartfelt. She also asks: Is 67 minutes once a year enough?
From Cape Town, Mark Volmink writes about a group of work colleagues who supported and visited a Christian recovery home for addicts and broken people.
Patsy Fulton writes from Witbank that a local DA councillor and committed Christian Helene Griffiths prepared for Mandela Day by taking a group of Australian high school students, educators, councillors and community activists on an outreach to the Old Coronation squatter camp, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Witbank.
She said that on Mandela Day she, together with fellow DA councillors and a community activist would perform tasks at Witbank Hospital. She said other 67 minutes projects included painting at the old age home in Schoegezicht, (an area just out of town limits) and pothole fixing in Phola township (which is a thirty minute drive from town).
From Port Elizabeth, Kwakanya Ndleleni reports that Father’s House church was participating in Mandela Day by collecting various grocery items to make up 67 food parcels and distributing them to 67 different needy families including old age home residents.
Also in Port Elizabeth we received news of the Storehouse church inviting people to participate in the day by joining a regular Thursday evening soup kitchen ‘Central for Jesus’ outreach to street people. According to late reports four people responded to Jesus and God healed two people during the evening outreach.
And finally, from Johannesburg Solomon Malisa files this report that I am sure is one-of-a-kind: “A Banaero Park man, Manford Kruger, 62 dedicated his 67 minutess of Mandela Day to feeding birds in Blue Pan dam in East Rand.
“Kruger said he chose to feed birds as he believes it’s God mandate to look after birds and animals.
“I have purchased maize worth about R500 to spoil the birds as they survive on food that we throw away.”
He said the love of animals can lead to people loving one another. He said he has been feeding birds for the last 10 years.”