On a visit to South Africa I visited the tidy home of Nelson Mandela in the Soweto township, which is preserved as a museum.  Just down the street sits Bishop Desmond Tutu’s house.  A slum made famous by its bloody uprisings now boasts the only street in the world that has produced two Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Speaking like an Old Testament prophet, Bishop Tutu gives God the credit for the miracle desmond-tutu-and-nelson-mandellaof reconciliation in his country.  “God does have a sense of humor.  Who in their right minds could ever have imagined South Africa to be an example of anything but the most awfulness, of how not to order a nation’s relations and its governance?  We South Africans were the unlikeliest lot, and that is precisely why God has chosen us.  We cannot really claim much credit ourselves for what we have achieved.  We were destined for perdition and were plucked out of total annihilation.  We were a hopeless case if there was one.”

When black Africans finally got the vote and seemed certain to overthrow the white apartheid government, nearly everyone predicted a bloodbath.  After all, 14,000 people had already died in violence between the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and his election to the presidency in 1994.  Confounding the experts, however, the new regime did not yield to the politics of revenge.  Even today, South Africans call it “the miracle.”

Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform.  He then appointed Archbishop Desmund Tutu to head an official government panel with a daunting name, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Mandela sought to defuse the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another.

Bill Clinton recalled a conversation he had with Nelson Mandela, one that shows the tone of moral leadership that emerged from that “unlikeliest lot.”  “Didn’t you really hate them for what they did?” Clinton asked, referring to Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison.

480px-Young_MandelaMandela replied, “Oh, yeah, I hated them for a long time.  I broke rocks every day in prison, and I stayed alive on hate.  They took a lot away from me.  They took me away from my wife, and it subsequently destroyed my marriage.  They took me away from seeing my children grow up.  They abused me mentally and physically.  And one day, I realized they could take it all except my mind and my heart.  Those things I would have to give to them, and I simply decided not to give them away.”

Clinton pressed him.  “Well, what about when you were getting out of prison?  I got my daughter Chelsea up and we watched you on television as you walked down that dirt road to freedom.  Didn’t you hate them then?”

Mandela said, “As I felt the anger rising up, I thought to myself, ‘They have already had you for twenty-seven years.  And if you keep hating them, they’ll have you again.’  And I said, ‘I want to be free.’  And so I let it go.  I let it go.”

Nelson_MandelaWith that attitude Mandela set a tone for the entire country.  Black leaders urged their followers not to give in to their anger, however merited, but instead to let it go, to move forward in their newly won freedom.  White churches, many of which had supported the oppressive white regime, were taken aback by the new spirit of cooperation.  Gradually they let go of their own fear and anger, with renewed hope that they would have a share in the country’s future after all.

This week, Nelson Mandela “let it go” one final time.  After an extraordinary life, he got his deepest wish: “I want to be free.”

(Partially adapted from What Good Is God?)

Nelson Mandela - 3


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13 responses to “Mandela’s Miracle”

  1. Lynn Schriner says:

    The astonishing wisdom of these two men. The amazing grace over a country so broken by evil. We try to help with guns and blood and then we move to grace and all is made whole. Gods amazing grace how sweet the sound.

    Thank you for this powerful piece

  2. Lisa says:

    Philip, please tweet a link to your blogs as I follow you on twitter and it would be great to get tweets when you do a new post. Currently reading ‘Prayer’ your work is inspiring and gives me great comfort 🙂

    Lisa, Philip is not currently using Twitter. We will tweet the links if he ever chooses that form of social media. Thanks for reading ~ jdb

  3. Keith says:

    In response to Steven

    I grew up at the end of Apartheid.
    This weekend has had a profound impact on me bringing up 20 or more years of memories, when I was in std 8 1985 I read cry the beloved country it changed my life…my parents had not grown up in South Africa so the racial conditioning of the time was never taught at home…when I studied at a small college in Athlone CEBI, the idea that God called me to be the difference started then, that God is the God of the struggle…I embraced the struggle, and conscientized my self for the liberation of all South Africans.
    I fell in love with my best friend Joy 1993, at the time I stood the chance of being reclassified from white to Coloured (I’m a honorary Coloured now anyway!)

    I chose to be the difference, and have worked in the Townships. The sad reality for our country is we are still defined black and white, I believe my children will play a great role in nation building. If all we do is complain about what’s wrong then nothing will happen, but if we take the hope we have in God, you and me in our small corner of influence can change the world, and so we work to impact one life at a time.

    If I could in my lifetime do 10% of what Madiba achieved I will be overjoyed at having lived a fulfilled life

    What Madiba did has allowed us to raise to wonderful daughters,( in a country teething in a new democracy), and so aptly so when we named Sian Destiny “God has favoured our Destiny” and Tiffany Joy The manifestation of The Devine…She is Devine Joy, Just like Joy her mom. Thanks Madiba for making it possible to live in freedom as people, and not to be judged by the colour of our skin… So we will continue to reflect Christ, like Madiba has, by caring for the least, forgiving the ignorant, and loving all people!

  4. Xana McCauley says:

    Dear Philip. I too am a white South African pastor living in South Africa. Stephan’s views are very warped.

  5. Robyn says:

    Stephen. You sound very bitter. I am a South African too and crime effects all races badly. We all need to stand together now more than ever.

  6. John Blair says:

    In also a response to Stephen, a fellow pastor also. Maybe Nelson Mandela was a cause of some deaths before his imprisonment and maybe not. But he changed his life, and also changed how to respond to negativity to change a country. Let us not forget, we all have a past and if we keep letting it define someone, after the grace of God or moral change of conviction, then we never have released forgiveness ourselves or forgot what we would be without Him. The article says nothing about his personal faith, and he is not honored by many for his personal faith whether in Christ or not, but for uniting a country under his moral standards.

    • Chen says:

      There is no point arguing that Nelson Mandela is one of the graeetst leaders the African continent has produced in history. Here are some of Nelson Mandela’s best quotes:“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death”. I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses .“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.” “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” +4Was this answer helpful?

  7. Allan says:

    God bless you Nelson Mandela. Thank you for your life.

  8. Nick says:

    Stephen – you’re an embarrassment to South Africans everywhere. Please go and join your son!

  9. Malin says:

    Good morning, I really do think that I need to reply to what my dear friend and pastor Stephen wrote. Let me state that I’m also South African and still live in this beloved country, but cannot share all the sentiments expressed by you. Yes, there are killings and murders and all the wrong that you might be referring to in your post, but there are also many good things in this country. Just because you do not get all the privileges that you used to enjoy as a minority group and need to share it with other people, does not mean you are being oppressed. Yes its difficult to see many other people sharing the previously white’s only beaches with you, having the same job post as you and doing all the things that were only reserved for you as a white.

    It’s so sad that you can speak about Bishop Tutu as somebody not believing in Jesus Christ and referring to yourself as a born again Christian, but failing to express the love that Jesus calls us to have for our brothers and sisters from different backgrounds.
    Your post is really an indication of how far we still need to go as a country.

    I have to agree with you Phillip and with what the Bishop said, its only God that could have done with this country, what He did. “God does have a sense of humour. Who in their right minds could ever have imagined South Africa to be an example of anything but the most awfulness, of how not to order a nation’s relations and its governance? We South Africans were the unlikeliest lot, and that is precisely why God has chosen us. We cannot really claim much credit ourselves for what we have achieved. We were destined for perdition and were plucked out of total annihilation. We were a hopeless case if there was one.”

  10. Stephen says:

    Dear Phillip
    I am an South African and pastor in South Africa. I know personally about a few facts that I would like to leave here and you can do with it whatever you choose.
    Nelson Mandela was a terrorist who killed many people in my country. Hy was a murderer that was suppose to get the death penalty but it was changed to life sentence.
    He was jailed and I had family that was involved in the jail where he was. He was not treated like a criminal in most cases but have a luxury and nice living place, much better than he had when he was living in his poor home. He had many friend sunder his jailors who treated him with good intentions and sat and chat with him many times.
    He confessed to a friend of mine that he does not believed in Jesus Christ He was a humanist with good intentions I think, but what is good without Christ. The tree of knowledge was also the tree of good, was’nt it. He talked about peace and very beautiful words, while our country started to degenarate slowly under his reign. The good thing was that sanctions was lifted and the revolusionist was silent for a while. Now it is worst ever. Thousands of our people are leaving South Africa. My own son is in your country looking for work because of the worst discrimination ever in South Africa on this moment.

    About Bishop Tutu. I was a young pastor when I personally heard him laughing when they asked him over TV if he believe Jesus went back to heaven after His resurrection. His answer was, how can He go up in clouds and dissappeared.
    He also stated that if necessary South Africa must be set free from white supremecy by stones and burning tyres. That was fighting for a political party that portrayed Christ as a person with a AK47 on the cross.
    These are the people that got the nobel prices.

    I qoute you: “White churches, many of which had supported the oppressive white regime, were taken aback by the new spirit of cooperation. Gradually they let go of their own fear and anger, with renewed hope that they would have a share in the country’s future after all.”
    My dear friend where did you get this idea? From a small minorty that do not want to admit that South Africa is on this moment the worst off ever. people fear for they lifes. Our women get raped per minute. Our people love behind security fneces that is better secured than most jails.
    Maybe you may think me negative or racist for telling you these truths. I am a born again Christ person who love Jesus with my whole heart and who do not like all the lies and unrigtheoussnes in and about my country. Please pray for us, but the perspective you wrote is what the whole world believe. This is not the truth. I live here. Last month alone 40 (white) farmers were killed. That is just the farmers and no the others hundreds per month that are killed in South Africa. These are the facts my dear friend. I can get you the statistics of all the murders. A smaal minorty group – Solidarity – are meeting the United nations dept of security of minorities to try and convince them to do something about our situation. The United nations had a team here in SA a few months ago to come and see about all the farm murders etc.
    We are praying for our heavenly Father for a silution for this growing crises.
    May Christ be all in all, that’s my prayer. Love your books – God bless you my friend. Stephen

    Thank you, Stephen, for your perspective. I know about the terrible crime rate and the great toll taken among white farmers especially. That is very sad and wrong; as a result many whites, like your son, have left South Africa. You know more about your country than I do, surely, but I do wonder about a few things that you wrote. My understanding is that Mandela was personally involved in terrorist activities that only killed a few people, deliberately targeting infrastructure and buildings but not people. And I have seen the prison cell in Robben Island where he spent the great majority of his years. Trust me, it was not luxury. He had to lie down diagonally just to fit in that tiny cell. It’s true that his last eight years he was put in much more comfortable surroundings, and perhaps this is what your family saw. I don’t know about Mandela’s spiritual beliefs, though I’ve heard differently than what you express. He went to a mission school and confided to some people about his faith, but didn’t want to make that a public issue. As for Desmond Tutu, well, he writes openly about his Christian faith and I have no reason to doubt his orthodoxy.

    Reading your comment, I thought of our own “moral hero” Martin Luther King Jr. Unlike Mandela, he always opposed violence. He had major personal faults, especially in sexual morality and in plagiarism. Yet he did one thing so well and so consistently that he changed the nation forever: he organized nonviolent resistance, all the while insisting on love for his opponents. I’m sure Mandela had many flaws, and we hear about some of them in the news after his death. Just today I heard Desmond Tutu on the BBC talking about how Mandela appointed incompetent people in high offices who have made the country worse, not better. But wouldn’t you agree that Mandela made remarkable gestures and decisions that brought a reconciliation that no one had expected? That’s how he’ll go down in history, at least. He didn’t make a perfect country by any means and he wasn’t a perfect man. But he brought grace and forgiveness into the global vocabulary in a way that it had never been before. That’s no small accomplishment.

    You asked where I got the information about white churches: from the leadership of the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch.

    I do not mean to refute everything you say because I know your country faces many challenges. I hope you are able to celebrate the “common grace” that people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu exemplified, and that you will find the strength and courage to be a healer and reconciler too.


  11. Wes Campbell says:

    Thanks Mr. Yancey, I learned allot about about Mr Mandela from your book what’s so amazing about grace.

  12. pamela wood says:

    Thank you, Mr. Yancey – a fitting tribute to a great man.

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