Mon | May 25, 2020

Mandela - The man and his mistakes

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2015 | 12:00 AMDevon Dick, Contributor

On Tuesday, the Government of Jamaica signed a memorandum of cooperation with Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of international relations and cooperation. Much work has already been done in science and technology, sports and education. This signing will deepen the relationship. At a reception hosted by South African High Commissioner to Jamaica Mathu Joyini, Nkoana-Mashabane praised Jamaica's help in South Africa's good performance at the recent IAAF World Championships held in Beijing, China.

Jamaica and South Africa are kindred countries. South Africa remembers Jamaica for her stance against apartheid and being the country that recommended economic sanctions against the racist regime. The inspirational songs of reggae artistes Bob Marley and Peter Tosh motivated the struggle against racism. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, when he was regarded as a second-class citizen, used to travel on a Jamaican passport. And, undoubtedly, Nelson Mandela, former political prisoner who became South Africa's first democratically elected black president (1994-99), continues to loom large over the relationship between Jamaica and South Africa. He elevated the relationship with his visit to Jamaica in 1991.



Recently, I was in Durban, South Africa, and friends of Joyini, Victor Sibeko and Don Leffter, arranged to take me to a Hilcrest Baptist Church, after which I visited the site where Mandela was captured some 50 years ago. At that location, a Nelson Mandela museum is being built, though not yet completed. One gets goose pimples reading the remarkable story about the life of Mandela. It traces the influence of the Methodist Church on his life, through education. Obviously, the teachings of the church facilitated him having the ability to forgive those who wrongly incarcerated him for 27 years and then to unite a country, which is still a work in progress.

It is a moving story of how some simple things he did helped to bridge the racial divide, such as appearing at a stadium at a rugby match in the jersey of the home team, although it was considered a 'white' sport. Spontaneously, the stadium erupted in chanting the name 'Mandela'. In addition, Mandela, as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa, reached out to former oppressors across the dinner table. Mandela ate koeksisters with the widow of apartheid architect HF Verwoerd in the remote whites-only enclave of Orania. By this mundane act, Mandela brought the policy of reconciliation to ground level. He did not talk reconciliation, but used symbolic and tangible actions.



The museum, to my pleasant surprise, outlines three of Mandela's policy mistakes, none of which had to do with self-aggrandisement. I think it is claimed that he was gullible and too trusting, and handed over power too early. It is said also that he reacted too slowly to the AIDS epidemic. Too often when politicians write autobiographies there are no mistakes, and even when biographies are written there are no errors of judgement and implementation mentioned. Political and other leaders are often seen as being above criticism. However, as the Bible states, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All of us have feet of clay and must be willing to admit mistakes.

Nkoana-Mashabane mentioned to the diplomats and others at the reception that 70 years after the establishment of the United Nations, the world is not a safer place. We must admit that we have failed in the pursuit of peace and need to follow the example of Mandela. She also raised a toast to Jamaica and mentioned the need for the eradication of poverty. Indeed, poverty alleviation must be a priority for the world.

- The Reverend Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@