One of the greatest men that has ever lived has now passed on and the world is suddenly a much poorer, harsher place because of his death. Unlike the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth there will be no earthquake tearing the earth asunder, dead people will not be seen walking the streets again and miraculous things will not flash across the earth with jaw-dropping awesomeness. No, Nelson Mandela's life has been exemplary in another way and we should consider ourselves blessed to be alive to witness it and be eternally thankful.
This great human Mandela was a real man, perhaps he was the man Shakespeare envisioned when he said:
'and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man."'
---- "Julius Caesar," V, v, 78-80
From all across the world many ordinary people who have been touched by his "...life of infinite courage, graceful resilience, uncompromising integrity, sweet forgiveness, stellar example, effortless dignity, and relentless compassion..." have spoken eloquently and touchingly of this great man and how he impacted their lives.
In the realm of leadership, especially among powerful people, it is very normal to be hypocritical, to talk very much and set no worthwhile example, and as the saying goes, talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Nelson Mandela was different since he was a true leader of leaders and the more you examine his life the greater your admiration grows.
Nelson Mandela wanted change, advocated for it with all his might but did substantially more than that; he embodied the change he wanted to see in the world and showed us what it means to be simply human in the grandest possible ways. One who was touched by this great man summed it up succinctly, "A man of the finest, greatest integrity, who lived his beliefs and the best of ideals no matter what the cost to himself - but who won in the end, not for himself, but for the good of humanity. Because in his indefatigable insistence on what is right and good he forced, without force, those who do wrong to do right. That is an amazing achievement."
Less we forget Mandela was born into Royalty for he was a member of the Tembu royal family in the former Transkei tribal homeland but he came to a full understanding of the true meaning of service as he once remarked, "By ancestry, I was born to rule. (Walter Sisulu) helped me understand that my real vocation was to be a servant of the people."
All great men understand this concept of service and dedicate themselves to it with unswerving loyalty, foremost and beyond them all is the incomparable Jesus Christ whose selfless and sacrificial commitment to serve humanity cost him his life and who said, "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
Nelson Mandela, was the first black President of South Africa and died aged 95 and he was the man who led a war-torn, racist and failed South Africa from apartheid to democracy and did so with such dignity, aplomb, panache and grace that his very enemies came round to respect and applaud him.
Mandela, although born into royalty was not exempt from the abnormalities of his homeland and one person stated it like this, "Mandela was born in 1918 and grew up in a system in which a small white minority repressed a black majority. The total separation of people according to skin colour permeated all aspects of life. The whites had built up a system that made them rulers, that banned blacks from certain areas, that kept them poor and ignorant, that denied them any and all opportunities for social mobility."
From history we know that, "... in the late summer of 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for protest actions and other charges. One year later he and other co-defendants were placed in the dock again in the famous Rivonia trial (a trial that took place between 1963 and 1964, in which ten leaders of the ANC were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system). As the main defendant, he was charged with responsibility for numerous acts of sabotage. The public prosecutor called for the death penalty [he was given life imprisonment and served 27 years]. More than 30 years later, as president, Mandela would invite him to dinner. It is precisely this kind of effort -- to treat even his worst enemies with dignity and to desire to understand them -- that makes Mandela such a highly credible person."
Mandela formed a government of national unity in 1994 and Black South Africans took control of an unproductive, officious state that was economically devastated and suffered from massive social inequity based on the colour of people's skin. Mandela voluntarily stepped down as president after one term of five years thereby setting a standard of statesmanship unequalled across the world and went on to practice exactly what he had preached multiracialism, democracy and reconciliation and showed us the way to justice without bitterness or revenge.
He showed us that you can be effective and powerful without being dishonest and unethical.
He taught us lessons in genuine humility and compassion and how that serving the poor and underprivileged need not be thankless and unfulfilling.
He was feted by the rich and powerful but esteemed the company of the meek and lowly more desirous and comforting and showed it by seeking them out wherever he went.
He did not rush to embrace children for self-serving photo opportunities but children rushed to him and embraced him and loved him as if he was their very own; and he was.
The rich and powerful and their lackeys in the press, television and radio who derided him all his life and fought by word and deed to undermine and destroy this man and what he stood for, the so-called "advanced" countries in the world that made his enormous burden harder and assisted the old South Africa in its repression and terror will now do an about face, heap praise and honour on him and act as if he was their dearest friend. It will not wash.
This too is a lesson Mandela has taught us, not to defeat our enemies by slamming the mirror down on their unconscionable heads, but to shine the mirror bright, and hold it boldly in front of them, and let them see how ultimately their actions are self-defeating; and there is a better and more noble alternative.
To bring the best out of people, to inspire people to look beyond the visuals and try to understand the true yearnings of every human spirit, to seek good even among the sneering detractors and habitually contemptuous and to persist in making a better world for all humanity is part of the grand legacy this icon of the ages has left us.
We shall miss you Mandela, your humble, smiling, reconciling, affectionate demeanour was like a cheerful, brilliant light in a world of cold, intense darkness, and because the world, at perhaps its greatest moment of need, finds itself bereft of your type of efficacious leadership.
Jesus Christ sets the mark for praiseworthy service when he said, "... Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
Mandela listened well to Jesus words.
He succeeded admirably in following them.
And from the verdant pastures of Barbados and across the sun-kissed islands of the Caribbean and chilly climes of the Northern Hemisphere, from the mountaintops and valleys of Africa and Asia and from every human habitation on earth, from the saints of God present, past and yet to come, go forth the ringing endorsement of a life well lived and a peaceful rest deservedly earned.
There is just nothing else to say other than this my good brother.
Goodbye and thank you.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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