Thoughts on Nelson Mandela from our President

Dear CTS Community,

When prisoner No. 46664 was sent to Robben Island, the remote South African prison formerly the site of a leper colony and an asylum for the mentally ill, it appeared the apartheid regime had the upper hand. At birth, the prisoner's given name was Rolihlahla, Xhosa for "troublemaker." Baptized a Methodist, he was educated in Methodist schools, and one of his early teachers arbitrarily gave him the English name, "Nelson."

Today, many refer to him by his clan name, Madiba, or simply as Tata ("Father"). Indeed, in the death of Nelson Mandela, we have all lost one of our true fathers. A father of freedom and forgiveness. A father who stood, with unsurpassed dignity and grace, at the heart of the twentieth century's greatest story: the rise of human rights around the world. If he was a troublemaker (and he was), he was a troublemaker for justice. If he was prisoner No. 46664 (and he was), he was a prisoner who transformed his captivity into a kind of liberation, not only for his own people, but for the whole world.

After 27 years in prison, he was released into a country still seething with the turmoil of apartheid. He could have called for vengeance, for vicious riots, for civil war -- but instead he called for peace and democracy. As South Africa's first black president, he could have called for reprisals, but instead he called for forgiveness. And after retiring from the presidency, he turned his considerable talents to the fight against HIV/AIDS, to the crucial work of rural development, and to the cause of peacemaking around the world.

It may have been, in part, his Christian faith and schooling that helped him develop this kind of moral compass, this titanic capacity for patience and hope, and this unfailing resolve for the pursuit of justice and reconciliation. In any case, Christians everywhere do well to pause and take the measure of this man, and to thank God for his life and work. We are the generation now who follows him, and so taking his measure means recommitting ourselves to his inspired and inspiring example. Where do we need to forgive, and move on? Where do we need to redouble our efforts for justice, for hope, for human dignity?

In a breathtaking gesture of magnanimity that will be retold for generations to come, when prisoner No. 46664 was inaugurated as President of South Africa, he invited one of his prison wardens to be a guest at the ceremony. How can a human heart be that wide open? Asked in an interview to explain the way he avoided hatred after 27 years in prison, after apartheid, after all he and his loved ones had suffered, he brushed off the question and shook his head. Hatred clouds the mind, he said. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

A troublemaker, alright. The sane man in the island asylum. Tata Madiba, father to us all.

Thank God for prisoner No. 46664. Thank God for Nelson Mandela.

He will always be free!


Image of Nelson Mandela is a derivative of an image by the South Africa The Good News

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