Above: South African President F. W. de Klerk with Nelson Mandela, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1993
Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052
NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA (JULY 18, 1918-DECEMBER 5, 2013)
President of South Africa and Renewer of Society
I have added a host of “new” saints with feast day in December to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days recently, but I have reserved Nelson Mandela until the end of this round of saints for December. (One of the advantages of maintaining my own calendar of saints is that I have complete editorial control of it.) To save the best for last is a good policy. The process of adding to the Ecumenical Calendar will go on hiatus after this post, and I want a major, contemporary saint to be the first holy person a person comes across when scrolling down the page until I begin to add “new” saints with feast days in January again. (I have twelve monthly lists of names to consider.)
In the great majority of posts in this genre I provide more personal details than I do in this one. This time, however, I choose to include links to sources for those details and to focus instead on some targeted reflections related to Mandela.
Apartheid was a brutal and unjust system in the Republic of South Africa. The national government deprived the majority population of civil rights and liberties. It also persecuted even nonviolent activists for social justice. Racism was one reason for these policies. Some people were simply callous bastards. Other reasons for these policies were the desire to retain power and the fear that a politically empowered majority African population might take revenge on the minority White population. Those fears of revenge were predictable. Indeed, movements of national liberation have not always led to peace and reconciliation. Nevertheless, injustice is wrong at all times and places, and fear is no excuse for not respecting the image of God in other people.
Nelson Mandela struggled for social justice. For a time, as part of that effort, he approved of violence. Perhaps that was the only option the South African government left him for a while. I choose to refrain from judging Mandela for that tactic, for I am in no position to do otherwise. Far be it for me, one who has never lived under such an oppressive system, to judge those who have and who have resisted! I do not know what decisions I would have made in their circumstances. I do know, however, that my liberal tendency to oppose oppressive regimes and to support oppressed people renders me amenable to those who struggle for the recognition of their human dignity, which those in authority deny. Slave rebellions make sense to me, after all. Will the slaveholders emancipate the slaves if the slaves ask nicely? The historical record does not indicate that they are inclined to do so.
Mandela, a Christian (a Methodist, to be precise), became a peacemaker. The man, who, as a high-profile political prisoner, negotiated the terms of his release with President F. W. de Klerk, served as President from 1994 to 1999. Then, unlike, many national leaders in Africa, he retired from office willingly. Post-Apartheid South Africa featured no reign of vengeance. No, President Mandela sought to united the diverse, divided population.
When Mandela died in December 2013 tributes to him in the United States were bipartisan. Many of those who praised him were former critics. However, many people on the conservative end of the political spectrum remained critical of the great man. These criticisms were relics of the Cold War. During the Cold War the United States of America and the Republic of South Africa were allies against Communists. (The Cold War made for some uncomfortable and unfortunate alliances. Frequently the U.S.A. allied itself with brutal governments.) The Cold War also became an obstacle to seeking social justice in South Africa. President Ronald Reagan, a firm opponent of the Soviet Union, told Archbishop Desmond Tutu to his face in the 1980s that the majority population of South Africa would have to wait for its freedom. With the government of the United States allied with the government of South Africa and labeling the African National Congress (ANC) as a terrorist organization, many South African dissenters found allies which dismayed the U.S. government and confirmed it in its distrust of the ANC. But what if the U.S.A. had allied itself with those seeking freedom in South Africa instead of those who seeking to deny it? What is the value of boasting of high ideals without living them?
Mandela was an agent of God, social justice, and national reconciliation. The human race needs more people like him.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 2, 2015 COMMON ERA
PROPER 13: THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B
THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOANNA, MARY, AND SALOME, WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,
and to give his life for the life of the world.
Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world
offers no comfort and little help.
Through us give hope to the hopeless,
love to the unloved,
peace to the troubled,
and rest to the weary,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60