From the Rt Revd John D. Davies
Sir, - Among the many and varied tributes paid to Nelson
Mandela, there is one, apparently obvious, fact that does not
appear to have received as much notice as perhaps it might: namely,
that he was able to live to a fine old age and die in his bed.
In this, he was so different from many other leaders of the 20th
century: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, the Kennedy
brothers, Archbishops Romero and Luwum, and, in South Africa, Steve
Biko and Chris Hani.
This is an obvious fact, yes, but nearly 50 years ago it seemed
very unlikely. In May 1964, Mr Mandela and his colleagues were
found guilty of sabotage and treason - offences for which the
normal penalty was death. Most of white South Africa looked forward
hopefully to the passing of such a sentence; the rest of us looked
forward to the sentencing with dread.
At last, after three weeks' deliberating, on 6 June, Judge
Quartus de Wet surprised us all with the sentence: life
imprisonment with hard labour. A terrible and punitive sentence,
but it gave that prisoner the opportunity to live, and to become
what he became. So, thank God for that judge, who, with whatever
intention, gave Nelson Mandela back to the world.
JOHN D. DAVIES
Mission priest and university chaplain in South Africa,
Nyddfa, ByPass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG
From the Revd James Shakespeare
Sir, - The world is moved by the passing of Nelson Mandela,
whose life and work is universally respected, and whose legacy may
yet inspire a quest for peace among world leaders. It is
interesting, however, in the context of Mark Vernon's article on
secular spirituality (Comment, 6 December), that the press doesn't
acknowledge the Christian roots of Mr Mandela's vision.
Commentators note the transforming impact of Mr Mandela's offer
of forgiveness to his past oppressors, and his commitment to
reconciliation, a non-violent path to racial harmony. They fail,
however, to recognise the spiritual dynamic at work in the
miraculous transition from apartheid to a democratic free South
Africa, under Mr Mandela's leadership.
Mr Mandela was raised in the Methodist Church, his experience in
prison for 27 years had a quasi-monastic character to it, and, on
his release, he worked closely with the Anglican Church, as it
developed a practical theology of forgiveness, truth, and
reconciliation. How else could one man's experience of injustice
and violence be transformed into forgiveness, moral courage, and
I had the privilege of serving within the Church in South Africa
as a theological student in 1998, when there was a remarkable
atmosphere of hope and optimism. Serving in a township and at St
George's Cathedral, attending hearings of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, and meeting Archbishop Tutu, I had no
doubt about the Christian influence on Mr Mandela's leadership.
Seeing his prison cell on Robben Island brought home to me a
miracle of resurrection forged out of the crucible of human
Is this not an opportune moment for the Anglican Church, as it
has witnessed to its transforming role in the past, to celebrate
the way in which Mr Mandela's life has been shaped by Christian
values, and to tell this part of the story to a watching world?
The Rectory, Dingley Road
Market Harborough LE16 7ET
From Canon John Young
Sir, - My friend is a retired Methodist missionary who served
in South Africa. She answered her phone one evening to find Nelson
Mandela on the line. He was ringing from Buckingham Palace, during
a State Visit, to thank her for visiting him in prison on Robben
Island. Your readers may be moved, as I was, by his gratitude and
72 Middlethorpe Grove
York YO24 1JY