Enduring example of Mandela’s humanity

A LOT has been shared about the passing on of Madiba and its significance for the country. Now it remains for each individual, each family, each group, and each institution to see which of the qualities noted about Nelson Mandela can we capitalise on in relation to the achievement of our life goals and objectives.

Most noted among the qualities Mandela bore were these abilities: to sacrifice, to forgive, and to lead by persuasion and a warm, affective disposition with optimism about human goodness. He kept the end in view to determine the approach of reaching it. If the end in view appeared to be achievable through compromise, he settled for compromise, if being tough was the only way to achieve the end, he became tough and not a teddy bear dispensing cheap grace.

Madiba also had the courage, when the situation demanded it, to take responsibility and lead, even if that meant going against popular opinion of his own followers.

These are the leadership qualities we can attempt to emulate.

Not being an explicitly religious person, it remains mysterious how he achieved with human power what appears achievable only through divine power or assistance. What he achieved is close, if not the same as what Mahatma Gandhi achieved. Yet we know that Gandhi prayed and meditated, and was even celibate in the late stage of his life. Mandela apparently engaged in none of these, at least there is no reported evidence to that effect, so the question remains, how did he do it; with what power did he attain to this worldwide iconic status, which even the most religious of us are not able to achieve?

This raises a question about the role of religion and natural virtues and human resilience in human perfection.

The lesson I am learning from this unanswered question about the source of Madiba’s strength is that even at our human level, we are not without the potential to be good and to do what is right. Divine assistance, which we recall in a special way during this Christmas season only serves to perfect the capacity which by virtue of our human nature we already posses.

The lesson therefore, is that we should cherish our humanity by striving to be good human beings because there is a lot that we can achieve simply as human beings even before the divine aspect enters the scene.

As Saint Thomas Aquinas once put it, grace does not replace nature but builds on it.

If the human foundation is deformed, grace has little chance of succeeding in perfecting it.

Most of the problems we have in the world today are not due to a lack of people who pray or the scarcity of people attending church but are due to the absence of sheer human common sense: a common sense summarised in the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, or to put it negatively, a common sense of not doing unto others that which you would not like done unto you.

Most of the problems we have among ourselves as believers, even as pastors and religious office-bearers, are not informed by theological differences but by deficiencies in human maturity.

The lesson from Madiba, who out of his humanity is reputed to have changed the world, is that we must work on our humanity and become mature human beings, which alone should be good enough to enable us to solve the problems we have and coexist peacefully.

It is within our capacity to be human and to assist our young people in their human development of ubuntu.

The grace of the God among us during this Christmas season and onwards would then bring to perfection our own natural capacity to be good human beings, and we thank Madiba for demonstrating that to us. May his soul rest in peace!

Sithembele Sipuka is the Catholic bishop of Mthatha


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