Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday, was the first black president of South Africa. Prior to his election in 1994, he had led the battle to end apartheid, which had kept black people subservient and powerless before the ruling white government. Mr. Mandela’s achievement was setting his people free, establishing a government open to both blacks and whites, and without the kind of violence that has afflicted transitions in some other African nations.
I will always love his courage even in the bleakest hours, his vision of what South Africa could be, and his willingness to walk the road that would bring that vision to pass. As he said, “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”
Mandela walked both of those roads – and others. After gaining the presidency, his establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led South Africans to the high roads of “Goodness and Forgiveness.” Taking these roads helped avoid the genocides that have occurred in other African countries such as Rwanda. The justice and mercy that evolved from this process represented a deep spiritual commitment to true freedom, not just lip service to a distant ideal.
Even though South Africa may seem to be moving into uncharted waters, its people are not alone. The same God who guided others’ efforts for freedom, stability, and progress is with them. I can’t help thinking of Joshua, who became leader of his people after Moses’ death. The Israelites had just arrived at the Promised Land, and now their great leader was gone. And Joshua may have felt the great responsibility that would rest upon him.
The Bible’s account of his selection for leadership by God also included assurances that he was under God’s care, one of which reads: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). Our prayers can affirm the same blessing on South Africa’s current and future leaders – along with a recognition that all people are able to hear and accept divine guidance, to love and to do good.
In a tribute to US President William F. McKinley, Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, “All good that ever was written, taught, or wrought comes from God and human faith in the right. Through divine Love the right government is assimilated, the way pointed out, the process shortened, and the joy of acquiescence consummated” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 292).
The high roads of “Goodness and Forgiveness” will lead this generation of South Africans and their leaders to a growing understanding of freedom and its responsibilities. Our prayers can help bring this about, and they can affirm that these roads also run through the Central African Republic and other areas of the world where instability, genocide, and terror claim to be in charge.
Those who walk on these roads, accepting both their blessings and responsibilities, will open the door to new inspiration and hope for the future.