Before I write my thoughts on the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, some things to get out of the way.
First, Mr. Mandela was NOT a communist. Yes, he associated with the South Africa Communist party for they were all in the fight to end the racial segregation policy known as apartheid. By his own admission, Mr. Mandela was a socialist yet even that was not the case when it came time for him to become the eventual president of South Africa.
And second, very overlooked by many admirers of Mr. Mandela, is that he was a committed Christian. He was a Methodist and a great deal of his education was done in Methodist schools.
And it is his belief in Christianity that led him to be one who practiced forgiveness when he became the South African president.
And one more thing.
Many conservatives, and yep I'll count myself, were totally wrong about Mr. Mandela. Deroy Murdock over at National Review has some thoughts on that better than what I can write.
I want to focus on the side of Mandela that forgave and sought reconciliation rather than revenge and carnage.
What a lot of people will not know is that Mr. Mandela was a Christian. His mother was a devout Christian and sent young Rolihlahla, his actual given first name, to Methodist school when he was about seven years old. It was at that time that he was baptised a Christian. Much of his schooling was through Methodist schools.
While he grew and realized that the system of racial segregation called apartheid was beginning to be fully sanctioned by the governing National party in the late 1940s, he knew that it was an injustice and he began to be fully involved in the African National Congress.
A little history is important here.
Black Africans had never been in charge of their own destinies once Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company landed on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. He and other members of the DEIC were the forbearers to the Afrikaner people. They are the majority of the White people of South Africa. And they have been called Africa's White tribe. By eventually referring to themselves as Afrikaners, they made it clear that they were a part of the African continent.
Roughly about 150 years later the British became in charge of the Cape Colony, also known as Cape Town. The Afrikaners in this area were far removed from Europeans and did not like what they saw as British encroachments on their land. They set out to escape the rule of the British in a series known as the Great Trek into interior South Africa. The Afrikaners had nothing in common with the British. They did not consider themselves European but a part of Africa. They were staunch Calvinists and the Dutch Reformed Church was their religion. Most of the British were Anglicans or Methodists. And they were loyal to the Mother Country, Great Britain.
While the British consolidated power. they had two wars with the Afrikaners known and the Anglo-Boer wars. Boer is the Afrikaner word for farmer. While they lost both, the Afrikaners by and large retreated.
Keep in mind, politics and the Anglo-Boer wars kept Black natives at bay. They had little if any control over their own lives.
In 1913 an act known at the Native Lands Act was passed by a White parliament and it was the cornerstone of apartheid. It regulated a whole 13% of the total land of South Africa that could be owned by Blacks.
Between this period and 1948, British and Afrikaner Whites essentially shared power. But to an embittered Afrikaner people, this was not good enough. They wanted to be in charge of their own destiny as they saw it.
And in 1948, the Afrikaner National party won the majority of seats in parliament. This set apartheid to be implemented harshly with the Native Lands Act as the beginning piece to dehumanize Blacks much like American Blacks were in the South.
Everything was separate. Blacks were forced to live in squalid townships away from the Whites. Oh, they could work for the Whites in the cities, but come night, they had to go to their living areas. The name Soweto is derived from the South West Township. And there were separate public facilities in everything. Everything to having sex and the offspring of forbidden relationships would be further humiliated. For if those relationships were found out, the offspring of such relations would not be Black or White. In the insanity of the race obsessed laws, they would be designated a race of their own. They were known as, and still today, Coloureds.
It was in this that Mr. Mandela was moved to seek change.
At first he tried the non-violent way. But several events, including the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 to the Soweto Riots in 1976, hardened Mr. Mandela to seek every means at the ANC's disposal to eject the Afrikaner government and allow for Black majority rule. And that included violence.
By the time of Soweto, Mr. Mandela was already in prison for 14 years of what would be 27 years imprisoned.
But while in prison, Mr. Mandela began a quest to learn about the Afrikaner people. As early as 1960, Mr. Mandela studied Afrikaans, the Dutch-derived language of the Afrikaner. He also studied their history. And he realized that the Afrikaner, again they called themselves that and believed that they were Africans, and Black South Africans did suffer discrimination at the hands of the English-speaking British. Not that this excused their outlook and behavior towards Black South Africans. But he wanted to know about those that oppressed him. And one other thing. He learned about rugby. The movie Invictus chronicles how he eventually won over the nervous Afrikaners by embracing their sport, rugby.
It was something truly amazing when Mr. Mandela was sworn in as the first Black president of a truly multiracial South Africa. Sitting in the front row was one of Mr. Mandela's While jailers, James Gregory. He was personally invited by then President Mandela.
That was a powerful act not just of forgiveness but reconciliation all in one.
And that could not have happened without at the very least a basic understanding of Christian forgiveness. I'm sure that he studied others such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama and the like. But there is something in forgiveness and reconciliation from the Christian understanding that made a lasting impact on Mr. Mandela.
That will not be noted in all the rightful tributes to Mr. Mandela. That he never rejected the Christian faith. And because of that and his willingness to learn about those that kept him a prisoner for 27 years of his life he was able to forgive those that oppressed him. And he taught fellow Black South Africans that reconciliation, while very painful for all, was necessary to govern and to learn never to let such an evil as apartheid to ever take hold again.
As an aside as I noted earlier, many accused Mr. Mandela of being a communist. He was not.He said he was a socialist. But when it came time to actually govern South Africa, he abandoned the idea of socialism to govern South Africa. As this article in the London Daily Telegraph noted, Mr. Mandela thought socialism was the best idea for his nation. He then attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 1992. He made his case and many of the other attendees explained why it would not work. And Mr. Mandela was open to realize that the world changed in his time in prison. And he gave a market-based economy a try and while it is still difficult in post-apartheid South Africa, it has made great strides that a top-down socialist economy would not.
That all is the mark of a leader. And Nelson Mandela was a leader. A man that ended up uniting his nation rather than tearing it apart. A man that learned from the mistakes of others. A man open to change when given the options. And most of all, the most committed of Christians when it mattered. When it came time to forgive and to reconcile.
Rest In Peace Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.