The recent passing of the beloved “father” of the South African nation, Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, has resulted in millions of tributes flowing in from all over the world.
In 1994, South Africa held its first fully democratic election, and Madiba became the nation's first black president. It was indeed a joyous day for many South Africans of every race, color, and creed. This joy was also shared by many longtime residents, including myself.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I think of his legacy to South Africa and to the world, and I am deeply grateful for the loving and forgiving qualities he so vividly expressed as he worked tirelessly to free South Africans from apartheid.
But there was a greater depth to this freedom that wrought and brought an incredible change in South Africa.
Madiba lived what was in his heart, and this greater freedom that he found was one of inner peace, beauty, dignity, and selflessness – and this came from not letting any thoughts of unkindness, indifference, hurt, fear, hatred, anger, bitterness, revenge, or retaliation – the root of all strife – find any resting place in his heart. He learned and then lived the biblical precept to “see that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (I Thessalonians 5:15).
Madiba’s goal in freeing his people was not for black domination. It was to unite the people of this diverse nation and to repair the brokenness in society, caused by years of separation and division.
Madiba recognized that this uniting of the South African people required him to find common ground in aspects of everyday life, in respect and care for each other, in our achievements, and in our prayers. To me, his life is an example of this statement Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, makes in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power” (p. 192).
Madiba met every adverse condition of his past with unconditional love, kindness, friendliness, care, compassion, and forgiveness, always recognizing the inherent goodness in all people. This is the greater freedom, the legacy Madiba has bestowed not only on South Africans, but on all the peoples of our world.
In essence Madiba has shown that the greater freedom and progress lies in and is achieved only by actively letting go of the negative thoughts of blame, condemnation, hurt, bitterness, hate, indifference, fear, revenge, retaliation – in truly following Jesus’ command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, New King James Version).
The most fitting tribute in remembrance of Madiba is not one of words but of deeds. By his example he put the people of South Africa and of the world on the path of brotherly love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Let us stay on this same path, no matter our circumstances – let us render no man evil for evil, and let us truly love our neighbor as ourselves.