Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church

18 September 1994

Presiding Bishop Stanley Mogoba,
District Bishops,
Distinguished Delegates,
Dear Guests,

Allow me to express my profound gratitude for the invitation to be with you tonight. It is indeed a great honour for me to bring my personal greetings to one of the most significant Christian communities in our land.

My joy at being in this conference is multiplied many-fold by the fact that this is for me also a personal home-coming, both in the physical and spiritual sense. The environs of Umtata are not only my humble origins. It is here that my spiritual association with this great Church started. And I cannot over-emphasise the role that the Methodist Church has played in my own life.

Your Church has a proud record of commitment to the development of Africa's sons and daughters in more areas than one. The great institutions of learning which spread from the Reverend William Shaw's "Chain of Mission Stations" in this region shaped the minds and characters of generations of our people as well as many of our present leaders.

Although the dark night of apartheid sought to obliterate many of these institutions, the impact of their academic and moral teachings could not be trampled on. We who passed through them will not forget the excellent standards of teaching and the spiritual values which were imparted to us.

It is therefore heartening to learn that Methodism is returning to this great tradition with the rehabilitation of Healdtown, your new John Wesley School in Pinetown, the use of Indaleni for community development, the return to Kilnerton and the hundreds of pre-schools you have established. All these and other endeavours vividly demonstrate the fact that the religious community in our country is not only a spiritual and moral force. It is also an important social institution, contributing to the development and well-being of the people as a whole.

The sense of social responsibility that the religious community has always upheld found expression in your immense contribution to the efforts to rid our country of the scourge of racism and apartheid. When pronouncements and actions against the powers-that-be meant persecution and even death, you dared to stand up to the tyrants.

In the founding and evolution of the African National Congress, the religious community played a central role. We refer here to such leaders such as Calata, Mahabane and Maphikela as well as Abdullah Abduraman and Mahatma Gandhi.

Especially while political leaders were in prison and in exile, bodies like the South African Council of Churches and its member churches resisted racial bigotry and held out a vision of a different, transformed South Africa. Methodist leaders were prominent among the prophets who refused to bow to the false god of apartheid. Your ministers also visited us in prison and cared for our families. Some of you were banned. Your Presiding Bishop himself shared imprisonment with us for some years on Robben Island. This you did, not as outsiders to the cause of democracy, but as part of society and eminent prophets of the teachings of your faith.

It is fitting that this Conference is taking place in this particular Chamber, after the advent of democracy in our country. The Methodist Church was the only Church to be declared an illegal organisation under apartheid, and for ten long years you were forbidden to operate in the Transkei bantustan. It is in this very Chamber that this banning order was promulgated.

One cannot over-emphasise the contribution that the religious community made particularly in ensuring that our transition achieves the desired result. The spirit of reconciliation and the goodwill within the nation can, to a great measure, be attributed to the moral and spiritual interventions of the religious community.

Now that a major part of the journey towards democracy has been traversed, new and more difficult tasks lie ahead of us. For, political democracy will be empty and meaningless, if the misery of the majority of the people is not addressed.

The Church, like all other institutions of civil society, must help all South Africans to rise to the challenge of freedom. As South Africa moves from resistance to reconstruction and from confrontation to reconciliation, the energy that was once dedicated to breaking apartheid must be harnessed to the task of building the nation.

Our Programme of Reconstruction and Development is designed to unite sound economics with true compassion and justice so that all the people of this land may share in its resources. But this programme cannot succeed unless people who have been repressed by years of subjugation are motivated to participate in building their future.

We are encouraged, that in the South African religious community, the Government of National Unity has an experienced, morally-upright and reliable partner. With its long history of involvement in development projects and widespread infrastructure, the Church is strategically placed to empower our people to take hold of their freedom and work together to transform their conditions. This should include paying particulr attention to millions of children and youth who need to be specially nurtured, so as to restore their dignity and afford them opportunities to make a constructive contribution to society.

The Church, with its message of forgiveness, has a special role to play in national reconciliation. After so much suffering and injustice, the instinct for revenge is a natural one. But the transition we are going through shows that those who suffered under apartheid are prepared to bury the past. At the same time, those who enjoyed the fruits of unjust privilege must be helped to find a new spirit of sharing. Your message and example can enable that to happen.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an important instrument, not only in dealing with past wrongs, but in freeing all of us to move with a clean conscience into the future.

The objective of this Commission is neither vengeance nor retribution. We have to forgive the past; but at the same time, ensure that the dignity of the victims is restored, and their plight properly addressed. We are confident that the conclusions that this Commission will come to, will contribute not only to reconciliation, but also to reconstruction and development.

In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people. Indeed, no institution is better placed to assist this process than the thousands of religious congregations which gather every week all over the land and among all communities.

This will also form an important part of the process to cast the demon of crime and violence out of our social life. The Government is determined to use all the means in our power to cradicate this problem. However, this requires co-operation between communities and the security agencies. Again, the religious community has a central role to play in ensuring that this happens.

Mr Presiding Bishop,

South Africa now has a democratic government representative of, and accountable to, all the people. By your fearless commitment to truth and justice, the Methodist Church and other religious bodies helped realise this. But all governments, no matter how democratic, need constructive criticism and advice. I ask you to continue to play your prophetic role, always seeking to hold the nation and all its leaders to the highest standards of integrity and service.

One of the critical issues in this regard is the disparity, within society as a whole, between the lowest and the highest social echelons. To address this problem requires comprehensive measures to develop our human resources. It also demands bold action on the part of the leadership in the public sector, the private sector and organs of civil society, including religious institutions.

I am confident that, with the support of the Methodist Church and the religious fraternity as a whole, our nation will reach the mountain-tops of its collective desires.

I am mindful that the great hymn which is now part of our National Anthem was first sung long ago at the Ordination of a Methodist minister. I join you in that humble prayer: Nkosi Sikelela i'Afrika!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation