I am sitting in front of the television watching the public celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. And it is overwhelming:
· I am moved to tears by the way people have queued from 4am to catch transport to the stadium; I am moved by their willingness to sing and dance in the rain; I am moved to see the ”rainbow nation” represented here – people of all corners, cultures and creeds of our country have come, This gives me hope.
· I am moved by the many, many world leaders who have come to join us for this service; these are powerful people who lead enormous economies – coming to a small country to pay tribute to one of us. These are leaders who also would not ordinarily be in the same room together. I am moved by the sight of Barak Obama shaking hands with President Castro of Cuba! And of the Prime Minister of England sharing the same platform as Robert Mugabe. This gives me hope.
· I am moved by the speech of Barak Obama. He was welcomed as a “son of Africa” and responds by asking the leaders of our world to live up to the legacy left by Madiba: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
This gives me hope.
· I am moved when I see the leaders of my Methodist Church officiating at this event. I grew up in an era that gave the Dutch Reformed Church prominence at every national occasion – so it feels good to see my colleagues leading this service. But at the same time I am acutely aware of how a church that enjoys the favour of the ruling party can easily become a tool that is used to suggest God’s preferential favour for this party. I must therefore note my disquiet at the way we invited Jacob Zuma to speak at the farewell of Ivan Abrahams; and the way we allow a senior Methodist Minister to be a chaplain to the ruling political party. I not as hopeful.
· I am moved when I switch between channels and discover that in addition to the South African TV channels, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, CCTV, CNBCA, EuroNews, RaiItalia, and ITV are all screening this event. I am startled to see how much of an international figure he is. I am moved to tears when I discover that people from all over the world are watching this event – including my daughter who lives in Japan. That said, I am dismayed that CNN should label the speech of Barak Obama as the ‘highlight’ of the event – before speeches by other world leaders or before the sermon. The commentators then ignored the speakers who followed, choosing instead to comment on Obama’s speech.This American-centred view of the world is the reason that I struggle with the United States of America. It is an imperialistic view that diminishes the contribution that America could make to our world. I am not as hopeful.
I was aggrieved at the ill-discipline of the crowd, but this has been taught to them at recent political rallies and trades union meetings. I thoroughly enjoyed Desmond Tutu’s ability to hold a crowd – and impose order. It might have been better for him to have been the preacher because he has the charisma and feel for the crowd - but it would have been very difficult for anyone to preach, with the sermon coming in as speaker number 16! That said, I was disappointed that the sermon had no Christian content. It was a generic eulogy of Madiba, using the image of Elijah’s passing of the mantel. But no hope in Jesus was offered.
The memorial is over and people are streaming homeward.
And I am thankful for the leadership of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
“We promise God that we are going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela”