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Nelson Mandela Biography, Christian Values

Dec 05, 2013 07:03 PM EST

Former South African President Nelson Mandela died Dec. 5 at age 95 after months of declining health.

Mandela, the country's first black president and anti-apartheid icon, spent 27 years in prison and eventually led South Africa to democracy. He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960, but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country's white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.

His death was announced by President Jacob Zuma.

"Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love," Zuma said.

Mandela would receive a full state funeral, Zuma added, ordering flags to be flown at half mast.

Mandela retired from public life in 2004 with the half-joking directive, "Don't call me, I'll call you," and had largely stepped out of the spotlight, spending much of his time with family in his childhood village.

Nelson Mandela Biography and Christian values

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mveso, Transkei, South Africa. Becoming actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.

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In 1993, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country's apartheid system. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. In 2009, Mandela's birthday (July 18) was declared Mandela Day to promote global peace and celebrate the South African leader's legacy. Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013, at age 95.

Mandela was baptized in the Methodist Church, he went on to become the first in his family to attend school. Mandela has consistently proclaimed his commitment to Christ as his Lord throughout his adult life. His fight against racial inequality as well as leadership in reconciling the white South Africans, Afrikaners, with the black South Africans have reflected the ideals of Christian principles of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation, forming the bedrock for his political and social motivations.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela tells the story of his early engagement with Christianity. “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.” As a result, Mandela became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught Bible classes on Sundays in nearby villages.

 

Students hold candles and a portrait of Nelson Mandela during the celebrations to mark Mandela's 95th birthday. (Reuters)
Students hold candles and a portrait of Nelson Mandela during the celebrations to mark Mandela's 95th birthday. (Reuters)

27 Years in Prison

While working as a lawyer, Mandela, born in 1918, was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and tried for high treason in December 1956 but was found not guilty. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a bombing campaign against government targets. He was jailed for five years in November 1962, and was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964.

Mandela was released unconditionally from prison on February 11, 1990, after 27 years of imprisonment, first on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. He was 71. While in prison, he suffered lung damage while working in a prison quarry. He also contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s.

“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,” recalled Mandela, whose radical change in mindset would affect how he deal with his opponents.

 

Children hold placards as they gather to wish former President Nelson Mandela happy birthday. (Reuters)
Children hold placards as they gather to wish former President Nelson Mandela happy birthday. (Reuters)

In 1993, Mandela was granted the Nobel Peace Prize for his resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies and for his efforts to establish nonracial democracy in South Africa.

Mandela was famously quoted, “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

God’s Way of Justice and Reconciliation

A few weeks before he was elected South Africa’s president, Mandela gave a speech at the Zionist Christian Church Easter conference on 3 April 1994. After reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), he began by praising God for “The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!”

“Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Savior over the torture of the cross and the grave. Our Messiah, who came to us in the form of a mortal man, but who by his suffering and crucifixion attained immortality.”

Nelson Mandela made his last public appearance to date in 2010, at the final match of the World Cup in South Africa. He is survived by his third wife, Graáa Machel, whom he married in 1998 on his 80th birthday; his former wife Winnie Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela.

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