On Thursday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela passed away at the age of 95. It goes without saying that the world just lost an important figure, some will even say an iconic figure or a legend in his own time. To anyone who grew up in the latter part of the twentieth century, Mandela was a hero and a key player in the freedom of the South African people. Seldom do political figures spend over two decades in prison to end-up being released and become the leader of a nation–the opposite is more often the case.
It is not my intention to go on a posthumous witch hunt like some will choose to do. I personally take no satisfaction in this kind of behavior. So first and foremost, my condolences and prayers of comfort go out to the Mandela family for the loss of their loved one.
But by the same token, it is also not my intention to idolize Nelson Mandela and blindly place him in the pantheon of world peace next to Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. It seems that Mr. Mandela, who already was an icon the world around, almost got promoted to "sainthood" overnight. Again, while I do not wish to minimize the loss, I also want to have a balanced and unbiased view on a man who most likely will make the cover of Time magazine as "Man of the Year" amongst other accolades.
All important world figures like Mr. Mandela have a burden that can turn into a lifelong struggle. Each struggle has a cost and in the case of Mr. Mandela, it cost him 27 years of his life in prison from which he was released in 1990. It was only a few years, in 1993, later that he and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly, for their efforts at peace, reconciliation and non-violence. In 1994 he was elected as South Africa first black president.
Mandela and apartheid are two words that are almost impossible to separate. The late South African leader pioneered and championed the struggle against apartheid and racial injustice, a feat that will remain in history books for generations to come. This aspect of Mr. Mandela's character garnered him a reputation of peacemaker that facilitated the furtherance of his cause.
I am afraid that beyond his well deserved reputation, Mr. Mandela might have also been used by other groups and even countries to further a similar cause, that was really only similar in appearance but not in substance. While Mr. Mandela was not a blatant enemy of Israel and the Jewish people, his allegiance to the cause of the Palestinians might have tipped the scale in favor of a cause and a people that had little to do with the struggle of South Africa.
A quick review of Mr. Mandela's relationship with Israel and the worldwide Jewish community between 1985 and 2008 will show somewhat of a love/hate relationship. While I am certainly not willing to accuse Mr. Mandela of Anti-Semitism, I believe that at the very least he was blinded by his desire to extend the concept of apartheid to the Middle East crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. Was his involvement in Middle East policies and accusations of apartheid of his own volition or as a result of crafty Palestinian manipulation? This will remain hard to prove, but the results have already weighed heavily on Israel. The fact is that Mr. Mandela was no expert on the Middle East. In a short speech in 2004, he spoke of Yasir Arafat in terms that clearly show his lack of understanding of the man, and it is no secret that even though Mr. Mandela always tried to be balanced, he favored the Palestinians over Israel.
Today is not the day to scrutinize apartheid and compare the struggles between blacks and whites in South Africa with the struggles in the Middle East, yet there is nothing in Israel that compares to the ills of South African apartheid.
Mr. Mandela was like all of us, an imperfect man in a fallen world. His contribution to our world cannot and should not be ignored, and his legacy will live on for generations to come. This being said, Mr. Mandela's admiration for Arafat and the Palestinian struggle leaves me with an uneasy feeling. Mr. Mandela's background was Methodist, so it is very possible that he had a personal relationship with Yeshua. Only God knows our hearts. We mourn the loss of an important world figure who came yesterday before his maker.
Mr. Mandela's was part of history in a very powerful way until yesterday, but as of now, He has entered eternity for a new chapter in his history. My prayer is that he spends that chapter on God's side.