Mandela was ever-mindful of church role in struggle

Soweto church window

The role of the clergy in the creation of a 'new' South Africa - and Nelson Mandela's innate faith in God - remains an untold chapter in his story. While presidents came to pay homage, it was to churchmen he turned for advice, writes Winnnie Graham.

- NCR Online

When Mandela was released from prison February 11, 1990, the white minority government was well aware that the only way forward would be a negotiated dispensation that would ensure equal rights for all.

For South Africans, fuelled by generations of racial division and mistrust, the task ahead was formidable. But when Mandela stood outside Cape Town City Hall to address the thousands who had come to see him on the day of his release, his message was not one of anger or revenge, but of reconciliation and peace.

'Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security,' he told the jubilant crowds.

The negotiations were not destined to be peaceful. Almost from the start, violence flared up between the Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) and the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party with suspicions of a third force sponsored by the white minority government at work.

In one of the worst cases, on the night of January 12, 1991, 39 people were killed in Sebokeng outside Johannesburg. There was trouble in 27 townships around South Africa in the next few years, leaving hundreds dead.

But it was the assassination of Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party, by white right-wingers that brought the country to the brink of civil war. Mandela saved the situation.

In a televised interview, he said he was reaching out to every South African, black and white, from the very depths of his being. 'Our grief is tearing us apart. ... What has happened is a national tragedy that has touched millions across the political and colour divide,' he told the nation.

Photo: A stained-glass depiction of former South African president Nelson Mandela at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto 

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