We will all have been moved in the last 48 hours as memories from Nelson Mandela’s life have been aired across the world’s media. The impact of this man’s life is truly remarkable and it is encouraging to see such universal acclaim and respect for him as his life has been honoured. And great honour was due.
Watching Nelson Mandela: The Fight For Freedom last night, one thing stood out to me above the rest from the history of Mandela’s life as it was portrayed before his arrest, during his imprisonment and then subsequent to his release.
The toughest challenge Mandela faced was to persuade South Africa to forget the horrors of the past and not seek revenge. To that end, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set-up but was criticised and praised in different quarters as to its benefit. A larger question mark hung over whether it contributed to a genuine reconciliation between white and black South Africans and an abolishment of Apartheid.
But the undeniable truth from the TRC as it was televised and broadcast, and shown on TV again last night, were the tears of the people. As black met white, as perpetrator met victim, as believer met unbeliever, as hard-hearted met soft-hearted – the tears were real.
What moved me so much was the biblical example for reconciliation that was being displayed by a Nation and between two radically opposed groups of people amidst the cesspit of murder, betrayal, torture and worse. Here before our eyes was a practical out-working of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 to ‘go to your brother if you remember he has something against you’. Jesus puts accountability and dialogue at the epicentre of reconciliation.
There wasn’t a glib declaration that “South Africa, you must forgive!” in isolation from or without a painful, humble, genuine process of healing between individual parties involved. Instead, there was an accountability between people, brothers and sisters, families, a Nation where the motivation was not judgement and accusation but healing and reconciliation for a better future. The tears flowed because genuine healing flowed.
At public hearings victims were encouraged to confront their aggressors who escaped prosecution if they confessed. Isn’t this the way grace works? Isn’t this Romans 10:9?
Mandela said, “If we don’t forgive them then that feeling of bitterness and revenge will be there…and we are saying ‘let us forget the past and let us concern ourselves with the present and the future. But to also say that the atrocities of the past will never be allowed to happen again”
President Clinton said, ” It raised the prospect that people could be held accountable without being punished in a traditional sense. This is something virtually without president within humanity.”
I will remember Nelson Mandela most from these two principles that echo throughout the Bible :-
- that despite immense suffering, the stealing of precious, irreplaceable things and moments, of the brokenness of sin – still we must forgive. We must forgive as those forgiven ourselves of unspeakable unfaithfulness towards God.
- the dialogue and the accountability and the healing that happens when both sides are humble to come together and work that through is central to that process rather than compounding things further by refusing to talk and embrace each other from the heart