When I was 18/19 I lived in Islington. It was a bohemian setting ~ I had a boyfriend who was a dear soul who first introduced me to the likes of Tracy Chapman, the Notting Hill Carnival and Amnesty International. He fell in love with Africa, and went there on his travels whenever he could ~ whenever the theatre went dark.
I rescued a little black homeless puppy ~ I named him Moon. He naturally caused chaos but I had this romantic vision of street-dog and I loving each other, and him following me everywhere ~ and I did, I loved him.
I remember the day that Nelson Mandela was released ~ and in my exuberance I remember us running in celebration up the Essex Road N1 (where I lived) singing at the top of my voice ‘Free eeeee Nelson Mandela’. It was a sunny day. There was a heady joy and a liberation in the air that was seemingly another first for me. In all my exuberant ignorance I felt a part of his freedom and release.
Then things went terribly wrong . . . my friendship with the young man was sadly cut short. Life changed dramatically and almost instantly. The puppy ~ the flat ~ the love ~ the lifestyle ~ Everything changed because of someones desperately bad actions, all because they felt unloved. 25 years on and I feel nothing but sorrow for their actions, and absolute forgiveness.
This is a poem that I wrote at the time.
He was so peaceful
Like a foetus draped in ebony.
Africa at its darkest
With no life mapped out.
We vote to be freed from our prison.
Cant handle the complications.
Want to be a little girl
Want to have a cake
Want to eat that cake…
The Nelson Mandela sculpture outside the Royal Festival Hall was made by Ian Walters, my friend Jess’s Daddy.
Slippers & Sandals :O)
It was all a part of my cultural awakening back then. Ironically when I lived in N1 I used to meet my friends down on the tomb stones in St Martins in the Fields for a cheap cuppa tea. The words of the Nelson Mandela Service at St Martin in the fields today moved me personally so very deeply ~ beyond tears.
Listen to the poignant words from the reading of his autobiography, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflection on the life of Nelson Mandela, by clicking on the link below . . .
. . . and pray †
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity…. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Great injustice is overcome only by great courage. Evil can never be placated, it must be defeated: that means struggle, and struggles demand courage.
Nelson Mandela showed his courage by his determination in the face of evil and by his humanity in the experience of victory. What is more, such courage and humanity were learned and demonstrated in the mists of conflict and suffering. He was that rarest of leaders, those who learn from terrible events so as to exhaust all their lessons, rather than being shaped by them into bitterness and hatred.
Our first reading was the story of the Israelites escaping the oppression of Egypt. It is a story of liberation. God made it possible for Israel to escape. He rescued them when all was lost, and he defeated their enemies, so that the oppressors were destroyed.
Throughout history, this story has been one to which those who are suffering oppression have turned. It is hard to remember today the full evil of apartheid. Nelson Mandela recalled how at school, and in every part of his life, he felt its injustice. Oppression was his life, and those of the vast majority of the people of South Africa.
Not everyone responds to such treatment with resistance. Many of us would have kept our heads down, made what we could of life, looked after those close to us, and closed our eyes to what was happening. We would have said to ourselves, “Life is tough enough, do not make it worse by swimming against the tide”.
But Mandela had courage that showed itself in leadership. He stood out, resisted, and fought. He faced the insult of being labelled a terrorist for fighting for his own people, the absurdity of trial for treason against an utterly wicked regime. At the height of the Cold War, with South Africa seen by many as a dependable ally protecting the seas around the Cape of Good Hope, he had little overseas support. One of the great pressures of conflict is loneliness: he faced solitude and isolation and continued the struggle.
Resisting evil is a call of God. Christians disagree about whether force is justifiable, but are at one that resistance is essential. Easy to say, how hard to act! More than that, the act of resistance opens our souls to harm. In fighting hatred, we risk becoming what we resist. History is full, especially in the 20th century, of evil overthrown – to be replaced by worse.
Archbishop Tutu commented, “I often surprise people when I say this. Suffering can lead to bitterness. But suffering is also the infallible test of the openness of a leader, of their selflessness. When Mandela had gone to jail, he had been one of the most angry. The suffering of those 27 years helped to purify him and grow the magnanimity that would become his hallmark. Jail helped Mandela learn how to make enemies into friends. It also gave him an unassailable credibility. When you speak of forgiveness, 27 years in prison sets you up very nicely.”
“27 years in prison sets you up very nicely.” Only someone like Tutu has the right to say that, because he took the same risks. 27 years, add it to your age, think about what you would be like at the end. 27 years of hard labour, pointless oppression, petty insults. Yet in that school of hatred he learned to treasure the ideal of a just nation. That is a second aspect of his uniqueness. His courage was undefeated, indomitable, extraordinary. His capacity to go on becoming more human was breathtaking. His guards grew to respect and even love him. One called him a father figure, whose absence was a bereavement. Robben Island was defeated by someone who could take everything it threw at him, and by melting courage into forgiveness, create the gold of reconciliation.
In the Exodus story God brings freedom, but the Israelites have to struggle and trust. So it is with us. Jesus Christ gives us freedom.We must take it and struggle for it and stand for it, as did Nelson Mandela. And yet there is more.
Peter, in the reading from St Matthew, is looking for a natural limit to forgiveness. Jesus’ answer says there is no limit. Don’t do the arithmetic, learn the point. We are called to forgive forever. Few manage it. Nelson Mandela was one of the few. He did not merely call for resistance, he led it. He did not merely demonstrate and call for forgiveness, he put in place a constitution and governing system that faced evil and defeated it with truth and reconciliation. Leadership is not seen merely in policy, but making policy practice. It is what Jesus calls his followers to do along with him.
And there lies the challenge. Where do we find those who carry on his work? Pray for South Africa as it mourns. Ask God for every nation to have leaders who are full of courage and resist evil, who learn from suffering, who turn that learning into love and make both into reality. And thank God for Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s amazing grace.
Amazing Grace – Will Todd
God of grace, in Nelson Mandela you gave us a figure of dignity, wisdom, courage, and mercy. Send your Holy Spirit on the people of South Africa that they may walk in his dignity, grow in his wisdom, embody his courage, and practice his mercy.
God of all peoples, be close to any today who know the sting of racial division, prejudice, injustice, and oppression. Bring transformation in hearts and neighbourhoods and nations where one racial group inhibits the flourishing of another. Raise up leaders like Nelson Mandela, and bring reconciliation to those on the brink of violent conflict.
God of glory, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding. Be close to all today who walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and face a long walk to freedom, peace, and hope. Comfort any who grieve, be present to all in prison or exile, and lift every voice to sing your song even if their throat is weary.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
thy Kingdom come.
thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
Forever and ever. Amen.
Nelson Mandela Pray for me †