Former GM Staff Reflect on Mandela’s Death

Former GM Staff Reflect on Mandela’s Death

Sunday 15 December 2013

South Africa

The funeral is taking place right now and is an amazing, moving and spiritual tribute to Mandela’s life. His Robben Island cell mate, Comrade Ahmed Kathrada, is speaking about the things South Africans are grateful to Madiba for, but citing that there is still much to be addressed like hunger, poverty and disease. 

He is now speaking directly in his remarks to Madiba. They each called one another “Madala”…Where are my tissues????

They also  just mentioned names of people in attendance.  One name called out was “Madiba’s friend”, Oprah Winfrey.  I have attached our sister’s photo who is sitting with Stedman. Jesse Jackson’ s name was also called out.





8 December 2013 – Cape Town South Africa

Today was declared by President Jacob Zuma as the National Day of Prayer and Reflection in honor of the late President Nelson Mandela. All over the country people prayed without ceasing! Prayers went up in worship and remembrance services held in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and in the public square. In big cities,  small towns, townships, informal settlements and rural villages, the country was united in prayer. 

In Johannesburg, there was a non-denominational service of remembrance led by a minister I met on several occasions when I lived there,  Dr. David Molapo. Two of Madiba’s grandchildren attended and spoke. They said the family is going through a period of mourning, but they are also celebrating a life well lived. 

The Soweto Gospel Choir which has come to the US many times offered songs. There were even bikers who made a moving tribute to Madiba on their motorcycles. This time of reflection was organized by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. While I wasn’t there, it sounds like a time to remember.

At this and other celebrations today, condolences were also extended to the family of Baby Jake Matlala, the lightweight world boxing champion from South Africa who passed away 2 days after Madiba. A keen boxing fan and former boxer himself, Madiba viewed Baby Jake Matlala as his favorite fighter. Today South Africans are saying ” two fighters have now left us”. 

One preacher spoke today about Madiba belonging to all faiths. While a Methodist,  he appreciated South Africa’s rich religious diversity represented by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Traditional African religion, Hindus, Buddhists and many more. And today in South Africa, all of the faith traditions took time to reflect on his life and legacy.  

I worshipped at St. Georges Cathedral in Cape Town which was engaged in the struggle against  apartheid and is currently doing advocacy and ministry around criticsl social issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty and housing.

The minister started out by singing a moving song about Madiba which went something like this:  “Rolihlahla, Mandela. Freedom is in your hand. Show us the way to freedom in the land of Africa”. 

He went on to preach about justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and service to humanity; and how Madiba put these spiritual principles into practice in his lifetime.  Even while in prison, he turned his jailers into allies which led to him transforming and reconciling the whole country. …  I wonder if I would have been able to put such principles into practice had I been jailed for 27 long, hard years like Mandela and his comrades???

One of the things that keeps coming up for me during this time of prayer and reflection is how the years spent in prison caused Nelson Mandela to go deep within and to, in his own words, deal with “internal factors” such as humility, simplicity, forgiveness. In fact, one quote of his that I have heard repeated often since Thursday is this:  “If I don’t forgive my jailers, then I’m still in jail”.

At church today we recited together a powerful “Prayer for Madiba” which said:  “Go forth, revolutionary and loving soul, on your journey from this world, in the name of God, who created you, suffered with you and liberated you.

Go home Madiba,  you have selflessly done all that is good, noble and honorable for God’s people. We will continue where you have left off, the Lord being our helper.”

At the end of his message, the Very Rev. Michael Weeder, Dean of St. George’s Cathedral put Tata Madiba’s life and death into perspective for South Africans when he said: “The strength of the new South Africa will be measured by the distance that the poor and marginalized travel from the periphery to the center of our society”.

All I could say to myself at that very moment was ” Let the church say, Amen!”

Peace & Blessings,


As I sit here and reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, my prayer is that we do not do to him what we’ve done to Martin King. By that I mean, making him an icon and in the process, losing the nuanced nature of his personhood and his leadership model. I do not want to lose the power of Mandela’s convictions, the depth of his innate love for humanity, the strength of his character and the brilliance of his political leadership.  These traits compelled him to act on behalf of all of us—both detractors and supporters, it compelled him to risk life itself, but also to risk loss of economic, emotional and familial well-being.

Many of us will say that we will give our lives for our children, for our parents or for something else that is near and dear to our hearts. But, in our daily, mundane existence, where death is not an imminent threat, being willing to lose our jobs, to give up financial stability and social position, to sacrifice our family life, to give up the opportunity to be present to guide, love and support our children in tangible, sustained ways is a painful price to pay that leaves an indelible mark on the soul. These reflect the cost of discipleship, of living out your convictions, of committing yourself to a belief, an idea, a radically different vision of the way our lives can be organized and lived, to creating the beloved community.

I say all of this in light of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement that we here in Alabama, but especially in Birmingham, have been commemorating all year. As someone who is trying to follow the example of Christ, I am drawn to the responses of church leaders during this time period. Therefore, it is particularly striking to me in light of the many speakers and books that have been released about that time period that give voice to the white community and explain why they supported the status quo instead of desegregation. In particular I am drawn to the responses of the white church leaders who wrote to Dr. King and then responded to his Letter From A Birmingham Jail. These books suggest to us that these church leaders could only have responded in the way that they did because to have responded differently would have meant losing their jobs (their churches), their homes, their friends and their position in the community among other losses.

What made Mandela stand out during the 1960’s, and what makes him stand out today, is that his deep and abiding love for all humanity surpassed his need for comfort and acceptance.  It is said that Mandela was Methodist. As such, I believe that he acted within the prophetic tradition of the biblical text. He knew what Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah and others knew—that to walk with God, to be called a disciple of Christ, to be part of the family of God requires a grace that is not cheap and a love that calls us to treat our neighbor as ourselves. In southern Africa this is called Ubuntu. It is the belief that “a person is a person through other people.” Dr. King describes this type of connectedness to the other as being “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is King’s beloved community.

To be a part of the beloved community requires a paradigm for leadership that acknowledges the price that must be paid, the risks that must be taken to lead. Mandela’s life reflected the deep, soul wrenching, life changing sacrifice and suffering that is a mark of true leadership.  He understood the power of suffering for doing the right thing. This type of suffering can be transformative for both the sufferer and for the community in which they live. Mandela’s life stands as a witness to this truth.

What concerns me the most about the response of the church leaders to Dr. King’s Letter and to the movement to which he was committed is by not being willing to stand for what was right, for taking the risk and paying the price, for not being willing to participate in transformative suffering, they denied their community the opportunity to be changed by their example. As trained clergy and as leaders in their communities, I wish they had loved their neighbors enough to be witnesses to the transformative power of universal, agape love by suffering and sacrificing for what is right.

As Mandela transformed both his own people and the whites of South Africa by his example, so too, could those church leaders have transformed their church members and the larger community, both black and white. We have tangible examples of the power of agape love and transformative suffering through Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. What we don’t know is what could have been had those church leaders followed the examples of those in the very bible they were called to share.

As we mourn Mandela’s death, my fear is that what will be remembered and recounted was his ability to forgive his captors and include and incorporate white South Africans into the New South Africa. While this is remarkable, what is more remarkable is the stony, bitter, painful, road he trod, that transformed him, his people and his nation through the power of agape love and sacrificial, transformative suffering.

I was fortunate enough to have met Mr. Mandela twice. In 2001, I attended a conference on race relations in Johannesburg, South Africa and he was one of the speakers. I encountered him as we were both walking from a session at which he spoke to another session. I walked up to him because I was not going to miss out on the opportunity to potentially speak to him, and he pushed aside his security and greeted me warmly, asking me if I was related to the Sports minister at the time because we shared the same last name.

My second encounter was in Bangkok, Thailand in 2004 at the World’s Aids Conference. Both he and former president Clinton were walking down the hall at the conference center and again, I walked up to them both and introduced myself among the throngs of people who also wanted to speak to both of them.

What struck me about both encounters was the deep, genuine warmth, approachability and humility that was part of his charm and his personality.  It was an honor, a blessing and a joy to have personally encountered a man who had stood for what was right, suffered for his stance and always showed his love of the common person even when one of them randomly stopped him in the middle of a conference simply to shake his hand and thank him for his sacrifice.

Angela Balfour Franklin

P.O. Box 13264

Birmingham, AL


Former NIE manager, Birmingham News

I lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for four years, from 1999 – 2003.