By Rev. John L. McCullough
For nearly 30 years, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island and other locales for his anti-apartheid activism.
Today a different shadow is cast on Robben Island as we remember and honor the memory of Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s death is not only felt as a deep emotional loss for South Africans but for people all over the world.
In what was viewed as a terribly unpopular stance by the apartheid government in South Africa, Mandela publicly stated and demonstrated his “moral opposition to racism,” and, as the world would later learn, his vision for a new South Africa.
While he did not choose imprisonment, it nonetheless was a price he was willing to pay so that all South Africans could be free and share equally in the benefits of citizenship. It was this unselfish conviction and inexhaustible commitment that inspired people around the world – including the ecumenical community – to join his cause.
Church World Service, like others, was proud to stand with Mandela in support of justice, fairness and dignity. Despite the many personal attacks against him, we remained resolute in our conviction that Mandela be freed and the apartheid system dismantled so that South Africa could be free.
We celebrated this freedom in 1990. Four years later, the world quickly learned how magnanimous and gracious Nelson Mandela was. His presidency became the manifestation of Isaiah 2:4 when Mandela decided against vengeance and instead moved quickly to mend the breach in a deeply divided country.
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
It was this same zeal that propelled Nelson Mandela into his position as the world’s most important diplomat for peace with justice across Africa, and indeed, around the world.
The sun now has set on Robben Island.
Rev. John L. McCullough is President and CEO of CWS