For some weeks now Nelson Mandela’s failing health has been a major news item. For a country so loosely connected to the nation of South Africa and the apartheid regime, this surprises me. Of course, Nelson Mandela is something of an international icon. An impassioned political activist with the African National Congress (ANC), he initially fought peacefully against the racist policies of the South African Government, and only later turned to sabotage and guerrilla tactics to bring down the apartheid regime. He was sentenced to life in prison for political offences, and was imprisoned for a total of 27 years, the majority of these spent on Robben Island. Released in 1990 he returned to his role as a political activist, working as the president of the ANC to remove apartheid and forge the first multiracial government in South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work in dismantling apartheid. He was South Africa’s first black president from 1994-1999, elected by the people, in a democratic election. He is a remarkable man by any account.
It is not strange to me that a nation and a world should mourn the impending loss of this great man. It is not unexpected that his family and friends should wish his health to improve. It does not baffle me that some worry about what will happen when this beacon of hope and change eventually passes away. But as I watched the news tonight I was perplexed to hear the President of South Africa say that they expect his health to improve and hope to see him out of hospital soon.
This man, seen as the saviour of his nation, is on the edge of death. Why is this such a confronting truth? He is 94 years old. Even if his health does improve and he gets to go home, he is going to die at some point. And what will happen when this saviour dies? A wave of helplessness and hopelessness will be cast over the population.
Is there any hope for South Africa?
Gladly, yes. Nelson Mandela, great as he was, was not actually the saviour of South Africa. That job rests in the very capable hands of The Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Saviour who died, but more than that, who rose again, who defeated death so that our hope may rest in he who lives beyond the grave. He is the one who, through people like Nelson Mandela, dismantled apartheid in South Africa. He is the one who having died, shall never die again. He is the one in whom we can put our hope, for he says,
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me,though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26).