Nelson Mandela – Icon of Reconciliation

Scripture says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13-18).

Untitled 1Nelson Mandela during a visit to Australia; Photo: Governor-General of Australia
On December 5, 2013, the people of the Republic of South Africa mourned. Nelson Mandela, a racial segregation activist who had been imprisoned for 27 years and who held a five-year presidency of his country, went back to God peacefully at the age of 95. This departure has revived the memory of his actions which should be perpetually remembered.

I remember, I was convinced that the hateful racist story of South Africa could only lead to a particularly atrocious bloodbath. For me, as for many, it was inescapable, but it was ignoring the vigor of this man's faith. Mandela has always been modest about his Christian faith. But according to the testimony of Emmanuel Lafont, Bishop of Cavenne and former parish priest of Soweto, "Madiba" recognized that this Christian faith had profoundly marked this country, and that it was one of the elements that made it possible to leave apartheid, avoiding the bloodbath that everyone feared. What then were the stages of this reconciliation, which is not yet fully accomplished?

Conversion of the Oppressor

The first is the lucid recognition by all parties of the reality of the conflict. It is in 1942 that the young black lawyer will take the measure of the refusal of the whites to see the unjust violence imposed on the colored people of his country. A black was killed in a beating inflicted by the police, the court decreed that he died of congenital syphilis, and Mandela loses this trial. The 2013 film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, then shows us his approach by activists of the ANC (African National Congress) and its adherence to a nonviolent movement against apartheid, with Winnie, his second wife and his muse.

Untitled 2Sign from Apartheid era in South Africa
After the Sharpeville massacre  –- a hundred children, women and men shot dead in March 1960 – he put an end to peaceful militancy. "So we will not accept the authority of a State which wages war against his people." Twenty-seven years later, the evening of his release from prison, he further said: "The signs that we must continue the armed struggle are still there. You cannot be reconciled with someone who holds his boot on your head. It is necessary that the other changes and ceases to oppress."

But on the evening of his release, he preached what he had said the day of the trial and his life sentence: "Ending oppression, white with black or black with white, I am a servant, disciplined member of the ANC. Negotiate to restore justice in the country." Four long years of negotiations, marked by incredible violence (a violence that the South African state has failed to judge, and sometimes was not willing to judge).

Conversion of the Oppressed

Untitled 3A former-U.S.S.R. stamp commemorating 70th Birthday of Mandela; Photo: Mariluna

He said: "The day we win, we will not take our hand... We will pay attention to white fears. For if we do not pay attention to what frightens them, we will not be able to negotiate with them." On this point, the 2009 film, Invictus, has a very eloquent sequence, almost surreal. Indeed, unanimously the black commission of the rugby wants to change the reviled name of the national team of rugby, the famous Springboks. Immediately, Madiba moves himself, alone, and confronts this group, unanimous, to make him return to his decision, and he succeeds. A symbolic victory that will have an enormous impact: not only victory in the World Cup, but especially the victory of blacks and whites over apartheid.

"After the introduction of universal suffrage, we will establish a Truth-Reconciliation commission which will be a law." This will be a major contribution in the history of humankind, implemented between 1996 and 1998: "To examine, recognize and understand all the conflicting painful past in order to pass beyond it, and implement injustice and truth, a path we are forced in order to achieve peace.” We will recognize the persevering contribution of three men: Mandela, Desmond Tutu and From De Clerck.

Eight thousand victims were able to speak. Seven thousand guilty men have demanded the commission. Thousands have received it. No real repair was offered. Emmanuel Lafont said: "The hearings were very hard, sometimes unbearable, but they have unveiled the truth about the horrors suffered by blacks during apartheid; until then, most whites knew nothing or would not know anything. They helped to mourn. They have not brought about a definitive reconciliation. It will take much more, and bring out the majority of the material misery."

Reconciliation – a Perpetual Task

Untitled 4President Mandela meeting with predecessor F. W. De Klerk: Photo: World Economic Forum

That is to say that reconciliation is before us as a task to be fulfilled and received as a gift from God, not only for South Africa but for the seven billion or more members of our humanity of today. Mandela takes place alongside the giants, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who were, like Madiba, gifts of God to all our humanity. In discovering their struggles, we see the paths and the unavoidable stages of this reconciliation before us.

It is not an insurmountable challenge, but we must say in closing that it has a high price – Madiba had twenty-seven years in prison and died in bed, and Martin Luther King and Gandhi were murdered. The cross of Christ is the price that the Son of God has paved for our universal reconciliation. And Mary continues to weep with all her people today.



  • “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” by Nelson Mandela, 1995.
  • “Conversations with Myself” by Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, 2011.
  • “The Thoughts of Nelson Mandela” by Simon Starr, 2011.

Copyright © 2017 -  La Salette Missionaries, Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas.
947  Park St. - Attleboro MA, 02703