Nelson Mandela: Saint or Sinner?


Nelson Mandela

I try not to get involved in personal attacks regardless of how wrong I might consider someone’s views to be. This post will not stray from that attempt, but I want to briefly address the fact that I continue to see posts and comments all over the Internet about Nelson Mandela that run the spectrum from nearly nominating him for sainthood to condemning him to Hell.

I’ve seen posts condemning Mandela for his association with Communist leaders, though it seems that a head of state would try to follow the adage to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Even more so, being on “good” terms with world leaders (whether we agree with them or not) is far better than being on “bad” terms.

Many have condemned him for being a Communist himself. Political views aside, as well as the debate as to whether Communism is more of an economic philosophy than a political one, is this alone sufficient to discount all of the good that a person has accomplished?

Certainly, a person is often known by the company he keeps and especially in politics, one’s record is not only public knowledge but is used either in support of, or against the offender.  And sure, there may be many areas of belief and policy that we can find to disagree with but what I find very disturbing is that so many people weigh in on the character of Nelson Mandela who have neither met him nor have lived in his country and seemed to have only grabbed a sound bite or headline to form their opinon. One video making its way around the Internet, for example, went on about how “wrong” Mandela was on many of the things he said and did, but

Nico Horn … a professor in Constitutional Law in Namibia, with three earned doctorates … watched the video … and his comment was: ‘Peter Hammond lieg openlik oor Mandela se verhoor op You Tube. Het die baweek die verhoorrekord gelees en met Hammond se weergawe vergelyk. Hammond oortre skaamteloos die negende gebod. Soldaat of geestelie leier?’ Translation: ‘Peter Hammond is, well, how shall I put this gently, well, he’s mistreating the truth.’ Nico just read the court records that Hammond is referring to and his judgment? ‘The man is shamelessly mishandling the ninth commandment!’1

When I look for reliable and believable information I want to get as close to the source as possible. Books, articles and blog posts are great for fomenting the masses but to get the bottom line on Nelson Mandela, I would rather listen to someone who has lived in South Africa, who has experienced life during and after Apartheid. I have such a source in Johan Mostert. While I was attending the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary  he was one of my  professors (who I now call “friend”) and was part of the Church in South Africa during Apartheid. Tears will come to his eyes as he describes his role in propping up discrimination in the Church as they seemed to lose sight of what Scripture teaches on the value of all of humankind regardless of color. Now convinced of where the Church went wrong in those days, he has responded to some of the criticism leveled at Nelson Mandela which is very enlightening; so with his permission, I want to share it with you here.

I don’t expect that you will agree with everything he says, but at least you can hear it from a man who lived under Apartheid and has emerged repentant and a better man through Mandela’s influence:

Johan Mostert

Johan Mostert

I have a need to respond to the Mandela pessimists who are appearing on FB. Some of my friends have people who are reacting against all the honour being paid to Mandela. Some have resorted to derogatorily labeling him a Communist and a Marxist, and other dear brothers and sisters have questioned his eternal salvation. Many in South Africa are disillusioned that the present state of affairs does not reflect the optimism and dreams that Madiba had for our nation. Allow me just a few comments:

1. Putting a label on someone in the hope that the label will destroy their reputation is a very poor argument. To argue that Mandela is bad because he received financial and strategic support from Gadhafi, Castro, Russia and China would require you to come to the conclusion that apartheid was good because it received financial and strategic support from the West, the CIA and the Mossad.

2. The fact that the pariah’s of the world sided with the ANC fight for human rights and the Evangelical Christians sided with (and tacitly supported) apartheid is a serious stain on our Christian witness.

3. Marxism was correct when it pointed out that the rich were exploiting the poor. But Mandela was wise enough to see that although Marxism had the right diagnosis, it had a poor economic prescription. The so-called Communist utopia is a figment of the imagination; it is in total disrepute as an economic system today. Today South Africa is a thriving, though still seriously polarized, Western economy. It is poised to potentially usher in vast economic development to the rest of Africa.

4. Nothing of today’s economic hardships, or violence, or corruption in South Africa can begin to compare with the situation under apartheid. We came out of an era of massive human rights violations, brutal interrogations, detention without trial, minority imposition of discrimination on the majority, and arrogant racism. Our so-called “Christian Nation” was a myopic myth! We only read the Bible verses that we liked and ignored the 2000+ verses where it spoke about our responsibility to the poor!

5. The Kingdom wisdom to respond to your enemy with Truth and Reconciliation was beyond human brilliance! The alternative, to go for a War Crimes-type criminal court that ends up with the public execution of those guilty of crimes against humanity, would have torn our nation apart! I’m not suggesting that we did it all perfectly well, but given the alternative, thank God for the brilliant guidance of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (“No future without forgiveness”)!!

6. Ivory tower musings over how God would judge all of Mandela’s “good works”, and suggesting that they are all but “filthy rags” that won’t earn him a place in heaven is disturbingly interesting. It fascinates me that Christians who KNOW the law of God (“judge NOT, so that you won’t be judged” Matthew 7:1) would demean themselves to sit as judges of another’s salvation and criticize the sinner Mandela who is not supposed to know the law of God, but who, instinctively DOES the law of God (Romans 2:14). How does that work?

Mandela was not a saint. He had his flaws and he made many mistakes. A friend who was a missionary to Turkey for many years, posted on my FB: “Mandela had the power in his hands to declare Africa for Africans and turn South Africa into a killing field. He chose to build a nation, rather than tear one apart. He stands head and shoulders above John Kennedy, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and any other politician, philosopher or leader I can remember in my brief 71 years. He was unique.” All I can say, Doug, is “amen”.2

I’m not going to make a final judgment on Nelson Mandela. I do choose however, to remember him for his willingness to forgive those who imprisoned him and his determination to bring healing and reconciliation to a nation that suffered under Apartheid for so long. May we all strive for so great a goal.



1 Facebook post by Johan Mostert, 9 December 2013. Used with permission.

2 Ibid.


2 comments on “Nelson Mandela: Saint or Sinner?

  1. Thank you for this, Daryl. This pretty much mirrors my feelings and the spirit in which I would choose to remember Mr. Mandela

  2. Thanks for presenting this. I have been trying to make sense of the controversy surrounding Mandela. This is very helpful 🙂

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