When I heard about Nelson Mandela’s death, I was in a newsroom surrounded by producers who’ve witnessed many key leaders pass away. In many ways, we were all on Mandela watch for a while; an obituary was already in the archive, along with an audio montage of the former South African president and his many inspiring moments. But we were glued to our screens as President Jacob Zuma uttered that Mandela had “departed.” Nothing could have prepared us for this. The whole room fell silent even though the words came at no surprise, a clear testimony to Mandela’s impact. Together we were all heartbroken as the world mourned.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, or Madiba as the people of the South African nation prefer to call him, was born in 1918 amidst poverty and racial inequality. His work in dismantling apartheid was nothing short of controversial and revolutionary. For many years, he was a symbol for peace, and it seems he will be immortalized as one of the great; a moral, fearless leader. Yes, the nation of South Africa has suffered a great loss. Their beloved Madiba will not soon be forgotten.
But Mandela was not perfect. In fact, there was a time when other nations were divided over Mandela’s activism (for many years, he was considered a terrorist by the U.S.). And ultimately, his physical body conquered him in the end. And while he made significant strides in improving the country he adored, he still left it broken in many ways.
So where does a nation who has lost its greatest figure of hope turn to now? Will there ever be another leader in South Africa who cares as deeply for the people and enacts real change to restore the country? Or will South Africa, like many nations before it, fall prey to corruption or apathy by its leaders? I was reminded of ancient Israel, a nation who long before faced widespread disunity and despair. Kings came and passed, only leave them hungrier to see their land fully transformed.
Though the ancient Israelites awaited political victory and conquest over enemy nations, what they truly needed was one who could and would save them from their hatred and selfish ambitions. They needed a leader who would come to serve them unconditionally and who could give them hope and true peace. In short, they needed perfection.
I believe Mandela’s life and legacy point to someone who embodies just that. Jesus Christ’s love for the human race abounds far more than any leader before or after him, so much so that it drove him death on the cross. But here’s the best part: he wasn’t defeated by death. No, rather he has conquered death. Because of his victory, he makes available for us what no other world leader can or ever will when he says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).