Every now and then in history, a man comes along who finds a way where there was, until he found it, no way. Such a man was Nelson Mandela.
Like David of old, who declined to put on Saul’s heavy armor, Mandela refused to take on the stultifying bondage of conventional 20th-century political role-playing. His joyfully legitimate leadership defied ideological stereotypes; in the end, he was as close to being beyond reproach as any great man can be. There will never be another like Nelson Mandela.
He traveled, successfully, on a difficult, rutted road of unprecedented grassroots authority. That self-imposed path was a trail of great suffering, but he also wrangled it into a way of boundless joy, which was often reflected in his smiling face. Blazing a precarious trail between the exploitive institutions of established human power, and the revolutionary demands of people rendered powerless by racism and colonialism, he managed to emerge in history as a man of peace, not a man of war. This is no small accomplishment for any man whose role will be perpetually recorded in history as “liberator.”
Today, the day after his death, the worldwide web is filled with praise and accolades for this unusual man, so I will mention but a few of his accomplishments that have favorably impressed this Christian (me.)
These four milestones of Mandela’s life inspire me with hope. Hope that it’s possible, in the dismally tragic trail of human history, for a man born into casted injustice and ruthless apartheid, to divert history itself into paths of, not violence and bloody revolution, but Reconciliation and Forgiveness:
~ He patiently endured 27 years of political imprisonment, emerging with forgiveness instead of vengeance, wisdom instead of bitterness.
~ He guided strife-torn South Africa to elections, with voting, in 1994, instead of violent revolution.
~ After his 27-year prison ordeal, Mandela worked constructively with his Presidential predecessor, Frederick W. De Klerk, in a peaceful transition toward a fully representative democratic government, rather than permitting violent groups to wreak vengeance against the purveyors of apartheid.
~ Like our American founder George Washington, Nelson Mandela refused a king-like role among his grateful people. Instead of aggrandizing his own unique position of merited strength, he stepped down from Presidency after one term, thus facilitating a transferral of South African governmental authority to a leadership base broader than himself. Also like George Washington, he forged a decently pragmatic path between military and political revolutionary impulses among his own people.
In a century of polarizing ideologies, this was a man neither a communist nor a capitalist, although one of those simplistic terms was erroneously attached to his name for awhile. Rather, he was a President, elected by his people. In light of what he endured to achieve that role, he is worthy of the the world’s respect. There will never be another like Nelson Mandela.
CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress