Methodist tribute to Nelson Mandela

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Drawn from the December 2013 First Friday Letter of the World Methodist Council.

Former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela died December 6, 2013, from complications related to a recurring lung infection. He was 95.

The World Methodist Council (WMC) remembers Mandela as a person who fought for dignity and equality for all, not through violent means, but instead through the moral authority that comes when the cause of justice is on one’s side. He was often referred to as “Madiba”, his clan name, also used as a term of endearment by South Africans. The lives that were touched by Madiba’s words and deeds are impossible to count, but his story will live on for generations to come as an example of how to lead in the face of oppression.

WMC General Secretary Ivan Abrahams stated: “Mandela brought hope for those strangulated by poverty and hunger; transformed the nightmares of those trapped in hopelessness and despair into dreams of a better future and sunshine, dignity and assurance to many a young person caught up in waves of angst about the future of South Africa. He stood as the collective conscience of a people and achieved what many thought impossible in their lifetime.”

A life-long Methodist, Mandela was a man of faith, principle, hope and inspiration. The leader of a movement and the father of a nation, Mandela’s shadow stretches forward as a reminder to each of us of a better way.

Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, said in a statement: “As a Church, we have been privileged to be associated with Madiba since the early days of his life when he was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist educational institutions in the Eastern Cape, both of which were important influences on his life.

“Madiba remained a committed Methodist throughout his life. The thousands of accolades from every walk of life that he received included the World Methodist Peace Award (WMPA), the highest honour that can be bestowed by the worldwide Methodist family.”

Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president by a near two-thirds margin in 1994, after spending 27 years in prison for his role as a leader in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. He served as president for five years, until retiring in 1999.

In 2000, the WMC awarded Mandela the WMPA for his single-minded commitment to peace and reconciliation, and for staying true to his vision of a free and democratic South Africa. He received many other accolades throughout his career, including the United States of America Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

The Rev Eddie Fox, Director of World Methodist Evangelism, recalled: “We were privileged to be present with Nelson Mandela as he received the WMPA in a special ceremony in Cape Town.

“That evening when we walked outside to his car, people gathered to see their President. Some children stood on the side of the street. He lowered his glass and motioned for the children to come to him. He embraced them and expressed his love for them. He is ‘Madiba’ to all his people and indeed the Father of his country.”

During his time in office Mandela pushed for free and democratic elections, and after three years of talks, a new interim constitution was agreed upon and free democratic elections were held. He created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to push for national reconciliation and bringing parity to black and white communities. After his retirement in 1999, he focused on charity and aid work, particularly HIV/AIDS activism.

In a statement released by the Methodist Church in Great Britain, the Rev Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference, said: “Nelson Mandela is regarded as one of the fathers of Africa. His persistent way of standing up for justice has inspired Africans and the world at large. As a leader, one of his most impressive attributes was his emphasis on peace and reconciliation in the post-apartheid regime.”

Mandela’s legacy is one of struggle and triumph, of steadfast dedication and a rejection of violence. In the coming days Madiba’s life will be celebrated, but the reach and scope of his influence is still unfolding.

General Secretary Abrahams added: “As we reflect on his passing and try to make sense of his death, we are reminded that people like Madiba do not die; rather, they continue to live in the hearts and minds of people, ever inspiring them to espouse the noble virtues and rare devotion that he embodied and continue that for which he dedicated his life.”

This portrait of Nelson Mandela was finger painted on the iPad with the Procreate App by David Chong Woon Tien, a self-taught hobbyist who specialises in traditional pencil, pen and digital iPad paintings. David is a member of Faith Methodist Church.

[Updated 6 January 2014]

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