A Google search of the name Nelson Mandela yields 186 million pages. It is staggering how much information about this man exists out there. As an exercise I also googled my name and I was disappointed at the results. My consolation is that the former president is more than twice my age and has made sacrifices that I doubt I would be willing to make. Obviously not everything that is written about Mr Mandela is true.
There are varying opinions about him and some are disparaging. An article on page 9 of the Weekend Post dated June 15, 2013 reported that Nick Griffin, chairman of the British far-right British National Party caused a storm on social media when he tweeted that Mandela was a “murdering old terrorist.” I do not know who Nick Griffin is but he has now achieved notoriety with this unsavoury remark.
This brings me to the legacy of Dr Nelson Mandela. It is not a secret that he supported the formation of Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK), the then military wing of the ANC. This means that he was not against the use of violence in the struggle against racial oppression but the fact that Mandela was not a pacifist should not taint his legacy. The much acclaimed British war-time hero Winston Churchill was also not famous because of pacifism but for his exploits during battle.
One of Churchill’s well known quotes is “we shall defend our island, whatever the cost be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” The latest hospitalisation of Mr Mandela has now given rise to questions about his eternal destiny. Questions are now being asked about his relationship with God.
These questions are being asked while others are refusing to face up to the eventuality of his death. I am not going to posit an opinion about where Mandela will spend his eternity but I would like to focus on the enduring legacy he is leaving behind. If Mandela was not a Christian then he certainly was one in conduct. His manner and conduct were consistent with what you would expect of a follower of Christ.
His conduct is an exemplar for those who claim to know the living God. If all Christians lived like Mandela then the world would be a far better place. It is far better for most Christians to be like Mandela than for Mandela to be like them. Mandela had ideals he was not only prepared to live for but also to die for. Very few people are prepared to live for their convictions and let alone die for them.
Our former president is not a saint. He himself once said: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying”. Mandela does not represent sainthood but the principle of divine providence. He is a gift from God but it is what we do with that gift that concerns me. God gave him to us, warts and all. If we do not emulate his values and internalise his principles we would have failed. His values are more aligned to Christianity than to any other philosophy or belief.
If we say his values were humanistic then humanists make better neighbours than some Christians. He once said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” A sinner who lives like a saint is less of a problem than saints who live like sinners. We need to think about the void this man will leave behind. A void in ethical and inspirational leadership
The leaders that Mandela leaves behind are an embarrassment to his legacy and the country he loves has also not lived up to the Mandela brand. This is a brand we have exported to the world but we should now import to our hearts and homes. We should import it to our churches, schools, businesses, etc. I know that Mandela’s works will not earn him a place in heaven but then again, we do not know if he doesn’t already know that.