Mandela and issues of idolatory


Now that Former President Nelson Mandela has been buried I thought it appropriate to deal with an issue that was topical during the 10 day period of mourning and this is the issue of idolatry. The period of mourning and ceremonies surrounding Mandela’s death brought to bear issues of cultural differences and questions of whether or not this much-loved politician has been idolised.

Mandela has been referred to as a “global icon” and this showed in his memorial service and funeral which attracted people from all over the world. In fact the name Nelson Mandela has become a global brand which is estimated to be worth millions of dollars. This perhaps explains why two of Mandela’s granddaughters, Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway, who were raised in the US, courted controversy by appearing in a reality show entitled “Being Mandela.”

The television series covered the private lives of these young women but many people felt that it was in bad taste and was exploiting the name of Nelson Mandela. In fact family members of Mandela have been accused of seeking to cash-in from their father’s image. Although the Nelson Mandela Foundation is the legal custodian of the Mandela brand there are over 100 registered companies that are associated with Mandela and this besides the many roads, buildings, parks, schools and bridges named after him.

The man has become so powerful that even his Robben Island prison number, 46664 has given birth to rock concerts, a clothing range, cell-phone starter packs, etc. Mandela’s birthday, July 18, is now sanctioned by the UN as “Mandela Day.” The question now is being asked: Have we not crossed the line from adoration to idolatry? Have we not conferred on Mandela a status akin to making him a saint or something extraordinary? 

Biblical comparisons
After his passing he was compared to Jesus, Moses, and other Biblical characters. A day after he was interred an R8 million statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled at the Union Building in Pretoria. Many people believe that Mandela deserves this adulation because without him South Africa would not be where it is right now. Is this assertion correct and does it take God’s sovereignty into consideration? I believe there was an invisible hand in SA’s peaceful transition and that hand was God’s.

The idea that without the cooperation of men, God’s plan would not be fulfilled is false. Without our cooperation God’s plans can be delayed but not denied. God does not depend on us but we depend on him. Without Mandela South Africa would have achieved its freedom, maybe later and with much difficulty but it would have happened. Similarly, without Europe’s intervention, civilization would have reached Africa and this is a point I made to someone on Facebook who argued that Africans would still be wearing  loinskins and practicing idolatry if Europeans had not set foot on this continent. This view assumes that Europeans have not only done Africans a favour but also did a favour for God, who presumably would not have been able to reach African people without the help of Europe. In this belief is the idea that Europeans are Africa’s saviours in the same way that some believe that Mandela was South Africa’s saviour. Both of these are examples of idolatry and exalting men to an undeserved status.   

Earlier I mentioned the issue of SA’s cultural differences and indeed, these differences were evident around commemorations and ceremonies surrounding Mandela’s death. As was to be expected, Mandela’s funeral was conducted according to Xhosa rites and customs. At the centre of these rites is the veneration of the dead, which is a practice that is at the core of African Traditional Religion (ATR). ATR is a religion that predates Christianity in Africa and today many practice it in the guise of African culture.

In fact ATR has such a hold on African culture that  it is difficult to tell the two apart. In South Africa many people who call themselves Christians are actually adherents of ATR who practice a hybrid religious system that consists of ATR and Christianity. This is what theologians call syncretism or religious mixture. I was not at Mandela’s funeral but I know that the ceremony would have included elements of both Christianity and ATR.

During Mandela’s memorial service which was broadcast to millions around the world, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is the African Union Commission chairman, said she knew the late statesman will continue to watch over us. For logistical reasons Mandela’s funeral should have been held in Pretoria but cultural considerations took pre-eminence. Although his was a state funeral with full military honours, it could not be held without including traditional rituals.

For instance when interviewed a few days before the funeral, Mandela family spokesman, General Themba Matanzima said the rituals will include a family elder informing the spirit of Madiba of his location whenever the body is being moved. If this is not done, he said, the spirit will become restless. If you have been following the news you would know that Mandela’s body was moved a few times and so you can imagine how many times his spirit had to be consulted.

Regarding the funeral, Timeslive reports that only 450 selected guests were allowed to accompany the body to the cemetery while the rest watched the proceedings on large screens. However, Mandela’s family requested that the final procedures of the burial not be filmed and you can imagine for yourself what took place at the graveside. My prayer is that Mandela’s grave be not made a shrine where people attempt to commune with him.   

Mandela’s ideas will live with us but his spirit will not, as some have suggested. We must reject idolatry which is the diverting of worship from the Almighty to another entity. 


  1. Amen! “Preach it brother”! Jesus is the only way, truth and life!

  2. Praise the Lord for raising you up Bro. Afrika and anointing you to preach the truth for such a time as this. I commend you for your courage, boldness and intregity. You are indeed a voice for those who prefer to remain silent. I heard you preach at our Stadium two years ago and already I was impressed with what God had done in your life and for the way he used you that day to bring a powerful message. If I may be so bold as to say you were one of the best speakers that day. Then I heard you minister at Harvest Christian Church a few Sundays ago. We as a congregation were fascinated by what you had to share. It really opened our eyes and understanding of how ignorant we are of the Black Culture and Ancestral Idolatry. It is so sad to see how Satan has deceived even those who call themselves Christians. Please keep up the good work and continue to preach with boldness, courage and fearlessness. May the Holy Spirit guide you, give you greater wisdom, understanding and knowledge in the coming days and may many, many young men and women be raised up to preach and be inspired by you, not to compromise the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will pray for you, your wife and children for supernatural protection and that a wall of fire be around you as a family. God bless you.

    • Thanks a lot Eleen. We need those prayers. I am grateful to God for the opportunity to be used by Him and the doors He opens like Harvest.
      I believe God wants to use all of us to reveal His truth and beauty to those who are ignorant or under the veil of deception. Blessings to you and all who are connected to you.

  3. Many leaders prefer to go along with the widespread idolatry&demonic activity found in so-called cultural practices.I pray that your voice will not be silenced.I am sure you are already being persecuted.

    • I am not receiving that much persecution Reuben because for now I am still speaking within the corridors of the Church. A few ministers a rattled but I expect real persecution when address these issues to a broader audience. Next year we will use the mainstream media and I am readying myself for the backlash. The Lord is with me I know

  4. Thank you, Afrika, for another courageous warning. What do the ATR experts say will happen if Mandela’s spirit is ‘restless’? Last week I read the answer: “the spirit of Mandela would cause bad luck on the family – maybe one of them would be killed in a car accident.” Mandela is on record as loving his family. Why would his spirit suddenly turn vindictive and hurt the very ones he loved while he was alive? It doesn’t add up, and is an insult to the great man.

    • Exactly Hugh, if only these people who say these things could actually listen to what they are saying and consider the implications carefully.
      Some of the things they say are actually contradictory. It is like they make it up as they go. We know that the spirit of a person is who he really is and so as a spirit he shouldn’t act contrary to who he was while on earth, if he acts at all.

  5. Hi afrika thanks for giving the truth to us all. Just a question how is it going with the book you are re writing about ancestors etc. You mentioned it at the mmc2013. Would love to read that.

    • Hi Hendrik,
      The book came out at the beginning of October and in my view it is doing well. It has sold around 700 copies so far.
      You can order a copy directly from me by sending me an email to In fact many of the copies sold have been sold by me directly. The book has spurned seminars, teaching DVD’s and CD’s on the subject of ancestral veneration. Blessings

  6. God judges anyone who talks to and has dealings with the spirit of the dead. It is easy for us to judge ATR followers for doing this while moved Mandela’s body to its burial site. But at most Christian funerals I’ve attended, in a Western cultural context, some of those giving Tributes actually address the dead person as if they were alive, using the pronoun ‘you’. “Thank you for being a good husband” “Your pain in now over, rest in peace. I know you are watching over us who remain.” All Christian pastors must lovingly warn the bereaved that God condemns talking to the dead. Yes, there is psychological comfort in doing so, and in believing that the dead loved-one will care for them, and even mediate for them with God. But this is a serious error. We should draw our comfort from Jesus, and talk to Him instead. Yes, by all means share among yourselves memories of the life of the one who has died, but keep the talk in the arena of Memory, not in continuing Conversation with the Deceased.

    • You are right Hugh even in African communities people make this error of talking to a dead person as if he were present in the funeral. Even some people who spoke about Former President Nelson Mandela spoke as if he was listening to them.
      Often when conducting a funeral we have to remind the mourners that the deceased’s body is not him or her but just his container he used while on earth. We must not seek false comfort but must look to Jesus for true comfort. Blessings

  7. Thank you, Pastor Afrika, for once again bringing such clarity. May God continue to use you mightily, as you share on these issues.

  8. When I refused to stand up in 2010 when Mandela entered the stadium and told them that I will not bow to a man but to Jesus, they thought I was mad. When I said what good is it for a man to win the whole world but loose his soul,i was told that I have achieved nothing compared to Madiba. When I read your article I said ahhhhhhh… is another who belongs not of this world, who is a bondservant of Christ. Well done. Jesus is the only solution.

  9. Can you please refer me to biblical texts that condemn talking to the dead. Is standing up when a senior person enters a room, (Gugu,s comment) equivalent to bowing to a man? Is this not only a sign a respect? So many cultures practice it, not only African cultures practice such! Does this mean practices in forces like police, military and others, where standing up and actually being expected to maintain a particular posture in the presence of senior personnel demonstrate idolatory?

    • Hi Tebelelo,
      I am not sure of the context of Gugu’s situation when Mandela was wheeled into the stadium. I don’t think it is wrong to stand in the presence of the elderly but I wonder about the logic of the whole stadium standing when one person is wheeled in. Chances are that there other elderly people there whose presence didn’t solicit a standing ovation. I doubt if someone else elderly was wheeled in people would have been required to stand. Maybe Gugu had a problem with what she perceived to be a hero-worshipping of an individual.

      Scriptures you can read that show that talking to the dead is a sin against God are: Deut 18:9-15; Isaiah 8:19; Eccl 9:4-6; Lev 19:31. My question to you is why would you talk to the dead and do they talk back to you? What is the benefit in talking to the dead and how do you know that they hear you? Besides that this practice is prohibited in Scripture, if it was something we were meant to do then why are we not instructed to do it? Otherwise I could suggest that you purchase my book, “Christianity and the veneration of the dead – should a Christian consult the dead” which has all the answers you need on this subject.
      You can email me at if you need more info.

  10. Well done Sir, we need many more like you in S.A. unfortunately a nation is judged on the way the leaders have led them. Our leaders are leading the people into idolatry. God help us. Just look at the O.T what happened to Israel when they went into idolatry