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Week of international tributes to Nelson Mandela

13 December 2013


Church groups parade in Alexandra, where Mr Mandela lived when he first came to Johannesburg

Church groups parade in Alexandra, where Mr Mandela lived when he first came to Johannesburg

ASKED how he wished to be re­­mem­­­­bered, Nelson Mandela had said that for him to choose would be "egotis­tical. . . I'd leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written 'Mandela.'"

Since his death on Thursday of last week, South Africans have celebrated the life of "Tata Madiba" in spectacular style. Tributes from around the world have drawn paral­lels with the lives of great figures of faith: Joseph, Gideon, Elijah, and even Jesus himself.

The news of Mr Mandela's death, at the age of 95, was announced by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, on Thursday night: "He passed on peacefully in the company of his family. . . He is now resting. He is now at peace." Mr Mandela had been treated at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital.

A week of mourning and com­memoration followed.

Welcoming more than 100 heads of state and government to the FNB stadium in Johannesburg on Tues­day, the deputy president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, apologised for the torrential rain, before explaining: "In our African tradition, when it rains when you are buried, it means that your gods are welcoming you. And the gates of heaven are most probably open as well."

Prayers were said by faith leaders representing the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

The Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, drew parallels between the life of Joseph and that of Mr Mandela, who "rose up from jail to become President of a mighty nation; he too transcended his per­son­al pain and years of suffering to forgive and to embrace his brothers and sisters who had inflicted so much pain on him and so many millions of others."

The sermon was delivered by Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the first South African General Secretary of the World Methodist Council. He spoke of Elijah's passing his mantle on to Elisha: "Mandela's mantle has fallen and is within reach of every­one in this generation. . . Today, God urges us to pick up the mantle; for, when we do so, we will honour the spirit of Mandela. When we do so, we will not just be a passive observer to inequality and injustice."

During the ceremony, Mr Rama­phosa urged the unruly crowd to show "discipline", after pictures of President Zuma on screens prompted loud boos and jeers. There was silence during Mr Zuma's speech, during which he reiterated several times: "There is no one like Madiba: he was one of a kind."

It took a speech by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to animate the crowd, which was much depleted by the time the cere­mony concluded. "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well," he said. "To show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity, and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts."

He warned: "There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest re­-forms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people." He con­cluded: "He makes me want to be better."

The ceremony was closed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town, who had stern words for the crowd, refusing to bless them until he could "hear a pin drop".

Writing in theObserveron Sunday, Archbishop Tutu said: "Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison was virtually flawless. Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit." His "chief weakness" had been "his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and to his colleagues. He retained in his own cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers who should have been dismissed." The present Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, prayed: "Go forth, revolutionary and loving soul, on your journey out of this world, in the name of God, who created you, suffered with you, and liberated you."

At St Martin-in-the Fields in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a sermon in which he described how Mr Mandela had "faced the insult of being labelled a terrorist for fighting for his own people, the absurdity of trial for treason against an utterly wicked regime . . ."

Another former Archbishop of Cape Town, the Rt Revd Njongonkula Ndungane, also a prisoner on Robben Island, told the BBC Sunday programme, of the Church's "critical solidarity" with the South African government, and warned that "the Mandela magic will not put food on people's tables. [The govern-ment] have to got to deliver what has been promised to the people."

The Revd Dirkie Van Der Spui of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa told the programme that the Church was "ashamed" of its part in providing theological justification for apartheid: "Thank God for opening our eyes, and thank you for people like Mandela who helped us to see a new future for our country."

Archbishop burgled. The home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was burgled on Tuesday while he was at the memorial, it was reported on Wednesday. His aide, Roger Friedman, confirmed that the burglary had taken place: "We are not able to tell exactly what was stolen. The Archbishop and his wife were not at home. The house was not pillaged."

First the feet, and then the great man in person

Paul Brannenrecalls his meeting with Nelson Mandela

IN THE 1980s, I landed a full-time job working for the Anti-Apart­heid Movement (AAM) at its head­quarters in Mandela Street, in Camden, north London.

Here I was employed as the con­vener of Southern Africa - The Imprisoned Society (SATIS), and in this position I was responsible for organising the campaign aimed at gaining the release of the pol­itical prisoners in South Africa, including those on death row, and those on Robben Island, who in­­cluded Nelson Mandela.

As a consequence, not long after his release in 1990 after 27 years in prison, when he arrived in London a free man, I had the privilege of accompanying the executive dir­ector of the AAM, Mike Terry, to the Churchill Hotel, in central London, to meet Mandela and his delegation.

Arriving at the hotel suite, we were told that Madiba was resting after the flight, and might or might not join us; so on went the meeting without him, dis­cussing with his staff and Winnie Mandela the itinerary for the next few days.

Throughout the meeting, Mike and I were very conscious that it was Mandela's feet we could see at the end of the bed through the open door to our right. Occasion­ally throughout the next 45 min­utes they crossed and uncrossed themselves, but, alas, they never moved from the horizontal to the perpendicular. The meeting con­cluded, and we returned to the AAM headquarters.

The staff all immediately clus­tered around us. "Well, what was he like?" Mike and I looked at each other, slightly embarrassed, and replied: "Er, well, we are not sure - we only saw his feet."

The next day, at a reception
hosted by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Shridath Ram­­phal, we got to meet the great man face to face. I remember his height, his huge but soft hands, and that amazing smile.

"And what do you do?" he asked.

"I work for the Anti-Apartheid Movement," I replied.

"Ah, we have much to thank you for; but there is still much work to do, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise," came the response.

Paul Brannen is Head of England - North and Central, at Christian Aid.


Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

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