Tag Archives: Mandela

MANDELA REMEMBRANCE NOT OVER By Rev. Dr. Peter Kjeseth, WTS faculty em.

The way I see it, the Mandela period of mourning, remembrance and re-dedication is clearly not over.  Several of you have asked about how we, now heading into our 13th year here in Cape Town, experienced Mandela’s death and burial.

To my surprise the most moving part of the drama for me was watching thousands of ordinary South Africans in the line that moved silently and slowly to view the body of the icon.  This came toward the end of the long week of mourning that had seen ceremony, stirring speeches, farcical mishaps and the biggest international gathering in my memory.   Amid all the comment and long-prepared set pieces about Mandela, the TV cameras kept returning to the line, solemnly snaking its way toward the coffin.  Of course it recalled the long lines of voters in the first free election that had brought Mandela to the presidency.  But there was something different this time.  For me at least it spoke of Mandela’s achievement in reconciliation. Several times I choked up.  Once I actually cried:  a fifty something white heavy-set man was followed by a thin township black; behind him a white grandmother holding hands with a pre-school granddaughter, behind them an obviously affluent small family, then what seemed a group of taxi drivers. The reality of the rainbow nation!

There were other, more sobering, moments of reality.  In the huge, prestigious, rain-soaked memorial service which saw the stirring speech by Barak Obama and the farcical hand-gibberish of the man who was hired to do the sign language for the deaf of the world, the ANC as it stands today experienced a raw wound and an unforgettable embarrassment.  President Jacob Zuma was booed by a large proportion of the black audience. Top ANC officials walked the unruly crowds trying to quiet them.  They could not.  In fact, a large number of the crowd walked out on Zuma’s final remarks.

The endless reminders of Mandela’s strength, courage and integrity threw cruel light on Zuma and his rule of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.  Now a few more people call for his resignation.  Even struggling heroes who could never vote for any party but the ANC now talk of not voting at all in the big elections of 2014. And some ANC figures have broken rank and gone public with specific criticisms.

Some argue that Mandela, in his relentless struggle against apartheid, was actually carrying forward Jesus’ mission of good news to the poor and release of the captive.  And this at a moment when Pope Francis makes a stunning swing away from the pomp and circumstance of the papacy and speaks out against today’s form of global capitalism that turns its back on the poor.

This has led to some interesting tweaking of the Mandela image, in my view.  On the one hand, Mandela becomes a more ‘Christian’ leader than I can recall him being painted before.  He thus joins Jesus and the Pope in condemning heartless, greedy, poor-despising present day capitalism.  On a lower level of significance they are joined by Barak Obama who drew the greatest applause at the Mandela memorial service.  Obama asserted that the Mandela image brings out the best within each of us. So when Obama calls inequality the defining image of our time, he goes along with Jesus, the Pope and Mandela.

This however leads to the most substantial problem in the Mandela legacy. In the crucial transition from apartheid to freedom, when it came to the South African economy, Mandela chose the way of status quo capitalism rather than the ‘socialism’ called for in the Freedom Charter.  Apologists say he had no choice; critics argue that he sold out.  So now in the mourning period the apologists stress the temporary necessity of the move and emphasize Mandela’s over-all commitment to equality and the values of ubuntu.  But the reality on the ground looks like it could turn bloody. The passionate struggle over the path ahead for the South African economy threatens the unity of the ANC and its ruling alliance with labour.  And the powerful labour movement itself might well fall apart.  There is competition for membership in competing unions.  There is widespread fury at the ANC government not only for the Marikana massacre of unarmed demonstrators but also for the supposed betrayal of the goals of the Freedom Charter.

The Mandela period of mourning, remembrance and re-dedication is clearly not over.  It has demonstrated that great and irreversible progress has been made in reconciliation.  But the shining image of the icon has revealed deep wounds in the body cultural and politic, wounds that will be a long time in healing.

A LETTER TO MALCOLM IN PRISON AT THE DEATH OF MANDELA, By WTS Prof. Norma Cook Everist

Dear Malcolm,

I received your letter and wanted to respond now, after hearing of the passing of Nelson Mandela. You have been in prison so many years, Malcolm. You know I have kept your letters and the total fills many file folders. I’ve shared parts of your letters with students at Wartburg over the years and they have written to you. I know you have kept their letters, except for when you were moved to a different prison on a moment’s notice. Your recent words ring true, “Please don’t despair. We are linked in Spirit so at times words understood need not be spoken.”

Yes, I see from the change of return address that you have been moved once again, and this time even further from your family, 4 ½ hours from Detroit: “It seems like the closer I get to the door and the more good I try to do the worse things get for me.” Malcolm, I remind you of what you have done through the years while in prison. You counsel younger men coming in, you lead Bible study, proclaiming and teaching the Word, you help men with family problems and make sure they have what they need. I have often thought of you as my Apostle Paul in prison.  I rejoiced with you that in the past year you were able to become a leader in a program that helps men find new lives of peace and purpose once they leave prison. And, yes, I can just see you intervening on behalf of the young man to right the wrong done to him. I’m glad you were successful with the prison administration. And I agree that they may have been fearful of you having that much influence and that may have resulted in your being transferred.

I hear your words, Malcolm: “I am tired, Norma. I’m not about to quit, but I am tired.” Don’t quit, Malcolm. Even though I live so far away now in Dubuque, I am encouraged by your words, “I still seek opportunities to do what I do and be who I am. I am able to teach some classes and assist men with getting their lives together.” Take courage, Malcolm.  Know that you are not alone, even though prison walls and distance separate us. You say that my words comfort you, Malcolm, but it is yours that strengthen me as you write, “My trust is in the God of Justice and grace and love and compassion and hope. It is because of this compassion that we are not consumed.”

Nelson Mandela fought apartheid in South Africa and was imprisoned for it, coming out 27 years later to continue the struggle and then become president of his country.  He is said to have been the greatest leader of the second half of the 20th century. It would be easy to not see the man behind the icon. Those 27 years in prison took so much from him during the prime of his life.  You, more than I, Malcolm, know that.  The world watched as he came out of prison, not knowing what he would look like, not seeing even a picture, not knowing which direction he would turn and lead. And then we saw: towards “Truth and Reconciliation” which kept that country from being torn apart in violence and civil war after apartheid was finally ended.  And you, Malcolm, have participated in your own “truth and reconciliation” initiatives in prison.

President Obama described Mandela as, “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.”

Malcolm, we know that South Africa continues to face its own struggles and that the United States is not a post-racial society, not when with “The New Jim Crow” such a large percentage of black men are incarcerated. And the gap between rich and poor grows. Mandela worked to free and reconcile oppressed and oppressor. We aren’t there yet, are we Malcolm? But, here we are, over 40 years after our families, one white and one black, lived around the block from each other in Detroit. Nothing can separate us in Christ Jesus. You closed your letter with, “Give my love to the rest of the family. Take care of yourself and make sure you get some rest.”  I will. And, Malcolm, I received the picture your mom sent of you, Greg and her when they visited you last month.  I’m glad they could make it that far. You look good. The years in prison can’t take that away. Keep on keeping on. God’s strength.

Norma