By Charl van Wyk
All week we’ve watched the international media and heads of state hail Nelson Mandela as a redeemer, even likening him to Jesus Christ. Some, albeit far fewer, reports make mention of his ties to terrorism and communism.
Let’s take a closer look at some lesser-known facts about Nelson Mandela and his brothers in arms – and see why there’s little middle ground with regard to loving or hating the man.
Terrorist or freedom fighter?
Mandela cofounded MK (“Spear of the Nation”), the armed wing of the African National Congress, or ANC.
His decision to adopt the armed struggle was controversial. Many black Africans remained devout Christians and opposed the use of violence.
The USSR, seeing an opportunity to control the minerals and trade supply route of Southern Africa, endorsed the move and stood by to assist in implementation.
Mandela’s movement asserted that all nonviolent means had been exhausted in attempting to deal with the Nationalist government. And the Sharpeville massacre – and other atrocities by the white-minority government – made that statement ring true. But others doubted this, believing strikes, civil disobedience and boycotts posed a better path to advance the cause of the black majority.
South African society is complicated! Many blame communist agitation for the war against the white minority government. That’s not entirely true. Black Africans endured real grievances. The communists exploited these to great effect.
MK first attacked government installations. But soon, it turned on soft targets, where innocent victims were shot, hacked or burned to death. Mandela faced charges in the Rivonia Trial. Convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, he and eight others received, in 1964, life sentences.
Many blacks argue that the court was controlled by whites and, therefore, illegitimate.
Please note: Mandela was not a political prisoner, a status which even Amnesty International refused to grant. He wasn’t charged with crimes of conscience, like many Christians languishing in prisons of communist and Islamic countries. While in prison, he wrote, “How to Be a Good Communist,” evidence later used against him.
Prior to his Feb. 4, 1990, release, after 27 years in prison, he was offered conditional release if he would reject violence as a political tool. He refused.
Under Mandela’s command, and with his knowledge and approval while in prison, MK waged a war with no distinction between combatants and civilians. All were targets in this “people’s war.” The violence was largely blamed on the government and Inkatha, a large internal rival movement calling for liberation through nonviolent means.
A “just war,” and “just means,” some argued. Consider such means, namely the Winnie Mandela necklace. Nelson’s wife, and others in the ANC, terrorized blacks deemed “against the struggle” with this barbaric method of murder – learned in terror-training camps in Angola and Mozambique. Tying the victim’s hands behind their back with barbed wire (or hacking them off), ANC members placed a gas-soaked tire around the victim’s neck and lit it aflame.
The molten tire melted into their skin, and they died a very painful and terrible death.
In “Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense,” Van Wyk makes a biblical, Christian case for individuals arming themselves with guns, and does so more persuasively than perhaps any other author – because he found himself in a church attacked by terrorists.
Although the world heralds his rise from prisoner to president, his time in office receives little examination. South Africans understand the corruption of his rule, and his legacy continues to spiritually debase the nation. Many try to separate the man from his colleagues – and socialist and immoral party policies – but leaders must take responsibility.
- When he came to power, prayer recited aloud was removed from Parliament.
- The ANC under Mandela’s presidency rejected reference to God in the new constitution; only after 30,000 Christians marched to parliament on the issue, they relented.
- In June 1995, his orders caused the massacre of 19 Inkatha Freedom Party members taking part in a peaceful demonstration at Shell House, the headquarters of Mandela’s political party.
- During a vote legalizing abortion on demand, he refused to grant members of Parliament an option to vote pro-life and not violate their values and conscience. Catholic members who rejected this approach and didn’t attend were fined. More than 1 million innocent lives have been taken since this law was passed.
- His government moved to disarm legal firearm owners. Fortunately, this move birthed Gun Owners of South Africa and the Black Gun Owners Association (whose black members struggled to attain legal firearms under the former white government and refused to relinquish them to Mandela’s government).
- Graça, his present wife, and Nelson lived and traveled together before marriage. This led to a Christian parliamentarian publically asking him what kind of example he was presenting our youth.
- Pornography was legalized, leading to a 400 percent increase in child rape cases in South Africa. Even child pornography, for the sake of artistic and literary expression, was OK under his presidency.
- His administration’s constitution paved the way for same-sex marriage by giving sexual orientation the same protections as race and religion.
- When subpoenaed to appear in court in 1998, the judge accused him of being an unreliable witness.
On the other hand …
Many, including Christians, respect Mandela for his attitude of forgiveness for those who imprisoned him. But his incarceration was due to being criminally convicted. I don’t remember him asking for forgiveness from families of those who he and his MK cadres murdered or maimed. Nor did he seek forgiveness from those who suffered – with his full knowledge – in concentration camps run by his organization in Angola and Tanzania. In Quatro, prisoners suffered horrendously cruel human rights abuses.
He condemned violence – but then, only the violence perpetrated by others, not those of MK or Winnie’s infamous Mandela United football club.
Praises ring out for Mandela for not having started a civil war in South Africa. Yet, from 1984-1994 some 20,500 people were murdered during the people’s war – mostly black-on-black violence between rivals for the prize of the South African white government.
Staggering numbers? Yes. But consider that when Mandela took power, the murder count rose to more than 20,000 lives. Every year!
Mandela publically denounced racism, but then reintroduced racial discrimination with the policy of Black Economic Empowerment, or BEE. South Africa is the only country in the world to introduce BEE for the majority of the population and not for a minority group. Hundreds of thousands fled the country and settled in other Western nations.
If racial discrimination by apartheid was evil, then surely racial discrimination through BEE is as well.
Soberly examining the man
Though blessed with great charisma, showing flair of good will and respect from people worldwide, Mandela also had flaws and shortcomings – like you and I. He was a great leader for, and of, “his people,” of which I respectfully was not one.
We do not absolve the previous government of its evils or cruelty. But observers are challenged to open their eyes and soberly examine the man, without falling victim to blinding propaganda of the media’s designation of sainthood.
We can still properly mourn his passing. I’m sad that Mandela is gone. After all, the Bible tells us: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23. God’s Word also tells us how Christians should assess the character of politicians. We shouldn’t idolize Mandela or any other man. We are however commanded: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” 1 Peter 2:17.
Christ is King! Although I fought in a war against Mandela’s Communist friends, had my car stoned by his supporters and survived a terrorist attack by his network partners – after which I reached out to them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – I hold no bitterness against him. That war is over.
But the war of worldviews is now in full swing.
Charl van Wyk is the author of “Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self Defense.”