The faith of Nelson Mandela

A mural of former South African president Nelson Mandela is seen at Regina Mundi church in Soweto.
A mural of former South African president Nelson Mandela at Regina Mundi church in Soweto.

By Jim Denison — Originally published in the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture

Nelson Mandela was one of the world’s most revered figures.  Imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, he rose from prisoner to president, leading his nation from 1994 to 1999.  It is believed that he suffered lung damage while working in a prison quarry; he also contracted tuberculosis in the 1980’s while being held at windswept Robben Island.  After retiring from public life in 2004, he has been rarely seen in public.

We know about his fight against apartheid and triumphant election as South Africa’s first black president.  But what about his personal faith? 

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela tells the story of his early engagement with Christianity: “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.”  As a result, Mandela became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible classes on Sundays in nearby villages.

A few weeks before he was elected South Africa’s president, he gave a speech at a Christian church’s Easter conference.  After reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), he began by praising God for “the Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!”  He consistently proclaimed his commitment to Christ as his Lord throughout his adult life.

As his health has declined, Mandela’s daughter told an interviewer, “All we do every day is take one day at a time and pray to the good Lord.”  Makaziwe Mandela said that her father was at peace, and that the family hoped for a peaceful transition: “All I pray for as a daughter is that the transition is smooth. . . . He is at peace with himself.  He has given so much to the world.  I believe he is at peace.”

So do I.  In his Easter conference speech, Mandela proclaimed, “Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith.  It marks the victory of our risen Savior over the torture of the cross and the grave.”  Soon that victory over the grave will come to Nelson Mandela.  God’s promise will come true for him: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

The same God delights in you as well.  Whether you are a president or a prisoner, what matters is not where you are but whose you are.  Is your identity today based on earth’s opinion or heaven’s promise?

  •  James C. Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on cultural and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian “think tank” designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009.


  1. He is a man of noble spirit – kind, forgiving,generous, faith-filled, courageous and loyal. Thank you, Lord, for giving the world such a wonderful gift.

  2. shame, He is also misled by pagan worship Sunday and Easter.May God have mercy on him.

    • … and on you for your narrow minded, judgmental and self righteous attitude my Brother… We all know how Jesus responded to the Pharisees!

  3. While I might respect Mr Mandela forhis fight against Aparheid or do not believe he has shown any fruit of the effect of the Christian gospel.
    He signed our constitution with its support for gay orientation and abortion into law like David was held responsible for signing the death warrant of Uriah, Mr Mandela signed the death warrant of thoysands of unborn South Africans.

  4. Peter Badenhorst

    To the last two comments: John 8 verse 7.

  5. Mr Mandela is a man like all of us and is therefore a sinner. It is not for us to pass judgement on him. What I find incredible about the man is that he was able to forgive those that locked him up for so long. Such forgiveness could only have come from The Lord and to me tat is fruit. I can not say that I would have been so forgiving.

  6. While Mr Mandela has obviously done much for the nation and the world, this is irrelevant to the condition of his soul. Like all of us he needs to admit he is a sinner and then repent whilst turning to the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and only God. What I have seen by Mandela is an embracing of the all-inlcusive pantheistic impersonal god that calls ALL PEOPLE “God’s children”, instead of embracing the Personal God our Father that DOES have His special race- those who are born again.

    I watched this video on Facebook.
    It raises serious questions about the integrity of his Faith.

  8. Pingback: The Faith of Nelson Mandela | Fr Stephen Smuts

  9. I love Tata Mandela But if Jesus is not His personal LOrd and Saviour then He will not be with the Lord on that day.Romans 10:9

  10. I have never heard Mr Mandela saying Jesus is the only Way to Heaven and that salvation is received by believing in Him and Him alone.

  11. On the “other side” the first thing he will do, he said “I will be joining a branch of the ANC”.Will the ANC be running show in the place where he is going ?

  12. Good day Saints.At this stage all we can do is pray that God saves his soul so that Madiba may also enter into the Kingdom of God. Let’s not get wrapped up in trivial debates but become focused on eternity.

  13. Mandela we are reminding in u tata. he was former fight for freedom as e.g.of The story of Moses, he out people of israel from land of egypt of salve. But I wonder is he was become born again? If he was, he could 2spoke abt Jesus is only one way and gospel, is it not? only God Knows.