Remembering Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Dec. 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at age 95. South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement. Mandela, a former prisoner, became a statesman who led South Africa out of decades of apartheid.

Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela had many connections to Methodism.

A graduate of a Methodist boarding school where many future African leaders were educated, the anti-apartheid champion was mentored by Methodist preachers and educators and formed a bond with a Methodist chaplain while in prison.

As president of South Africa, he worked with church leaders in shaping a new nation and eventually married Graça Machel, a United Methodist, widow of the former president of Mozambique and an advocate for women's and children's rights.

When that couple made a surprise appearance before the United Methodist Council of Bishops during a November 2006 meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, Bishop Janice Huie, then the council's president, declared the group was "blessed" to have them in their presence. "We have been in the company of the saints and we know it, and we are grateful," she said.

The World Methodist Council recognized Mandela as a "symbol of freedom, justice and peace" when presenting him with its 2000 peace award.

"As a national and world leader his name is synonymous with reconciliation," said Frances Alguire, the council's chairperson, when the award was announced. "As a person he is remarkably free of bitterness. His life reflects the qualities of the World Methodist Peace Award."

Graça Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, receives an honorary doctorate during the 10th anniversary celebration at Africa University. A 2002 file photo courtesy of Africa University.

Graça Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, receives an honorary doctorate during the 10th anniversary celebration at Africa University. A 2002 file photo courtesy of Africa University.

Early Methodist roots

Mandela was born July 18, 1918, at Mvezo in the Eastern Cape and graduated from Healdtown, a boarding school started by Methodist missionaries in 1845. The Rev. Seth Mokitimi was the school's chaplain. A renowned Methodist preacher and educator who in 1964 became the first black person elected to lead a major denomination in South Africa, he had a powerful influence on Mandela.

A new Methodist seminary, opened in 2009 within the Pietermaritzburg Cluster of ecumenical theological institutions at the University of KwaZulu-Natal near Durban, is named after Mokitimi, who died in 1971.

As a leader in a campaign against the apartheid system, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1963. The Rev. Peter Storey, a Methodist pastor, served as chaplain to Mandela and other prisoners.

Storey, a former president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, also became a close associate of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the church's anti-apartheid struggles.

Freed from prison on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela was elected South Africa's president in 1994. He appointed Storey to help form South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 1995 and received world attention as a model of how to seek national healing and forgiveness.

"We knew we needed the truth to build a new nation," Storey said in 2005 when he was a professor at Duke Divinity School. "Without truth, no healing. Without forgiveness, no future."

Challenge to the church

After Mandela's election, Methodist leaders recognized the church's "critical role" in creating a new South Africa. "The biggest challenge is for the church to learn to work with a government that is legitimate," then-Bishop H. Mvume Dandala said during a 1998 interview with United Methodist News Service in New York.

But the reluctance to criticize had to be addressed. "The euphoria of having our own government is still with us and it still is not easy to draw attention to what might be wrong," Dandala explained. Churches also had to help continue the healing process started by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he said.

Mandela retired as South Africa's president in 1999 after serving one term, but he continued to have an influence both globally and on the African continent. On July 18, 2009, his birthday was declared International Mandela Day and has become an annual event for community service.

The Methodist Church in South Africa was started in 1836 by British Methodists and became autonomous in 1883. Today, it is made up of six countries in Southern Africa, and 2.5 million people claim a religious affiliation with the denomination.

Read more about Nelson Mandela and Methodism.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or [email protected].

 

Like what you're reading?  United Methodist Communications is celebrating 80 years of ministry! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community.  Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
Evangelism
Interpreter Victor Fahn signs the message of Esther Metzgar during a Sunday morning service at S.T. Nagbe United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News.

Church cares for Deaf community amid pandemic

Deaf church members in Zimbabwe and Liberia have adequate resources and information to fight the coronavirus thanks to United Methodist ministries.
General Church
United Methodist Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey presides over an online meeting of the denomination’s Council of Bishops. Amid financial pressure and a potential denominational split, the council called for postponing elections of new U.S. bishops and urged that five new African bishops be added only as resources allow. UM News screenshot via Zoom.

Council urges no new US bishops for 4 years

Under financial strain, United Methodist bishops recommend postponement of U.S. episcopal elections and slowdown on adding new bishops in Africa.
Mission and Ministry
The Rev. John Makaniko (left) gathers in fellowship with teenage members from Hatfield United Methodist Church circuit in Harare, Zimbabwe. Makaniko said young people are not immune to the stress and anxiety of COVID-19. Photo by Chenayi Kumuterera, UM News.

Pastors reveal emotional toll of COVID-19

Church leaders in Zimbabwe help counsel traumatized families, while also dealing with their own fears and anxiety amid pandemic.