Mandela's 'long walk to freedom' ends
Dec 7, 2013

PRETORIA, South Africa (BP)—Former South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's 'long walk to freedom' has ended. He died today (Dec. 5) at age 95 at home after months of declining health.

"All of us in the country must accept that Madiba [as Mandela was affectionately called] is now old," South African President Jacob Zuma had said when Mandela seemed near death this summer. "As he ages, his health will trouble him."

Southern Baptists joined diverse leaders worldwide who hailed the civil rights champion for his life's work against apartheid, economic injustice, AIDS and other ills.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted the heroism of the leader who rose from 27 years of incarceration to become the first black South African president as well as a hallmark of freedom and a leader of worldwide acclaim.

"Nelson Mandela's heroism will outlast him throughout untold generations. Mandela will be remembered for standing up to a racist regime, for persevering under persecution, and for leading his country toward democracy,” Moore told Baptist Press. “Mandela's move from prison cell to president's office was a living parable of the power of freedom over apartheid. Even those who don't agree with all of Mandela's political or religious views ought to give thanks for the many good things that came from his life and work. As we remember Nelson Mandela, let's pray for a South Africa that experiences the freedom not only of the voting booth but also of widespread gospel reconciliation to God and to one another."

Mandela rarely discussed religion outside the arena of religious freedom, but a transcript on quotes his comments on religion in a 2000 Christian Science Monitor interview.

"Religion has had a tremendous influence on my own life. You must remember that during our time—right from Grade 1 up to university—our education was provided by religious institutions. I was in [Christian] missionary schools," the transcript records Mandela as saying. "The government [of the day] had no interest whatsoever in our education and, therefore, religion became a force which was responsible for our development.

"I appreciate the importance of religion," Mandela said. "You have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid where you could see the cruelty of human beings to each other in its naked form. Again, religious institutions and their leaders gave us hope that one day we would return." 

Nigeria native Adeniya Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in the U.S. who fights for Christians and their livelihood in his homeland, described Mandela as "an epitome of forgiveness, kindness and love" who had "a dogged resolve for the pursuit of peace and justice."

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