Shaped by Methodists, Mandela Paid Tribute to the Role of Religion

Nelson Mandela was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist boarding schools that provided a Christian liberal arts education.

c. 2013 Religion News Service

(RNS) Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died Thursday (Dec. 5), had a deep connection with religious institutions.

Mandela was educated, first at Clarkebury and then at Healdtown, Methodist boarding schools that provided a Christian liberal arts education.

“Both were important influences on his life,” said Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. “Indeed, after his time at Clarkebury, the young Mandela said his horizons had been broadened.”

In Cape Town, retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Mandela was mourned by South Africans, Africans and the international community as a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity.

“He preached a gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation,” Tutu wrote in a tribute on

“He showed in his own character, and inspired in others, many of God’s attributes: goodness, compassion, a desire for justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. He was not only an amazing gift to humankind, he made South Africans and Africans feel good about being who we are. He made us walk tall. God be praised.”

Mandela acknowledged his connection to religious institutions and faith groups at various religious meetings across the world.

“It was religious institutions whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Jewish in the context of our country, they are the people who bought land, who built schools, who equipped them, who employed teachers, and paid them,” Mandela told the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1999. “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today.”

Mandela told the gathering it was religious institutions that gave his fellow prisoners and him hope during the apartheid era that one day they would prevail.

“Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did,” he said.

Soon after his release, Mandela visited the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva. The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the World Council of Churches general secretary described the leader’s relationship with the council as a special one.

“This is when he expressed his gratitude for the churches’ support to the anti-apartheid struggle,” Tveit said in a tribute in which he celebrated Mandela as “a liberator who by force of his remarkable personality raised the dignity of Africans after centuries of colonialism, oppression and discrimination.”

Added Siwa in a tribute Friday: “Although we are sad and mourn the passing of a father, an icon and world leader we cannot help but celebrate his life as well.”

Copyright 2013 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.



  1. The role of the churches in social justice movements is a huge one. The Judeo-Christian emphasis upon justice and equality in the eyes of God–and Yahweh’s requirement that all
    “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)–has been the catalyst for
    social reforms in the western world, including the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the anti-apartheid movement. Both the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement was literally “carried on the wings of sacred song”–the hymns, chants, and praise anthems that the marchers sang to bolster their hearts and give them courage in the long, bitter struggles on the “long march to freedom.” Just as the civil rights movement was based in African-american churches and used its black spirituals and testimony songs as “freedom anthems”, the anti-apartheid movement also utilized the beautiful mbube and isicathamiya vocal styles and sang the songs Black and Colored South African Christians were using in worship in their own faith communities. Songs such as “Siyahamba”; “Freedom is Coming”, “S’famandla Nkosi” and the famous hymn “Nkosi Sikelel’i Africa” (composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga,
    a choirmaster). “”Nkosi Sikelel Afrika” has been sung by the African National Congress since the latter 1920’s and was “banned” for decades by the South African government. You can hear this powerful hymn sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo on You can also hear it accompanied by an orchestra on the ending of the movie “Cry Freedom”, which can also be accessed on YouTube. These sturdy songs carried the anti-apartheid movement in to the townships and outlying areas–anywhere freedom organizers and social activists had to meet and plan their liberation strategies. One church in Soweto–Regina Mundi–was a meeting place for anti-apartheid activities and community organizers during the turbulent years of the anti-apartheid movement. Nelson Mandela’s own background in the Methodist
    Church (by all accounts, his mother was a devout Methodist) prepared him for the work of justice–something God cares deeply about! We were privileged and blessed to see the movement for liberation and justice in our country, and in countries around the world, during
    the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to usher in the “new heavens and the new earth” of Revelation, humanity will always need God-sent men and women who continually call a fallen world to accountability
    and demand that all nations and governments “do justly and love mercy”–for all the world’s