Nelson Mandela, known worldwide as the symbol of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle died today, Dec. 5, at his home in Johannesburg. He was 95.
Imprisoned for 27 years because of his political activities, Mandela was released on February 11, 1990, and nearly four years later became South Africa’s first black president.
Mandela’s connections with religious institutions, including the Anglican Church of Canada, run deep. In 1999, he acknowledged the role that faith groups played in his own life as well as those of his fellow South Africans.
“Without the church religious institutions, I would never have been here today,” he told a meeting of the Parliament of World Religions in 1999. “To appreciate the importance of religion, you have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid, where you could see the cruelty of human beings to others in its naked form. It was religious institutions [that] gave us hope that one day we would come out of prison.”
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and people of other faiths also raised funds for the children of thousands of political prisoners, he added.
In Canada, among those who rallied Anglicans and Canadians in challenging apartheid and in calling for the release of all political prisoners was the then primate, Archbishop Ted Scott. In 1986, Scott became Canada’s representative in the Commonwealth’s Group of Eminent Persons, founded by the Commonwealth of Nations to investigate apartheid in South Africa. The group went on to recommend economic sanctions against the South African regime.
Scott’s support was not lost on Mandela, who referred to the archbishop as “a great defender of the rights of all, a beacon in the struggle against racism everywhere.”
Upon learning of Scott’s death in June 2004, Mandela paid tribute to Scott “for his intimate and incisive role-one that helped change the course of history in our country.”
Scott’s role in the Group of Eminent Persons “represented a significant turning point for the struggle,” said Mandela in a letter sent to the Anglican church. He recalled “critical meetings” with Scott, who visited him while he was still confined at Pollsmoor Prison.
Scott and Mandela would meet again on June 18, 1990, but this time the South African leader was a free man visiting Canada. Scott was among those who welcomed Mandela, who said he had come to personally thank Canadians for helping to work for his release from prison.
In a speech on Parliament Hill, Scott paid tribute to Mandela, saying his life “continues to serve as an international symbol of the struggle for human and democratic rights for all, and whose leadership represents the best hope for peaceful resolution of historic injustices.”
Scott also introduced The Nelson Mandela Fund/Fonds Nelson Mandela, a non-profit, non-registered Canadian public trust that encouraged Canadians “to assist, on a timely, meaningful basis, in advancing dialogue and change within South Africa.”
Scott urged Canadians to donate to the fund “and support South Africa’s movement from apartheid to a system that frees South Africans to pursue the full benefits of citizenship.”
During his visit to Canada, Mandela received honorary Canadian citizenship from the Senate of Canada and the House of Commons, which noted that the courage he displayed “throughout his life of standing by his principles in the face of trials and sufferings is an inspiration not only to South Africa but to the entire world.”