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The Legacy of Nelson Mandela by One Who was There

December 9, 2013

Much is being said and broadcast on the news with the passing of Nelson Mandela. He is being portrayed by many as a saint. However, I don't think Nelson Mandela himself would agree with that characterization. I'm sure, unlike many of political leaders of today, that he was only too aware of his own failings and humanity - the mark of a truly great man.
To really understand his life you need to get to grips with his background and the struggle he faced. Only then can you fully appreciate his journey and what he accomplished.
As young white South Africans at the time when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, most of us felt excited but also very insecure. The future for all of us was extremely uncertain. There was a mass exodus of white people leaving South Africa in the weeks preceding Mandela's release. The only prior exposure we had to Nelson Mandela was via the media and many believed him to be a radical terrorist who would take revenge on his former persecutors. This wasn't helped by the slogan that was being brandished by some black African activists, “One settler, one bullet.”  There was a lot of stress and fear of a looming civil war. We honestly did not know who the man was and what the years of incarceration had done to him. His wife, Winnie had also been through a terrible struggle, oftentimes suffering humiliation and indignities. She was very vocal and created a lot of unrest. A peaceful sharing of power between blacks and whites was not highly probable at that stage.
On the other hand, we had been through decades of rule and had grown up under an apartheid system. Personally, we were very keen to see the end of apartheid, but it was hard to imagine how this transformation would have a peaceful and successful outcome. We could not envisage that Nelson Mandela, a co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which translates as “Spear of the Nation,” would bring peace. MK, the armed wing of the African National congress (ANC), was formed in June 1961 in the wake of the violence of the Sharpeville Massacre. Mandela and his colleagues believed that violence was inevitable as their non-violent and peaceful actions were met with governmental force. In December 1961 MK launched its first attack on the government and in so doing was classified as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and the United States and thus was banned.
At the beginning of 1989, F.W. de Klerk was the newly elected leader of the National Party and became the State President. His policies and actions were not endorsed by all as he worked on the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and the lifting of the ban on the ANC. He was a catalyst in the process of change.
We remember Nelson Mandela's first public speech after his release. This was the first time that we the public were able to hear his voice and judge him first hand. It was most surprising to hear from a man who was forgiving and humble. He was clearly looking forward and moving forward - and was certainly not looking back. South Africa was blessed to have two men, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela who lived lives of courage and conviction. Both showed remarkable strength of character and leadership in the face of opposition to bring about peaceful change that most felt was an impossible task.
Nelson Mandela was a true example of humanity and humility. He was not full of bitterness or revenge in the face of injustice. This would have been a natural and expected response. Rather he chose to walk a higher path, that of forgiveness. His sacrifice changed a nation, changed the world. He was a remarkable man, loved and respected by a nation and by the world.
We received several emails and articles this week detailing all of Nelson Mandela’s sins and failings. They pointed out that he was not a “freedom fighter” as many claim, nor was his 27-year sentence a political one. Mandela was a Communist, and his prison sentence was for numerous acts of sabotage, including bombings. So even though he was peaceful in later life, as a young man he was very violent. They also spoke of his friendships while he was president of South Africa with brutal dictators like Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro.
I decided to ask two friends who lived in South Africa when Mandela was released to bring some balance to this discussion. John and Mel Berry were co-pastors with me at a church here in Florida. But they came from South Africa, and knew first-hand about the things that others are writing about from Internet accounts or news stories. John confirmed that Mandela was a Communist and that he was imprisoned for violence that could have gotten him the death penalty. He pled guilty to 156 acts of violence. But John also said that Mandela lived his life after prison as a humble and peaceful man. Ultimately I was very pleased when Mel offered to write this article to help Conservative Truth readers understand the real Nelson Mandela.   

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