We have launched a new website and this page has been archived.Find out more

[Skip to Content]

13 December 2013

Mandela: mourning the death of our dreams

It was not the death, but rather the attempts at celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's great liberator, reconciler and Moses figure, that profoundly shocked me this week. 
I have grown up in the Mandela years in South Africa. His dreams have become my dreams and his values are what I aspire to in leadership.
Yet as I helped plan the Mandela memorials what I saw in my own heart and in the behaviour of my fellow citizens shocked me and caused me to think deeply about who we are as a nation and what God is going to do in our future.
Exposing our hearts
In times of crisis you see a person’s true character. Right now God is revealing the character of our nation, South Africa.
Hotels honoured the memory of Madiba, not by fighting for the poor and oppressed, but by charging extortionate prices and excluding all but the mega-wealthy. Thousands of leaders have been trying to use Mandela's death, not to serve the weakest of children, but to increase their own power and authority through the media. And key institutions have used Mandela's memorial service, not to promote trust and principled action, but rather to manipulate people and reward blind loyalty.
Even the crowd at the Mandela memorial booed speakers, and particularly the president, displaying a lack of discipline and respect. Archbishop Tutu told a section of the crowd to "go to hell". Cyril Ramaphosa spoke repeatedly to the crowd using a well-known phrase usually used for misbehaving children.
Governments, business people, political parties and the general public ­- we have all exposed our selfishness and sinfulness in front of the leaders and TV audiences of the world. There is something seriously wrong in the moral state of the South African nation. Instead of living Madiba's values we have tried to leverage his memory for personal gain and agenda. 
South Africans are feeling the grief of Mandela's death in a deep and powerful way. We are mourning for Mandela but more than that we are mourning for the things that Mandela symbolised – the things we fear we have lost with him. 
After viewing Madiba's body I spoke to a young woman who was inconsolable. She sobbed in grief over Madiba’s death, but the real reason she was crying was that she felt that with Mandela, the dreams she had for her community had also died. Without the principles of Mandela, in a context where she had to be someone, pay someone or help someone to get anywhere, she felt without hope for the future. 
As a nation we are mourning Mandela, but more so we are mourning the death of our dreams. In reality our dreams have been eroding for the 20 years we have spent in the wilderness and many dreams have been dead for years. It has taken Madiba's death to allow us to feel and face-up to the reality of dreams dead or deferred. 
Yet as South Africans who walked through the valley of death many times during apartheid and transition, we know that at the end of despair there is often hope. A sure and present hope was the greatest gift the Church gave the struggle. 
We have placed too many of our dreams on Mandela. We have canonised him as a secular saint or political messiah. Yet Mandela was a very poor substitute Messiah – and he repeatedly told us he was not a saint. While he was alive looking up to him gave us the excuse not to act, relying instead on the mythical Mandela magic to change us all.
Now that he is gone we must face reality as individuals and a nation and understand that only we can now carry our dreams or they will never live.
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, preached a sermon on Elijah and Elisha at the memorial on Tuesday. Standing on the banks of the Jordan in despair at having lost Elijah, Elisha bent down to pick up Elijah's mantle, a deliberate decision to continue the work of the Lord's prophet. 
I joined a group of young people who, although devastated by what they were seeing in their nation, were sensing God bringing a spiritual transition to the country. They were ready to cross the Jordan. We met and prayed that we would take up his prophetic mantle and that God would give us a double blessing to see the fulfillment of the promises over our land. 
Joshua had also stood on the banks of the Jordan where the Lord reminded him. "Moses my Servant is dead." Joshua knew that. Joshua had probably been thinking of little else for days. But God wanted him to KNOW there was no-one to fall back on, to turn to except Him. Joshua had to lead and go directly to God without the mediation of a favoured leader. God told Joshua to arise and cross over the Jordan river to complete the work of Moses and ensure Israel's liberation and witness to the nations. 
Mandela is dead. Just as I was with him I will be with you. Be strong and courageous for the land I promised your fathers I will give to you.
This is a time for young South Africans to arise, repent of the sins of the nation, consecrate themselves and pick up the mantle of Mandela. Then in Jesus Christ, our true Messiah, God may give them the ability to fulfill the promises made to their father’s generation as they cross the Jordan into a promised land. 
If that happens then Mandela’s memory will truly have been honoured in this time in South Africa.
Miles Giljam is part of the South African Christian leadership initiative (SACLI) team who helped organise the religious side of the Mandela memorial. He is also former head of communications at the Evangelical Alliance.