For some time, I wanted to write a post on Nelson Mandela, affectionately called Madiba, but decided to wait till the funeral, grieving, and the media frenzy subsided. That name Madiba fits Mandela. As one remarked, it emphasized his clan, his African-ness rather than Nelson, his given English name. To me both names fit well. I wish to reflect on the place, person, and people’s reactions, before and after.
I borrowed my title from the Scriptures. When the early disciple Philip sought Nathaniel and exclaimed in elaborate details: “We have found the Christ whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth”. Nathaniel scornfully responded: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It did! At Christmas, we read how the Jewish king and priests, with their holy books lost, and the Gentile wise men found him, in the Jewish back yard!
Qunu of South Africa and Nazareth of Palestine have something in common. I am not comparing Mandela to Jesus, but attempt to show how God delights in giving pleasant surprises. Who would have thought a small village called Qunu, with wandering chickens and goats and pothole-ridden roads, would gather the attention and honour of the whole world?
This scenario repeats often. God bypassed the then-civilized nations like Greece, Egypt, and Rome, instead choosing an almost nomadic Israeli nation to manifest His will. God chose Bethlehem Ephratah – one of the least – for Messiah’s birth! The situation in South Africa, as in many other countries, was complex. However, despite the gold and diamond mines, and progress, the sons/daughters of the soil were poor and treated badly, to put it mildly. Yet suddenly there were two Nobel Prize winners from South Africa, and uniquely both from the same street.
By the way, out of South Africa came another, Mahathma Gandhi, who lived and practiced law there until he got the call to return to India and organize the freedom struggle from the British Empire! It is a joke in SA that “India gave Gandhi to South Africa a lawyer and South Africa returned him to India a Statesman”.
Born a Xhosa to the Thembu royal family, he went to university and studied Law. But he followed his dream (see my blog on Day Dreaming, 30 November 2013) to free his people from organized oppression. Despite his own limitations, arrests and prison years meant to break him, through it all, he maintained a dream of a reconciled, united South Africa. Looking back to history I will not be out of place to mention that the freedom of SA surpassed that of many countries including India and Pakistan or even Palestine and Israel. Those countries were cut apart, followed with bloodshed – not South Africa!
While some leaders of powerful democratic nations did not heed to the cry from Robben Island Prison, their countries sent their heads of States for the funeral. One of them was the main speaker at the funeral. In praise of Canada, all three successive Prime Ministers gave their full support to Mandela long before his release from prison.
We know about politics, but what part does religion play when it comes to human suffering, a question few wish to pursue? Religion has an ugly side as well. It divides people, families and nations. Conspicuously, I have not read much about Mandela’s religious convictions. Did Mandela see how the religious conducted themselves? Did Mandela knowingly keep a distance and did not make use of religion as many have done?
I must quickly acknowledge the heroic part played by leaders like Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Archbishop Ted Scott of Canada.
For years I kept a copy of Toronto Star Newspaper dated 24 November 1984. I knew Truth will prevail! The Newspaper quoted Huddleston, openly challenging a state-enforced racial prejudice. He called it an “insult to God”. Later he said that God has identified with humanity, and to allow an assault on the dignity of man “is an affront to God”. No surprise, he was banned from SA. Pulpits are not the only places where God speaks to us. God speaks through nature, dreams, newspapers, and ordinary folks, sometimes even through stars and planets (wise men). I do not know of the stand or actions of Evangelical or Charismatic Church Leaders.
Like other free nations, SA has their work cut out for years to come. But God showed again that “He is no respecter of persons” or places, whether it is Benares, Bodh Gaya, Mecca, Medina or Jerusalem! God is universal, though some make Him provincial. “Magnify the Lord” as David sang and do not minimize. Yes, the good came out of Qunu, South Africa, loud and clear, through a man they called “Son of Africa and Father of Freedom” – Nelson Mandela Madiba.
God bless, Danny Paul