Wednesday 18 December 2013

Amandla! Awethu!

I've been slow to write something about Madiba's passing partly because of the busyness of being a priest at Christmas, but also because all the tributes to Nelson Mandela have been overwhelming, and I have been content to join in the celebrations instead of adding more into the mix.

But tonight at Sunderland Minster we will be having the city's 'official' celebration, and I just wanted to say a quick word about Mandela's legacy.

The real celebrations have already taken place. On the Sunday after Mandela's death, we watched a film called 'Amandla' - a documentary about the music and musicians who carried the revolution along. The film drew together members of the South African community here in Sunderland, and after the singing and the tears and laughter - people shared their memories of the struggle - of running guns for the military wing of the ANC, of visiting the graves of family members killed by the state, and of organising the first free elections in 1994.

It was a wonderful evening, and the following Saturday we organised a time of singing and dancing in the streets - it was also fantastic. Mandela touched the lives of billions of people, and so many people in the street were touched the outpouring of respect and joy from the South Africans.

But here are two important things. One - millions are joining in the celebrations around the world who did nothing to support Mandela or the South African people during the years of struggle. The Conservative party actually condemned Mandela and the ANC to years more suffering by their refusal to join in sanctions and by labelling Mandela as a terrorist.

During this time, each of us must ask what are the current struggles that we are ignoring? What are we doing about Palestine, which former Archbishop Tutu labels a new 'Apartheid'?  How many of us are supporting other communities wrapped up in oppression due to the arms trade and other causes of human rights abuses?

Mandela's death and legacy invites us to take part in current struggles, and if it does not, then it is meaningless.

Second: Mandela's story is lived out in the people - and he avoided the cult of personality as much as was humanly possible. Mandela was a communist, and supported people's struggles. He was a lifelong friend of Fidel Castro, and his radical legacy must be held high. When we shout Amandla, and reply 'Awethu' - remember the strength of what you are saying - Amandla - Power! Awethu - TO THE PEOPLE!

Let us celebrate his legacy by working to share in the long journey to freedom for all God's people. 

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