By Grelan Muse Sr.
Inside The Pew
National and international media outlets are reporting that all living U.S. presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter – will attend services. In addition, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will pay their condolences in person to Mandela.
Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 27 years in a grim island prison before he became South Africa’s unifying, first democratically elected president, died Dec. 5 at 95.
According to Fox News, a week of mourning has been declared by the South African government. Memorial services will be held throughout the week leading to the funeral for Mandela. On Dec. 10, a memorial is planned at FNB Stadium in Soweto, where Mandela made his last public appearance at the World Cup final in July 2010. Soweto was once a violent hot spot of resistance to apartheid and then host to the first Soccer World Cup to be held on African soil.
The leader’s body will lie in state from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. South African President Jacob Zuma has called for flags to be flown at half-mast until after the funeral.
President of the South African Council of Churches, Bishop Jo Seoka, who convened the funeral planning meeting Dec. 6, said: “We are very much saddened by the news of the death of our nation’s firstpPresident: A man of vision, courage and zeal for the liberation of humankind. He has lived a selfless life so that we may all enjoy freedom and the fullness of life, just as our Lord had purposed. Today we are a respected nation because of his tireless fighting spirit to free us from oppression, exploitation and sexism, and for this we thank God.”
While Bishop Seoka’s words will resonate with most South African Christians, there are some voices who warn that people are falling into idolatrous “Mandela worship” and that films about his life are adding fuel to this fire. A few Christian critics go even further and say he was a terrorist who promoted abortion, pornography and homosexuality in the nation. Mandela himself once famously said: “I am not a saint unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”
He was a larger-than-life figure whose life story was like that of the hero in an epic movie. Ironically, two of his daughters heard about his death last night while they were attending the London royal premiere of “Long Road to Freedom,” a feature film about his life.
Even in the past three months, most of which he spent in a semi-coma in a private hospital in the capital city, Pretoria, his presence loomed large in the nation as citizens viewed media images of prayer vigils on the street outside the clinic. Mandela is credited by many with guiding South Africa safely through the tense period of transition from apartheid to democracy as he called on angry blacks and fearful whites to reconcile and build a new nation together.
As the nation prayed and shared in the human drama of his last protracted battle on his sickbed it was as if even in his weakened state his persona was exerting a calming, restraining, influence on a South Africa where cracks of corruption, inequality, unresolved racial tension and anger are showing.
Like any hero character in an epic movie, Mandela changed the atmosphere each time he entered the frame. His broad smile, his genuine warmth to children, his colorful shirts (he seldom wore the suits and ties associated with high office), and his trademark “Madiba shuffle” (a light-hearted dance step he would often do in public places). But without a doubt there was no more epic heroic appearance than the day he donned the green and gold jersey of South Africa’s national rugby team – once a symbol of white supremacy – at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium. His presence was inspirational and the nation felt united as never before when South Africa won the coveted World Cup for the first time that day.
Inevitably the question must be asked: what will South Africa look like with its epic hero figure written out of the plot? There are who fear that without his restraining presence the forces of darkness will prevail. Interestingly there is a rising, grassroots movement of black Christians like former ANC provincial leader Mkhangeli Matomela, who believe that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party which Mandela symbolized for decades, has already been taken over by darkness, and they are appealing to the many Christian supporters of the ANC to join an alliance of parties pursuing a political future aligned to the kingdom of God.
With the impeccable timing of an epic movie hero, Mandela has disappeared into the yonder on the eve of an election year.
Editor’s note: Andre Viljoen from ASSIST News Service contributed to this report.