Nelson Mandela, Saint and Sinner

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” – Nelson Mandela

Who was Nelson Mandela? Well he was the great defender of human rights against the evils of Apartheid of course. He spent decades in a prison for his stance against racist South African white leaders and then emerged as the President of that nation where he stood for peace and equal rights for all.
That’s the canned response I hear from all over the web and news outlets the last couple days as the world mourns the loss of a great leader.

And now…..The rest of the story

Was Nelson Mandela a great leader? In some aspects I think he was. He saw evil and he confronted it as great men have done through history. He was often humble and forgiving as President in his later years which is hard for powerful men to pull off these days. However I would not put him up there with Martin Luther King on a list of heroes as I have heard many do over the past few days. These were leaders that fought against injustice without resorting to violence or taking the law into their own hands which is clearly forbidden in the scriptures (See Romans 12 and 13). Bishop Tutu fought Apartheid in South Africa but never went to prison; in fact he roamed freely around the country with no issue while speaking out against the government. Why did Mandela go to prison for so long anyway?

The harsh truth about Mandela is that he decided to leave his peaceful stance against Apartheid in 1961 when he formed and led the militant wing of the ANC (African National Congress). Backed by Communist leaders, even though Mandela stated he was not a communist, he led terrorist acts against his government for years that resulted in hundreds if not thousands of African deaths, mostly among other black people. It was these terrorist acts that he admitted to and was convicted of at the Rivonia trial. In fact these acts were considered treason and carried the death penalty but the charges were reduced to “sabotage” and life in prison was the verdict. The charges were as follows:

• Recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage
• Conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic,
• Acting in these ways to further the objects of communism
• Soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathizers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

These acts were admitted to in part (he denied point number 3) by Mandela himself at the trial where he claimed to be sober minded and rational.

“I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites. I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962”

He was clear in his statements that he didn’t intend violence but felt “morally obliged to do what I did” which was to formally declare that properly controlled violence would be allowed by the ANC and not punished. So he condoned violence against government on a certain level basically because the government had committed violence against protesters and he didn’t see how peaceful demonstrations could have the necessary impact.

To Mandela’s credit he stated that although he saw good in Marxism he was not a “Marxist” and held in high esteem documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta and such institutions as the American congress and the British Parliament. His famous statement not many would disagree with and is a noble one for sure

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

However my question is did Mandela go about his struggle in the right way as the Bible gives liberty to do so? I don’t think he did based on my reading of Romans and other passages. In 1985 Mandela was offered release if he renounced violence as a legitimate means of resistance and he refused on the basis that the government would also have to do so. He was right that the government should have acknowledged their roles in violence, but Mandela should have stepped up and done so and repented of his own actions which I don’t know of a time he ever did. I think he thought his actions of violence were warranted and I don’t see any basis for it Biblically.
Martin Luther King said

”The method of nonviolent resistance is effective in that it has a way of disarming opponents, it exposes their moral defenses, weakens their morale and at the same time works on their conscience. It makes possible for the individual to struggle for moral ends through moral means.”

This seems to me a much more Biblical approach to violence perpetrated on us. Mandela said he had no recourse but of course we know he did because we have other truly great men to look at as an example and of course the primary example of Christ. From a Biblical perspective it seems that Mandela decided to fight an immoral government in an immoral way and that doesn’t work out in the pages of scripture.

It is also important to note that Mandela did not see himself as perfect or ask in any way to be idolized as he is. I think he recognized his faults and so should we. Not that we should forget the good that Mandela did either and bring up only the critical points like I also read in some blogs.

The facts are that Mandela was at times a great leader and defender of the human rights of his people, while other times he engaged in terrorist activities against his own people and his own government. We shouldn’t attempt to hide either side of the man or put him on an improper pedestal that he wouldn’t even attribute to himself. Instead we should do as every Christian should and judge his life in light of the Scripture even if it means we see the imperfections, and historians should not revise history to tell a story that isn’t true or omit things that don’t fit the narrative. Biblical history does not hide the evil nature of man even in great men like David because we learn from the good and bad men do. Nelson Mandela is no exception.

Specific verses on Terrorism and taking the law into your own hands as a citizen

Romans 12:19-21, Proverbs 6:16-19, Romans 13:1-7


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