Before I became a pastor, I worked in industry. My last employer before leaving the business world was an English company that had operations in 20 countries or so. One of those countries was South Africa.
I was at the company’s headquarters in England for some meetings, and was staying in the company’s condo that they used for visitors. Also there at the time was an employee from South Africa, a white guy of Scottish heritage by the name of Ian if I remember correctly. We got to talking in the living room one evening, and the subject turned to the new situation (end of apartheid) and new president (Nelson Mandela) in South Africa.
He had nothing but praise for Mandela. He told us that the new president, rather than seeking revenge, forgave those who had been so cruel to him and to his people. Mandela set up councils, not for retribution, but for reconciliation. I was surprised by Ian’s unabashed praise of Mandela, and was interested to learn what was going on in the post-apartheid era. Sadly, our media drops the story once it turns to good news, so I wasn’t aware of all the good things happening.
Nelson Mandela can be a model for all of us. We’ve all been wronged, but rarely to the extent of Mandela and his wife Winnie (who was in jail for about 500 days, much of that time in solitary confinement). He forgave, and worked for a better future rather than looking back at a past he couldn’t change.
Another model for us is former president F.W. deKlerk. He had the foresight to see that apartheid was not only evil but was not sustainable. He boldly ordered Mandela released from prison and negotiated the transfer of power from minority white rule to majority black rule. I’m not familiar with the details of the transition, I know it was difficult and the two men were often at odds.
I think there are several lessons for you and me:
(1) Do the right thing. Work to eliminate oppression, injustice, and unfairness wherever you find it (even though it might cost you).
(2) Forgive those who have wronged you, which isn’t easy but is necessary for your own well-being. Think of all the times you have been forgiven by others, and how much God has forgiven you.
(3) Even be nice to those who have wronged you! I think the following passage from the Bible says it all:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21, NRSV, based on Proverbs 25:22)