As the world marks what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, looks back on his acheivements and teh example it gives to people today.
Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Madiba’s birth. As Christians, we know that our God in Jesus Christ, is the God of the living and the dead. In that spirit, we give thanks for Madiba’s life.
During his last years, I had the opportunity to touch and feel his spirituality when I ministered to him. His faith was complex, but believing as he did that “religion is in our blood” as South Africans, he of all our presidents ensured that the voice of faith – not only of Christians – was heard in public life.
I am sad when I see young people attacking Madiba’s legacy and claiming he “sold us out” by not building us the Promised Land in his lifetime. We ought not to take the events of history and look at them through the lens of today’s eyes; when we do, we are bound to be insensitive to the realities that our forebears faced and to pass naive and shallow judgements on their achievements.
We need to remember that 30 years ago, as Madiba entered discussions ahead of his release, then began negotiations with apartheid leaders, our country was at war. Historians describe it as a low-intensity civil war but for us and those communities who saw thousands of men, women and children killed it was most definitely a high-intensity war. And if you want to end a war you don’t do it through more war – especially when your forces, in this case MK and APLA, have no prospect of military victory any time soon.
Madiba and his fellow leaders had to make compromises to end the war, and yes, we are feeling the impact of those compromises today. But they had to be made for the sake of peace and for the luxury of being alive to look back and criticise them. As it was, our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, made huge sacrifices for our liberation for most if not all of their lives.
If you question what they achieved, then look at Syria today, where more than a quarter of a million people have been killed, more than six million have been forced to flee the country and another six million have been driven from their homes and displaced within the country.
Or look at South Sudan, where the Anglican Church is a strong force. There, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who once served as president and vice-president together, fell out two years after they achieved their independence. Five years later they are still at war and successive rounds of peace talks have been abortive. There’s no spirit of compromise, and what’s happening as a result? There’s no movement and people continue dying.
Would we have time, or even be alive, to criticise the compromises of Madiba’s generation if they had not made them? Rather than look backwards at what we cannot change, let us rather look forward. Our forebears brought us into the Promised Land: it is up to us now to build it.
We need to focus on the challenges of today, raise them to a higher level and re-negotiate how we move our country forward to deal with the horrendous inequality we still suffer. We need to end inequality of opportunity. We need to put justice at the heart of what we seek to achieve, and be sacrificial in redistributing that which God has given to all South Africans to benefit the poorest of the poor – who seem to be ignored in the current debates.
Above all, we need to become courageous like Madiba, wise like Madiba, and take the debates and decisions over the structuring of the economy and the distribution of land to a higher level and ensure apt policy to achieve these.
As we celebrate Madiba’s life, let’s also celebrate the long lives of those in our own diocese who have lived to the age of 90 and beyond; let’s congratulate them, wish them well and show them that we love and care for them too. Let’s also join others in service of our communities, and especially the poorest of the poor, on Nelson Mandela Day, Wednesday 18 July.
As the Letter of James said, faith without works is dead. So I urge you in Madiba’s memory to commit yourself to voluntary service of some sort – you can find details on this page of the Mandela Foundation’s website.
Thank God for the recent rain, pray that it may be sustained, and please continue to limit your usage to 50 litres a day each.
God bless you.
- This blog post was first published as Archbishop Thabo’s column in the July issue of Good Hope, the newsletter of the Diocese of Cape Town, and is also published on the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s website.