Category Archives: Mandela

Patriarch Mandela


Those of you who have read Brother Ivo during his time with Archbishop Cranmer will know how often he likes to highlight paradox.

Now that we have laid Nelson Mandela to rest with all the respect which he deserved for his patience and earned by his generosity of spirit, it begins to become possible to begin an evaluation of his legacy.

We can do so respectfully and intelligently. We evaluate and critique our articles of faith, so there is no reason why we should not bring similar analysis to a departed brother who had his faults as well as his merits, and will stand before his God in exactly the same position as the rest of us will in the fullness of time – that is to say, in need of Grace.

Doubtless that will jar in some quarters but so too does unqualified adulation.

In the days which followed his death, we had high level saturation coverage by our press and media, which had doubtless rehearsed their reactions for months if not years beforehand. The BBC dispatched hundreds of staff to South Africa for the occasion and even relocated one of their flagship programmes. Such untempered adulation does not sit altogether well with the English character, and even some who basically admired Mandela raised criticism of this manner of evaluation of his life and legacy.

One of the most precise observation came from someone on twitter whose name Brother Ivo neglected to remember: he apologises.

His point was that, whereas the BBC coverage of the death of Lady Thatcher was consistently interlaced with criticism “for balance”, no such balance was even attempted for Mr Mandela.

Brother Ivo did not wish there to have been excessively discordant notes during a proper time of mourning. There was a family to consider, and many held him in the highest record. A little acknowledgement of nuance might not have come amiss however, not least because it might have satisfied some whose impatience with over-reverence took to the social media.

Some recalled the ANC emulation of the IRA through its bombing campaign: others reminded us of the vile practice of “necklacing”. Where a reference to the darker side of the legacy might have added to our understanding of Mandela’s greatness would have been to have heard a little from the families who suffered through such behaviour.

At the end of World War II, families across Europe who had suffered under the bombing of the air war nevertheless came to accommodation with the costs of the greater good. The late Gordon Wilson contributed much to the Irish Peace process through his reaction to the death of his daughter in the Enniskillen bomb outrage at the hands of  the IRA.

Brother Ivo does South Africa the credit of assuming that a similar generosity of spirit is to be found there. One cannot secure such healing testimony however unless one is prepared to acknowledge that Mr Mandela’s supporters committed these wrongs. Such nuance and depth has been absent so far, and so the picture has been, to a degree, marginally untruthful.

That is not however, what intrigues Brother Ivo the most.

For the past 50 years, we have seen the deconstruction and denigration of the idea and institution  of patriarchy. It was been perceived as the root cause of mysogany, rape, child abuse, world poverty, environmental despoliation,and virtually every other societal ill that one might choose to name. Please feel free to add to the list from your own recollection.

The case for such propositions is not without supporting evidence, and yet what have we seen as we have contemplated the near sanctification of “Madinga”?

What had he become if not a much loved, much respected Patriarch?

Has the whole memorial experience been anything other than a celebratory festival of Patriarchy?

Isn’t that everything we were supposed to have been against for all these years?

It is 14 years since Mr Mandela stepped down from the Presidency, Thereafter he continued to exercise the soft power of the Patriarch; his successor was always constrained by the need to remain within the penumbra of approval of the greater man.

As we listened to the crowd booing his successor President Jacob Zuma, and even more worryingly cheering Robert Mugabe, we glimpsed the value of the Patriarch and his influence in holding the country’s tensions in check. Like our own Queen, whose role he unofficially imitated to a significant degree, he exercised the influence of gracious approval.

Instinctively, the subordinate politician avoids that which will displease, and unconsciously seeks approval.

So now we have appear to be learning and accepting  the merits of constrained monarchy to lay alongside that of patriarchy. It must be all rather confusing for the instinctive radical – if they ever thought about it.

Yet as one acknowledges and respects the value of the great restraining influence, one cannot but fear for the future.

Christians will have an acute understanding of what can happen to the flock in the absence of the good shepherd. Its members stray, lose cohesion and fall prey to predators. Excited by panic they can easily plunge rush unthinkingly into the abyss.

South Africa is entering a period of the greatest danger since that happy day when Mr Mandela walked to freedom proclaiming that fear and hatred should not triumph. The people who followed him then  would not even listen to his successor today.

These are not days for complacency.