A mighty man who has left his mark…..
Today we got the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela, a man affectionately called Madiba. His journey from being a second-class citizen to becoming the president of a nation is inspirational. To honour him, I want to reflect on some marks Mandela has left behind in this world for us to take hold of.
1. The mark of forgiveness
On June 12, 1964, Mandela facing the possible death sentence made this statement, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He was sentenced to life imprisonment where he remained in prison for 27 years at Robben Island. It is easy for him to become bitter and resentful for the way he was treated by an unjust and corrupt government. Yet for the sake of the vision he had, he was prepared to forgive the people who had hurt him. When he was released from prison, he commented, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
If Madiba can forgive after all he has been through, surely I can forgive those who wrong me. Why should I keep myself imprisoned by holding unforgiveness and resentment in my heart?
2. The mark of humility.
In a world of egotistical and self-centred leadership, Mandela possessed a humility that is beyond imagination. Madiba had achieved so much in his 95 years on earth, 27 of which was spent in prison. Having been through the worst of life, he recognised that the world did not revolve around him. It was about sharing his life with others so that together the nation will succeed. “It is a mistake to think that what has happened is the achievement of one man. What has been accomplished is a collective effort”, Mandela said. We live in a world where individuals fight to take credit for success. But it was Mandela’s humility that united the nation.
To black South Africans, the Springbok rugby jersey was regarded as one of the most hated symbols of apartheid. So for Nelson Mandela, the symbol of black suffering, to appear before a worldwide audience wearing the green-and-gold jersey at the 1995 World Cup final was totally unimaginable yet became the most unlikely turnaround politically. Even though he was president and he could have chosen to wear anything that day, he chose to honour the Afrikaners. Of the 63,000 people in the stadium, 62,000 were whites. When they saw him, they rose and with one voice shouted his name “Bayed”. It was, as Desmond Tutu would describe it, ‘an electric moment’. He was not seeking glory for himself. He was seeking a united South Africa. He was prepared to lay aside all that has happened to him through the hands of the white people to honour them that day. When Mandela, still wearing his Springbok gear, handed the cup to Pienaar, saying: ‘Thank you very much for what you have done for our country’, Francois Pienaar replied, ‘Mr President, it is nothing compared to what you have done for our country.’
3.The mark of servanthood.
To me, Nelson Mandela is the ultimate public servant. When I read about the life of Mandela, I see a man who lived a selfless life, a man who loved his nation and gave his life serving them, often at the expense of his own family. Even before his imprisonment, all the work and fighting he did was to improve the conditions of his own South African people. He never saw the apartheid government as his enemy and he continually tried to develop a relationship with government employees and treated them with respect. He soon earned respect of these people. When he gave his first speech after being released from prison, he said, “I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all! I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
Mandela received many national international honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. In July 2004, the city of Johannesburg bestowed its highest honour by granting Mandela the freedom of the city at a ceremony in Orlando, Soweto. He received other rewards but he was never influenced by the honour he received. He continually served the people till he was not able to serve anymore. He ended that time by saying “Don’t call me, I will call you.”
4. The mark of valuing human dignity
Bill Clinton today said, “History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation,” That is so true. As I look at Mandela’s life, I see a man who valued human dignity. It didn’t matter to him if a person is rich or poor, famous or unknown, old or young, white or black. He treated them all with the same respect and attention. This weekend the Baptists around the world stand united to support human rights and to fight against injustice and discrimination. We need to also remember Madiba who was the champion for human rights. He once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.5. He taught me that good will always prevail in the end.” To him love will always triumph no matter what. For Mandela, true freedom comes when we live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
As I reflect on the life of a man I greatly admire, I can’t help but think that good will always triumph over evil if we remain patient and to hold on to the marks that Mandela has left for us – the marks of forgiveness, humility, servanthood and valuing human dignity. For me living in post earthquake Christchurch, there are lot of things happening that could make me bitter and resentful. But if a man like Mandela after all he has been through is able to relate well with people who frustrate us and win them over, maybe focusing on building relationships and honouring people is a lesson we need to hold on to.