December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela Changed Me: How to Love a Terrorist

by Clint Archer

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) died on Thursday, at 95 years old. Today the world will talk of how his politics molded history. There will be documentaries about his presidential legacy and movies telling his remarkable story. But I doubt any of that will capture the impact he had on people like me. I was a racist and a detractor. I was ignorant and brainwashed. I was a pessimist and a cynic. But Mandela changed my mind. B&W Nelson Mandela

I grew up in the dystopia of Apartheid. As an English speaking White child in the 1980’s I had no idea that the country I lived in was not a democracy—my parents voted, and one day I would too.

I was vaguely aware of banned books, censorship, and protest poetry, but none of that affected my life. I hadn’t an inkling that Whites were a minority, and that Blacks outnumbered us nine-to-one. I lived in a city, which meant that Blacks were only allowed there temporarily and if they had permission papers. They were there to do the dirty jobs. At night they slunk back to their distant and disgusting shanty towns. It never occurred to me that those hodgepodge shacks, built from our rubbish, housed 30 million real people.

I harbored no antipathy toward the Blacks who mowed our lawn and cleaned our home. They were good-humored and friendly folks. They were compliant and submissive, calling my dad Boss, my mom Madam, and I was Kleinbaas (little-boss). We were taught to respect them. When our full time domestic servant—“the maid”—babysat me, she was in charge and was to be respected. I once met with a memorable lesson from Dad’s belt when I accused the lady of stealing sugar. (As it turned out, it was a different pilferer I had overheard my mother complaining about.)

I appreciated the Blacks I knew. But I also knew about the others.

The other Blacks—the Terrorists—were the ones to fear. I learned about them from the news and elementary school history lessons. They lived in the bush, were trained in Angola by Soviet Communists, and were responsible for the paranoia woven into our lives. They were the reason we practiced military drills in school and why every male over eighteen was drafted into the army. My parents owned a store in central Pretoria. My mom was there alone the weekend my dad took us hiking, when the Terrorists bombed the nearby Navy admin headquarters. She was showered in shards of window glass, but thankfully escaped the casualty statistics that day. 

Mandela and boy On my third grade classroom wall was a poster with plastic models of various limpet mines, letter bombs, grenades, and other devices the Terrorists used, so we could report any we saw in malls or stadiums. Our school rehearsed bomb drills and escape evacuation protocols; some were in response to actual threats, others just a welcome escape from math class. We saw sniffer dogs patrol occasionally, and our headmaster had code words that, if used over the PA system, meant the following instructions were being issued under duress.

Fear of the Terrorists was a way of life. Welcome to Africa. But if you needed a person to blame, his name was Nelson Mandela.

The press dubbed him the Black Pimpernel; his Xhosa name, Rolihlahla means “trouble maker.” How prophetic. Mandela haunted our collective consciousness. He was the Boogie Man. He was leader of the fearsome Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC (African National Congress). He pleaded guilty to 156 acts of violence and was now a political prisoner on Robben Island. The bombings were ANC retaliation for Mandela’s incarceration. I asked my teacher why they didn’t just release Mandela so that the fighting would stop? My naïveté irked her: “To let a man like that free is to untie a dog you’ve been teasing. He won’t slink away. He’ll come get you.”

That made sense. Maybe they shouldn’t have locked him up to begin with, but now that he’d been stewing in rage and plotting revenge, they had better keep him in or it could get all Count of Monte Cristo on us.

B&W Mandela

It astonished me to learn that the reason South Africa was banned from the Olympics, and that the USA was in favor of economic sanctions, and that we were denied visas to visit Disneyland, was all because Mandela was in jail. I thought the world had gone crazy. Didn’t they know that a fiend like that belonged behind bars? Were they really falling for Bishop Tutu’s cockamamie side of the story? Hello everybody, of course Tutu wants him free, Tutu’s Black!

I was in high school when I first heard Mandela’s name mentioned as a victim. I was transitioning out of the embarrassing Roxette pop music stage of life into the more sophisticated alternative rock phase. Just like everyone else in the world, my favorite band was U2. It was Bono’s piercing impromptu monologue on the Rattle and Hum CD that chimed a resonance in my conscience that would eventually quake my parochial world. In the middle of Track 8, “Silver and Gold,” the singer launched into a diatribe about my country. I was surprised the Irish legend had heard about us, let alone wrote a song about us. But what he said haunted me.

Yep, silver and gold… This song was written in a hotel room in New York city ’round about the time a friend or ours, little Steven, was putting together a record of artists against apartheid. This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who’s sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa. A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor. A man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the west while they argue and while they fail to support a man like bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa. Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya… Okay Edge, play the blues…”

Wait, what!? We were oppressors? It was as if the news Bono watched was different from the news I saw on our Orwellian government-sponsored TV channels. I started to search for the facts; they were not easily found. There was no Internet, only the resources that were not on the banned list. And I was just a schoolboy, so I had more important pursuits that occupied my attention: girls, grades, and gaming. I would just skip Track 8.

It happened on February 11, 1990. Nelson Mandela, the head Terrorist, was released from Robben Island prison. [Insert a montage of news clips and sound bites culminating in Mandela becoming the President of South Africa after the first democratic election on April 27, 1994.] By this time sensible White families had stocked up on cans of tuna and bottled water, hunkering down for the inevitable civil war that was about to break out. We had seen it happen in Zimbabwe a few years before. When Robert Mugabe came into power he encouraged Blacks to seize the property of White farmers by force. Most of the survivors fled to South Africa: we called it White Flight. Now the nightmare was coming again.

But what happened next is nothing short of divine intervention. In the place of an enraged, vengeful anarchist, Nelson Mandela carried himself with quiet dignity, poise, and wisdom. Instead of wreaking revenge on his captors, he invited his former prison warden to his home for a meal. Rather than boycotting South Africa’s epic international rugby debut (the ultimate Whiteman’s sport), he donned the iconic green-and-gold jersey, sporting the captain’s number, and he danced for joy as the Springboks won the World Cup. We watched our new Xhosa president sing, in his mother tongue, our new anthem, Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika—“God bless Africa.”

Mandela counseled reconciliation, modeled forgiveness, and pulled our fragmented nation into a family.

Mandela and PiennaarNelson Mandela was no longer a Boogie Man to be feared. He was a peacemaker to be thanked, which the Nobel committee recognized. He emerged from the shroud of propaganda and his conduct earned our respect and won our hearts. He was a healing balm for our broken nation. He was the anodyne to sooth the painful past. We called him Madiba (his Xhosa clan name used by those with familial affinity).

I can never agree with Mandela’s socialist politics, and I shudder to think of his violent atrocities, but history shows that the erstwhile revolutionary who was cast into prison was not the peacemaker that came out. He had changed, which brought to his supporters much consternation and to his detractors genuine relief.

I got saved years later, in college. And now I believe with conviction that the turn of events was an unambiguous answer to the prayers of believers for their nation.

Paul told Timothy, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Just as God used Caesar to move Mary to Bethlehem, He used Mandela to bring factious South Africans together. The religious freedom and political peace of South Africa has no explanation besides an answer to prayer. God really did bless South Africa through Nelson Mandela.  If he wanted to, Mandela could have mobilized his supporters to start a civil war that would have killed or chased Whites from South Africa. But he was not that type of man. At his inauguration he said:

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…

It was the love for his enemies that affected my life in tangible ways. It was his forgiveness. And so, today our beloved country cries. Mandela was a terrorist I feared. Now he is a hero I admire, and a man I love.

You will be missed Madiba.

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika.

Clint Archer

Posts Twitter

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Just Me

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Jamie Wells

    Loved this story!

  • Nils Holmgren

    Thanks Clint. One small correction. In 1990, Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. He’d left Robin Island in 1982.

  • Tina

    Have you listened to Todd Friel’s interview with Peter Hammond? This is a very different perspective.

    • Thanks Tina–in what way is that a different perspective than what Clint wrote above? The Friel interview is stressing his pre-prison life, which Clint talks about above (he even titles it “how to love a terrorist”).
      The point of Clint’s piece is that he changed while in prison. There is no dispute that he was a terrorist before prison. But he also literally won the noble peace prize upon his release, and there is no doubt that his efforts at peace transformed South Africa in a profoundly positive way. Right?

      • Eric Young

        Jesse, I think we can agree that he still oppressed the unborn. Right?

      • MCH

        Great – he changed in prison, but justice was not served by his release.

      • Brett

        Clint makes a good point, he did not take revenge making a bad situation worse. However he was no longer a terrorist because he no longer needed to be; the world community was now supporting him. He was still a communist who legalized and supported all types of immoral behavior. As MCH says, he still had a life to live unlike the thousands killed by his actions.
        The most lamentable part of this whole thing is that he was such a large figure; people tend to judge him by his actions, good, bad, or both. Our jugdments are neither accurate nor final. But Jesus Christ is the final Judge and Mr. Mandela had to answer to Him based on God’s righteous standard: acceptance or rejection of the gospel. I fear greatly for Mr. Mandela based on that standard.

      • D. C. Washington

        I agree that Clint assessed a change in Mr. Mandela but I think even more important was the change in Clint. That is the central point of this post for me, the big take away. The complexities of politics and labels can obscure the heart of the lesson. Clint got me to not look just at Mr. Mandela, the good and the bad, but to look even deeper at how God transformed Clint and his heart to see a world that had been hidden from him a world that showed him the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. I pray that is a lesson we all learn. Again I am grateful for Clint sharing this perspective as a South African and as a brother in Christ.

  • D. C. Washington

    Thank you for sharing the context of your total experience of Mr. Mandela and your experience as a believer in Christ. What a great lesson on reconciliation and forgiveness.

  • Pingback: How a conservative South African Christian came to love Nelson Mandela | thereformedmind()

  • Nice piece of writing; thanks for offering your perspective. People are complicated and Nelson Mandela was no exception. When he left prison, unbroken and resolute, I don’t believe he ever fully eliminated or suppressed his anger. He just chose to channel it in more cerebral and constructive ways. The anger of youth became the righteous indignation of the lion in winter.

  • This is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing from a personal perspective, always so much better than a news story. 🙂

  • Tina

    Thank you for considering my comments. When I posted the video, I failed to realize that lack of the bulk of content from the interviews posted on Wretched TV. Peter Hammond discussed in detail the damage inflicted by Nelson Mandela during his presidency. If I remember correctly, he legalized abortion as well as pornography, including child pornography. The crime rate against children increased dramatically after this occurred. Negative public opinion resulted in a reversal. Peter Hammond sighted other disturbing results of his presidency. I am forwarding an email to Wretched requesting that greater portions of the interview be available on youtube.

    • Lönngren Taljaard

      Hey guys howzit? To follow on Tina’s trail: In other words, when “apartheid” fell in RSA, one kind of oppression was exchanged for another. Even though the new oppression under Mandela was different from the old, and not so publicised as the “abuses” of apartheid, it still classifies as oppression, and has gotten progressively worse since 1994. Just look at the things the ANC get away with as we speak. It is also documented that Mandela never officially broke ties with communism. For these and other reasons I cannot praise his life, even though some good things happened because of him. I hope he repented of his sin and turned to Christ before he died. I also thank God that he wasn’t as bad as his ideological beliefs could have driven him, and are driving his successors. As for us South-Africans, we will continue living under God’s common grace. On another note, thank you for a great website. I have benefited greatly from every post I have read so far.

      • george canady

        It is amazing what a country can bring on it’s self when it ignores James chapter 2

  • george canady

    “he used Mandela to bring factious South Africans together” The word “factious” is an interesting choice of word. Could that same word be used in context here to describe what goes on in the USA churches on Sundays? If so, will we change our minds like you did and appreciate some one who would confront these factious men?

    • Comparing churches in the US to apartheid South Africa is really a stretch.

  • busdriver4jesus

    “It must have been love, but it’s over now…” Roxette is nothing to be ashamed of!

  • Shauna

    That read was an interesting perspective. One that only serves to be more confusing to me. “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another” Nice
    quote – but didn’t turn out to be true. He may not have taken
    advantage in ways he could have to ‘persecute whites’, and it may have
    seemed that peace was the new way in Africa under him, but when you
    consider other aspects like the child pornography one, pro abortion one,
    pro communist (socialist was a nice word in the article, but he was
    more than that!), the continuing tribal wars, it appears that what he
    instituted was a more racially peaceful era, not actual peace. In fact
    the religious aspect sounds very ecumenical in a RCC kind of way. We
    read of this kind of false peace in the Bible though. Are we defining
    peace merely as a break in racial tensions and not considering what the
    biblical model of Peace looks like? How can a pro abortionist be a peace
    maker? How can any Christian laud a man (even one who didn’t persecute
    whites) & consider him a hero when that man believes so firmly in
    the mass murder of babies? I’ve read plenty of articles that claim
    Nelson Mandela was a Christian even though he didn’t necessarily talk
    much about his personal faith (so it really just becomes speculation –
    kinda like our own Pres.), but where he also considered many religions
    ‘the faithful’ (even religions who are against Christ but claim to
    believe in God). Christians make so many compromises in this world that
    I am bewildered…have we really sunk so low that Christians are to
    consider a very strongly ‘pro baby killing in the womb’ man a hero? I
    feel like I am in the twilight zone after reading this from Mr. Archer.

    • george canady

      consider the penalty described in James chapter two and let us ask, “did we bring some of this on ourselves”?

      • Shauna

        I suppose that depends on who you are referencing. I actually try not to show partiality even when I am tempted to do so. But Mr. Archer’s article reminds me of many ‘American Christians’ and their affinity for hero language when referencing various presidents they favor. As for judging as one under the law of liberty, how would you mean that? Some have used it before in ecumenical discussions with me to say that I need to have a ‘wider view of what God allows under Grace’ or to somehow be more ecumenical & open minded, when I will not be as Christ plucked me from that broad road of destruction. Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. There is a depth and a richness to Gods mercy and grace as the bible describes it – but a superficial wideness? That concept is only made up by tares. Anyway, I’m not even sure we are talking about the same things. Do you just mean in general the peculiar penchant of ‘christians’ to have their own hollywood/political version of idols?

        • george canady

          Thanks Shauna for the reply. I was speaking more in terms of a nation’s sins against what it knows to be true about God and the humans he created according to Romans chapter 1, and more specifically about the churches responsibility in James chapter 2, and all in reference to the penalties promised coming down on us now.

        • I want to step in here because Clint is on vacation–but I don’t see how this post could remind you of “American Christians” and their politics. First, Clint is African. Second, he starts by describing Mandela as a terrorist. I don’t see that kind of language in American politics to describe the candidate one is ostensibly endorsing.

      • George, I think your question is this (and correct me if I’m wrong): That some of the immoral behavior of the leadership of South Africa is the fruit of the rich suppressing and murdering the poor. Is that what you are saying?
        (I deleted a few other comments where you seemed to say the same thing, to consolidate it to here).

        • george canady

          Thank you Jesse for your response as I would like to clarify my comments in a thoughtful yet provocative way. It is my contention that the American church, that I love and am a proud part of, is actually the institution that gave a definition by example of segregation or what the South Africans call apartheid. As Al Mohler put it in a recent article “Apartheid flies in the face of the Christian understanding of the equality of every single human being.” Mohler goes on to describe this as a behavior right here in the USA in the 20th century and I would further assert, practice and protected by my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like to point to an article “Why focus on African American Churches?” by Thabiti Anyabwile, where he wrote on the subject “There would be no Black Church if predominantly white churches had established their own legitimacy by rejecting racism that made independent Black congregations necessary. There would be no Black church if our white brothers and sisters had not been complacent with segregated sanctuaries. It’s the illegitimacy of historical white Christian racism that establishes the legitimacy of Black independent worship”. I believe as a nation we knew that all men are a creation made by God to describe God’s attributes and now God has been patient with us to acknowledge Him in that way and we have refused. I believe Romans 1 lays out the cost of doing that. For the Church, I think we are described mostly in Chapter 2 of James and are guilty of those sins described there. I think we can repent still but I think God is displeased with the American Church over this. I see great hope as God opens the heart eyes of many of our Christian leaders to this. I think this not a “stretch” when so many agree we need forgiveness for this.

    • Ok, here is Clint’s main point, as I read it–Mandela was a terrorist (he even titled his post that way). South Africa brutally suppressed 90% of their population by denying them basic rights and creating one of the most immoral society’s in the world. Mandela was given the chance to enact revenge, upon those who did that, and had he taken that opportunity South Africa would have gone the way of Zimbabwe. Instead, he helped created a pluralistic democracy and usher in a generation of peace to a country that had known only brutal suppression for decades. So yeah, that is commendable, and no, that doesn’t undo the terrorist label.

  • Pingback: Reflections before Mandela’s Memorial | PLUGGED-IN AFRICA()

  • Pingback: Das Mandela-Problem | Auf Durchreise()

  • Pingback: Just in Case You Missed It – Dec. 3-14 | Worldly Saints()