Where do you begin to talk about the greatness of Nelson Mandela? The world has been blessed with very few of his ilk. You think of courage, defiance, principled and many other descriptions of strength and might. Yet, it was Mandela’s strong faith that guided him through his journey. Many don’t reflect on this but it was his strong Christian faith that made him do what no other has done before – defeat apartheid.
Apartheid wasn’t unique. In fact, the White power structure of South Africa – the Afrikaners – took many of the Jim Crow laws of the southern United States as their model when applying this form of racial segregation. They started this in a formal fashion right after World War II as they feared the overwhelming Black majority would rebel and take power at the expense of Whites.
Civil rights fought consecutively
Ironically, Blacks in both nations started to fight against this evil system in the 1950s.
While the Civil Rights Movement of the United States was based on nonviolence, in South Africa it was “by any means necessary,” including violence. Mandela headed the “Umkhonto we Sizwe” faction of the ANC movement in 1961. It was responsible for a bombing campaign against government targets. He was eventually captured and sentence to five years in November 1962, which was converted to life imprisonment in 1964.
It was during the next 27 years of imprisonment that he returned to his Methodist roots. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison….One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”
Success was greatest concern
Mandela became a great president. Forgiveness and reconciliation were his keys to a successful government. At his inauguration he reserved the front row seats for his former jailers. When the world championship Rugby game was played in South Africa, he wore the uniform of the South African Spring Bok team and was the lead cheerleader. For the first time, both races united under one team and won the world championship (shocked the world). He could have stayed president forever but, like our own George Washington, he set the mold with just one term. The success of democracy was his greatest concern.
South Africa secretly became a nuclear power but Mandela had this dismantled after he came to power. The nation economically is now a 1stWorld nation. There is still much poverty but improvement is ongoing and without a doubt, South Africa is the economic power of the African continent. Nelson Mandela led them to the “promised land.” For this he becomes a great leader in the minds of all rational people. I put him just a little under Jesus Christ. I end by saying rest in peace dear brother and thank you for coming through.
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.