The Legacy of Mandela– Non-Violence and Forgiveness as a Means of Change

There are probably only a distinct minority of persons on this globe who have not heard of Nelson Mandela, a man imprisoned for 27 years on Robbens Island for protesting the evils of apartheid. Millions have even seen the movie Invictus or read his biography about the long road to freedom. It was a long road for Mandela himself, and one that led eventually to his being the President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace prize winner. He has been an inspirational figure for millions, and having spent time on various occasions in South Africa, you can understand why. At the bottom of this post I will share with you some of his inspirational sayings.

Mandela, above all else was a politician, and proud of it, working to rid a country of its official racist policies, something which he certainly largely succeeded in doing. It is of course one thing to change a nation’s laws, another to change its heart. Mandela’s commitment to non-violence, as he once explained was a matter of political tactics, more than a matter of principle as it was for Gandhi or MLK. Whether a principle or pragmatism the ‘truth and justice commissions’ in South Africa were a remarkable example of how the power of forgiveness, and the abandonment of retaliation, could change a social situation drastically. I would urge you to view Tom Wright’s DVD on Evil and the God of Justice which talks about those commissions. Violence may be able to obliterate or eliminate some of one’s enemies, but it can never change their hearts. Violence is never a long term solution to any endemic human problem, and the worst part about it is when you use violence vs. one’s enemies, you become what you despise, a perpetrator of evil in the form of murder, whether sanctioned and legal or otherwise. Only the grace of God, the grace of forgiveness can really change people from within, and this miraculously is what happened on Mandela’s watch in post-apartheid South Africa.

When I was last in Pretoria, I came across some remarkable people at the University there. In the Pretoria theology faculty, there were both persons who were Afrikans and those who had been jailed and tortured by the Afrikan regime. They were working peacefully together for the good of the Christian cause, both parties changed by the new ethos in South Africa, once Mandela became President and the commissions began. It is a remarkable story. I remember vividly my time with Bishop Peter Storey (a white south African) in Stellenbosch telling of how the Methodist Church had stood with the black Africans against apartheid, and his son had gone to jail rather than serve in their military operations. There were many stories of courage and facing down the racism with non-violent resistance, and even love of enemies. It is a story we should learn more about in a world still plagued by racisms of various sorts. I will leave you with some of Madeba’s wisdom, his aphorism….. see what you think… What I think is, that the Prince of Peace would be pleased with Mandela’s major accomplishments.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.

Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.

We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

When people are determined they can overcome anything.

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