Church leaders speak of the legacy of Nelson Mandela

By staff writers
December 7, 2013

A wide range of church leaders and Christian figures have spoken of the influence and legacy of Nelson Mandela, who died three days ago, aged 95.

The Rev Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference in Britain, said: “Nelson Mandela is regarded as one of the fathers of Africa. His persistent way of standing up for justice has inspired Africans and the world at large. As a leader, one of his most impressive attributes was his emphasis on peace and reconciliation in the post-apartheid regime.

“Nelson Mandela attended Methodist missionary schools during his formative years. His understanding of Christian values was reflected in his passion for social justice. Representatives from the Methodist Church in Britain who were fortunate to meet Mandela have spoken about him with admiration: he was a welcoming, gracious and charismatic leader of exceptional ability who did not hold any bitterness about what had happened to him.

"During the years of his imprisonment on Robben Island, Mandela was visited by a Methodist chaplain. He will always remain loved and honoured in our hearts,” she added.

Roy Crowder was the Africa Secretary for the Methodist Church in Britain from 1999 to 2009. He lived in Cape Town from 1983 to 1999, where he worked as a lecturer at University of the Western Cape, and met Nelson Mandela three times.

He said: “As the crisis in South Africa deepened in the late eighties it became clear that Government was negotiating with the ANC. The newspapers still could not print Nelson Mandela’s picture but they discussed his future role intensely. No one could have lived up to the expectations that were built up in that frantic period. But miraculously Mandela did! He grew to be the global political leader without feet of clay, which was exactly what his supporters had projected during the Free Mandela campaign. He even risked alienating those supporters by donning the Springbok rugby jersey and having tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of [the] man who jailed him. Such iconic actions instilled a spirit of unity into the politics of a tragically divided country.”

Dr Lesley Orr, feminist historian, theologian, writer, activist, and member of the Iona Community, commented on social media: "It was a privilege to see and hear [Mandela] in Harare [at the WCC Eighth Assembly] - and moving when he spoke with such warmth about the importance of the Scottish missionary legacy for the formation of generations of ANC and anti-apartheid leaders who attended Fort Hare University (which grew out of Lovedale Institution)."

Christian Aid chief executive Loretta Minghella described the late South African leader as a "man whose strength of vision founded a nation".

"The sufferings and injustices inflicted by apartheid could so easily have led to a reckoning in blood when majority rule was introduced," said Ms Minghella.

"The fact that South Africa’s transition from pariah state to independent nation took place in relative peace was largely down to the magnanimity and moral courage of Mr Mandela.

"His readiness to eschew revenge after 27 years in prison was an example to all. His calm and restraint showed the people, not just of South Africa but the world, that justice and tolerance can prevail over fear and oppression.

"He was that rare creature, a person of immense power who used his energies and influence for the good of all. He will be sorely missed," said the NGO's chief executive.

Christian Aid describes itself as "a consistent opponent of the apartheid system. This opposition was derived from both a Christian perspective – that every person is made in the image of God – and from a recognition that apartheid was a root cause of poverty in South Africa, Namibia and in the wider region."

In the late 1980’s Christian Aid joined the Southern African Coalition, consisting of churches, trade unions, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK, which played an active part in calling for sanctions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "South Africa has lost its greatest citizen and its father. Nelson Mandela, fighting to the end, is freed to be with his God in joy and reward for his great service and sacrifice. We pray for his family, for his friends and for his country. We are challenged to show the same degree of humanity, of courage and of generosity."

"Mandela was a symbol of hope, an icon for fairness, and a beacon for reconciliation. His legacy will continue in our global village long after his body has been laid to rest," the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said in a 'Pause for Thought' contribution to BBC Radio 2 on 6 December 2013.

He added: "We should all follow the example that Nelson Mandela has left us. He was a true human being who stood up for lasting justice whilst suffering great personal injustice - defeating unfairness with hope."

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance: "We are sad to hear of the death of this great man, whose tireless dedication to equality and the dignity of all human persons has been inspirational over the decades."

He continued: "As evangelical Christians we believe that all are equal in the sight of God, that Jesus is good news for all members of all societies, everywhere. Our prayer is that Nelson Mandela's legacy will not be forgotten and that we will, together, continue to fight for justice, peace and hope locally, nationally and globally."

Paul Boateng, a peer, Methodist lay preacher, Christian Socialist and Britain's first black Cabinet member, who has also served as High Commissioner to South Africa, concluded: "There was a focus and a discipline to his activism, always. But imbuing it all was this overpowering sense one had when one met him and worked with him of the power of love. That's not a word that politicians use much, but he was a consummate politician."


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