Nelson Mandela and the Quest for Peace
Nelson Mandela devoted much of his life to the pursuit of freedom and equality for all people. But can we really achieve lasting peace by our own efforts?
The world is paying tribute to Nelson Mandela—and his efforts toward freedom and peace—after his death last week. Mr. Mandela played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa, and he stands out for the forgiveness and peaceful approach he took in leading South Africa after the end of that system.
But even though Mr. Mandela is mostly remembered as a peacemaker, his methods were not always peaceful.
For many years the white minority dominated the black majority of South Africa. As a young man, Mr. Mandela wanted to bring freedom and equality to his people. In 1944, at the age of 26, he joined the African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912 as a nonviolent national liberation movement for the African people to bring fundamental political, social and economic change. By 1952 he had become part of its leadership.
Peace by violence?
In 1955 Mr. Mandela and 155 other activists were arrested and tried in court. All were eventually acquitted.
Yet tensions rose, and in 1960 police killed 69 unarmed protestors. The ANC then changed its nonviolent approach to one of using military action. And in 1961 Mr. Mandela was asked to lead an armed struggle. In January 1962 he secretly left the country to gain support for this armed struggle. Mr. Mandela also received military training and returned to South Africa in July 1962.
Less than a month later, he was arrested at a roadblock and charged with illegally leaving the country and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Then in July 1963 police raided a secret hideout of the ANC and Communist party activists. Mr. Mandela was then included with those arrested and charged with sabotage. It was in that Rivonia trial, facing the death penalty, that Mr. Mandela famously said,
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
So in June 1964 Mr. Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life in prison. Nelson Mandela would spend 27 years behind bars for his actions. As he and others learned, violence does not bring peace.
The way of peace
Discrimination and oppression have been around for a long time. During the first century, there were deep conflicts between the Jews and the gentiles, as many members of both groups thought they were superior to the other group. While addressing this issue, the apostle Paul asked if doing evil was acceptable if good would result. And he said it was not (Romans 3:8).
Jesus Christ said that those who resort to violence to avenge themselves will be destroyed by violence (Matthew 26:52).
Through the prophet Isaiah God said, “The act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood. … The way of peace they have not known” (Isaiah 59:6-8).
No, lasting peace will not come by the use of violence. Violence should not be used as a means to an end.
This was a lesson Nelson Mandela learned after spending a quarter of a century imprisoned for trying to use violence. Other leaders have also learned and understood that the only way to change the heart and mind is through peace, forgiveness and education (consider men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.).
Nelson Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 committed to this ideal—and is now rightly considered one of the greatest leaders of modern times.
How lasting peace will come
The Bible clearly shows that until the human heart changes, there cannot be lasting peace. The apartheid that existed in South Africa was only one of many problems and injustices that human greed and lust have created (James 4:1). As long as mankind rejects God and accepts Satan’s influence, it’s impossible for us to attain real peace and real freedom on our own (Ephesians 2:2).
It will take the return of Jesus Christ—the Prince of Peace—to show mankind how to achieve peace (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:76, 79). Though He will have to use godly power at the beginning of His reign in order to prevent mankind’s self-destruction (Revelation 19:15), ultimately He will bring world peace through nonviolent means!
During His millennial reign, Christ and His saints will teach and show that keeping God’s laws is what brings real peace and freedom (Psalm 119:165; John 8:32). During that time God’s Holy Spirit will be available, which will soften our hearts and make us receptive to His way of peace (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Education and a change of the human heart will solve mankind’s propensity toward violence and mistreatment of others.
Until that day comes, God offers peace now to those who are willing to follow Him and apply the words of the Bible to their lives today.
To learn more about the future peace that this world will experience, read our articles on “The Kingdom of God.”