“Let the ANC tear itself apart with infighting,” I thought.
I didn’t know Nelson Mandela. His eventual release from prison in 1990 led, not to infighting, but to reconciliation. After twenty-seven years in jail, this great man spoke words of forgiveness and united a nation. In 1994 he was elected president in the first fully democratic elections in South African history.
The day of the election our church, like most others, held a prayer meeting. People prayed together, then stood in line together to vote. Despite delays and problems at the polls, there was a great sense of unity—the Rainbow Nation with many culture groups forming one whole.
I was amazed at the change I saw following the elections. In Mozambique or Zimbabwe where we had vacationed, African people smiled, looked us in the eye and expected to be treated like human beings. My pre-election experience in South Africa was the downcast eyes and mumbled words of servants. I thought it would take a generation to change that mentality. Wrong again! In the week after the election, my greetings to passers on the street received huge smiles and enthusiastic replies.
When in 1998 Mandela married Graca Machel, widow of the Mozambican president who died in a plane crash while we were living in Mozambique, it felt like he was marrying into our family. cur
More than twenty years have passed since that first euphoric election. We buried Tata Madiba (Mandela’s affectionate nickname) today. Readers of my new book <i>Keeping Secrets</i> will recognize some funeral customs like taking the body home for burial although Mandela is from a different tribal group than my character Sindi’s Zulu family.
Democracy and majority rule have not solved all of South Africa’s problems. The example of statesmanship Madiba set has not been followed by all the country’s leaders. But this week we remember the dream we had for that “Rainbow Nation”. May God raise up another Mandela to inspire unity and lead not only South Africa, but the entire continent into a prosperous future that leaves behind the violence and corruption of the past.