Nelson Mandela must be one of the most admired people of our time. Who would not want to know what he was thinking when he chose to forgive the Afrikaners after serving 27 years of a life sentence to prison, and a lifetime of discrimination? Perhaps you have also had a choice of whether or not to forgive someone. Did you make the choice Mandela made?
What happened in South Africa?
Everyone who visits South Africa today experiences the marvelous and multi-faceted melting pot that attracts several million tourists each year, and in 2010, the country hosted the world’s most watched sports tournament: The World Cup. But the country appeared quite different under the rule of apartheid, which ruled from 1948 until its fall in 1994.
Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in a South Africa that was being ravaged by the Spanish flu, and where the word “apartheid” had no meaning for anyone who did not speak Afrikaans. Racism was certainly present in 1918, but things were to get worse. During the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the country became subject to the implementation of the all-encompassing policies of racial discrimination where a majority of people lost many fundamental rights, including education, health care, and public services. Mandela quickly became known as an active political opponent of the regime of the whites. During this time, that was enough to make someone end up in prison for life. And Mandela did.
Apartheid lasted for 46 years, under the rule of seven different white presidents. The last one, Frederik Willem de Klerk, was the man who took the first step toward reconciliation between whites and blacks. In 1990, he lifted the ban on anti-apartheid organizations, and released Mandela from prison.
People had sky high expectations of the legendary activist Mandela, but his tactics surprised many. Wasn’t he going to get revenge? Would it not have been righteous to demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Mandela himself wrote his thoughts: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
What is it that Mandela did right?
Mandela, the nation builder, had a greater dream than sweet revenge, and he understood which tools he needed to use in order to attain it. “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”
The history of the world is not finished yet, and there is still a need for people such as Mandela who are in the right place at the right time, and who make the right choices. Nevertheless, very few people will ever gain such an important place in the history books as Mandela
The laws of life are just as relevant as the laws of nature. Perhaps some of these laws are what caused Mandela to accomplish so much? One relevant law of life can be found in Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”; another in James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment”; and perhaps the most important in Luke 14:11, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” That day in prison when Mandela left all hatred and bitterness behind, he chose not to exalt himself above his former enemies. He understood that meeting them as fellow citizens would give far better results.
Johan Oscar Smith wrote in 1905 to his newly converted brother, exhorting him to use goodness as a tool for winning souls. He referenced Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” The lesson that Mandela displayed for us on the world stage can be likened to Biblical battle strategy; he chose to overcome the evil with the good! (Romans 12:21)
Knowledge of these laws of life combined with this piece of advice from Nelson Mandela is not a bad idea: “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”