South Africa native says Nelson Mandela forsook
his terrorist methods and became a man of peace

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--A former pastor in the Worldwide Church of God and native of South Africa declared in a sermon here Dec. 14, 2013, that Nelson Mandela was "transformed" by his years in prison.

Daniel Botha of the Dallas, Texas, suburb of Rockwall, said a few days after Mr. Mandela's death in a sermon at the Church of God Big Sandy that the first black president of South Africa had changed.

He had been a terrorist but became a man of peace as a result of his incarceration of almost three decades.

Mr. Mandela, seen by many people as the elder statesman of planet earth, died Dec. 5 at age 95. Beginning before his imprisonment in 1964, he led the fight in his country to overthrow the institution of apartheid.

Apartheid, or racial segregation, refers specifically to the policy of forced separation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.

Apartheid was the law of the land in that country from 1948 until 1990, the year Mr. Mandela got out of prison.

Friendly terms

Mr. Botha, born in South Africa in 1943, was on friendly terms with his fellow Afrikaners as well as South Africans of British descent and black and "colored" (mixed-race) people and residents of Indian descent.

He served as a pastor in the WCG for many years after graduating from the Bricket Wood, England, campus of Ambassador College in 1967.

He met his wife, the former Helen Burchill, a native of Australia, during their AC years. They married in 1967.

Whites with no idea

Mr. Botha watched the televised memorial service for Mr. Mandela, which took place in Johannesburg in a soccer stadium only a few miles from where he and Mrs. Botha had lived for 20 years before coming to the United States.

"That stadium is just outside Soweto," he said. "Soweto almost sounds like an African name, but it's not. Soweto came from South West Township."

The South African government designated the township for black Africans "on the other side of mine dumps," Mr. Botha said. "For many years you could talk to whites in Johannesburg about Soweto and they had no idea where Soweto was."

Though many whites had no idea where Soweto was, "there were hundreds of thousands of people living there," he said.

Four U.S. presidents

As Mr. and Mrs. Botha watched the memorial service, attended by about 80,000 people including four U.S. presidents, "I kind of reflected because I know the whole story from way back in history, the start of the African National Congress and even before that."

Before the Sabbath service in Big Sandy someone asked Mr. Botha if he considered Mr. Mandela to be a sinner or a saint.

"It's a good question," he said, "and you can ask that of all of us. Chances are if we're honest we could say a little of both."

Mr. Mandela had been many things, including a pugilist, a warrior and indeed a terrorist but, thanks to his prison experience, became a powerful advocate for peace.

Little village

Mr. Botha knows Qunu, where Mr. Mandela lived as a child.

"I've been in that little village where Mr. Mandela will be laid to rest tomorrow," he said.

"First time I went there it was just dusty streets and no tar [asphalt] road except the main road, and now I've heard that there are two tar roads in the village. One goes to Mr. Mandela's house and the other goes to the Mandela museum.

Little troublemaker

"I remember watching these little African umfaans, as we called them in the African language. Umfaan just means little boy.

When Mr. Botha talked about Africans in his sermon, he was referring to Africans who happened to be black. White Africans in southern Africa do not refer to themselves as Africans.

"As I watched the little umfaans walking on those dusty streets, I thought that's interesting because not that many years ago that would have been little Rolihlahla Mandela, as his name was. I don't know what Nelson did when he was born that they called him Rolihlahla, but that means Troublemaker in the Xhosa language."

Nelson Mandela was "actually born from a royal family," Mr. Botha said, "the family of the Thembu, which is one of the largest tribes in the Transkei," a former black enclave in South Africa that was abolished as an officially designated territory in 1994.

"When I grew up as a child in South Africa, I had a unique privilege, because my grandfather was the closest white friend of the king of the Zulus."

Unusual background

Thanks to Mr. Botha's upbringing, and his penchant for learning languages, he is conversant in quite a few. His first language is Afrikaans, his second is Zulu, and his third is English.

He speaks several other tribal languages and dialects as well.

"Most people did not have that kind of a background," he said, "and that kind of an interlinking with the African people."

Mr. Botha's background, as an Afrikaner, was different from that of many others of his lineage.

"My people were the ones who thought up the apartheid policies," he said, "although I must say my father never agreed with them and never voted for them."

On visits in South Africa, the Bothas, with their children, were "in these huts, slept there, slept on dirt floors, sat around on the ground eating phutu out of a communal pot that everybody's hand goes into."

Phutu, he said, "is like grits, but you can kind of squeeze it together like they dipped in the sop at the Last Supper."

Mr. Mandela began his life in the village "and ended up considered by the world as one of the great statesmen of our time," Mr. Botha said. "That to me is amazing. That makes me think."

Explosive circumstance

One thing Mr. Botha thinks is that Mr. Mandela was almost responsible for the death of Helen Botha.

"We were in Johannesburg in later years and my wife, Helen, phoned me and she said I'm going to walk to the Johannesburg post office at lunchtime," Mr. Botha said.

Later that day she phoned again and said, "I'm all right."

"I said what do you mean all right? She said something happened on the way to the post office."

Mrs. Botha's usual practice would have been to walk directly past a Wimpy Bar restaurant, a fast-food place. Instead, she stayed at her office. Otherwise "she would have been right in front of that restaurant when a bomb went off in that restaurant and killed a number of people."

The bomb had been set to explode by Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), a terrorist group Mr. Mandela cofounded in 1960.

The man he became

So, Mr. Botha mused, "it's interesting to look at Nelson Mandela and say that's the kind of man he was. But let's also look at the man he became."

"Twenty-seven years in a prison will change you," Mr. Botha continued. "It could change you for worse. It could change you for being far more bitter and angry. We had 40 million black people in South Africa dominated by my people, five million whites."

But "overnight," he said, "you had a change, with the 40 million taking over the government and the five million becoming less. And guess what. It was all peaceful."

Of the peaceful transition Mr. Botha asked: "Can you imagine what kind of a miracle that was? I keep saying to myself imagine--imagine--40 million whites being oppressed by five million Africans for generations, for a hundred years. This situation was like that.

"Think about that. I try to visualize that in Texas. Imagine all us Texans having been oppressed by some minority group that arrived from somewhere else and they had been oppressing us for the last hundred years and suddenly we got our freedom back.

"How many of those minorities would still be around here?"

Kind, gentle old man

"I thought what an attitude this man ended up with," Mr. Botha said. "My wife and I had the privilege of attending a meeting not much bigger than this [the Big Sandy congregation] where he spoke to a select group of people who were there specially invited.

"And he was a kind, gentle old man. How amazing. What an attitude. What can I learn about an attitude?"

Mr. Botha drew an analogy centering on the beatitudes, especially "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." But he also focused for a few minutes on the other items in Jesus' famous Matthew 5 list.

"Here are some of the most difficult things in Christianity," he said, including "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

"It's easy to be poor in spirit if you're kind of a nobody anyway. When God called me into the truth of the Bible, I was nobody. It was easy to be poor in spirit. I was hiding in the corner."

In mourning yesterday

Likewise with "Blessed are they that mourn."

"I was mourning yesterday afternoon when I was sitting in front of the school [in Rockwall] waiting to pick up my grandkids, and I heard over the news that there had been another school shooting.

"I almost wept. I was sitting in front of a school. I thought: What if it were this school? When will it end?"

Of all the beatitudes, "verse 7 of Matthew 5 is the one that struck me. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

"Did you hear about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, after we had a change in government and ended up with a majority government down there?"

The commission was unusual in that "it allowed anybody who had done anything that was wrong to come in front of the commission and spill the beans and say this is what I did and I am sorry."

People jumped out of windows

Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Anglican bishop of Cape Town and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, served as its chairman.

"I watched hours of that [on television]. I saw black people get up there and say, yes, I planted bombs. They admitted what they had done.

"I saw white policemen get up there and say, yes, this is what we did, this is what I did, these are the people I forced to jump out of the window and then we told the world they had committed suicide."

Mr. Botha remembers when "those of us who lived in Johannesburg knew that we had to be careful when we walked past John Vorster Square, which was the headquarters of the police, because people jumped out of the windows there.

"But, as we always said, did they jump or were they pushed? Chances are it was both. It was a bad, bad, bad place to live."

Life in those days was difficult: "being a minister and visiting people and going out into these rural areas and counseling people for baptism.

"As you were driving there you had to be careful and hope and pray you didn't drive over a mine that blew up, blew up your car, or have people jump out of the bush with AK47 rifles.

"We had to tell our children if something happens this is what you do."

The Bothas lived in Durban for a while.

"Just as soon as we got back [to Durban] we had the security police at my door checking up on what I was doing when I was on a baptizing tour."

What was happening?

The televised scenes of people testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stood in stark contrast to the earlier years of enforced apartheid.

"We saw these people confess, and I saw black families go up to a white policeman who had killed their son, and they surrounded him, and I wondered what they were going to do.

"I literally thought they were going to tear him to pieces.

"They didn't.

"They all gathered around him and laid hands on him and prayed for him."

The prayers were in a black-African language, so the policeman could not understand what the people surrounding him were saying.

"But I did," Mr. Botha remembered. "They prayed that God would give him a new heart, that God would give him a new spirit, that God would give him hope for the future, as we have hope for the country in the future.

"It was remarkable. These people wept. They kissed him. They hugged him.

"Blessed are the merciful, Jesus said, for they shall obtain mercy."

Much to learn

Mr. Botha wondered what would have been his reaction had the bomb at the restaurant killed his wife.

"Would I have been able to be that merciful?

"I looked at that and said I've been a Christian a long time, but I've got a long way to go. There's so much we still have to learn."

Mysterious mercy

He talked more about the mysteries of mercy. Sometimes mercy is easy to show, but sometimes exceedingly difficult.

"Why do we tend not to be merciful sometimes?" Mr. Botha asked.

"We all tend to be merciful on some people. It was always very easy for me to be merciful on a new person who came to church who I was visiting with and they would share, you know, their troubles and their past.

"It was always very easy for me to just understand where they came from because, frankly, that's where I came from."

Showing mercy is easy for someone who is "the dominant person" and "the giver of mercy."

But "I tell you what I found was not so easy." That was "when somebody who was over me who I thought ought to know better would do something which I clearly saw was wrong."

Normal reaction

What was a church member's normal reaction when a Church of God minister, for example, would do something to him that was "absolutely, totally wrong, completely wrong?"

"I'll tell you what mine was," Mr. Botha said: "anger! How could he do it? How can somebody do this?

"How would you feel traveling from here and a policeman pulls you over and then mistreats you? Merciful?

"Well, I hope so, after [today's] sermon. But it's hard."

Out of the reckoning

Mr. Botha described the situation that Nelson Mandela and others in the nonwhite majority had been born into.

Those people were "denigrated, treated as second-class citizens. No, they were treated as noncitizens who didn't count. They weren't even in the reckoning."

Family history

Mr. Botha told a little about his family's history, dating back to the late 19th century.

"At one time there was a war between my people [the Afrikaners, who were descended from Dutch and other European settlers] and the English back in South Africa, from 1898 till 1902.

"My one grandfather was killed in that war. His wife died in that war. Twenty-seven thousand women and children of my people died in concentration camps built by the British.

"Seventeen thousand black people also died in concentration camps under the same circumstances.

"Very little has been said about that."

Meanwhile, black and colored residents of South Africa had no say, no vote, no way to direct their destinies.

"Things became worse when the religious people [Christians descended from Europeans] took over the country."

Treat these philistines

Daniel François Malan, the first prime minister of the National Party in South Africa, was a Dutch Reformed minister.

"He came into office with the Bible, and the Bible told him: Treat these people like nonpeople."

Prime Minister Malan and associates "dug up all the scriptures in the Old Testament and said 'That's how we will treat these philistines."

Released after 27 years

Nelson Mandela grew up in his village around no white people. He attended the University of Fort Hare, which Mr. Botha described as an antigovernment, anti-Afrikaner institution of higher learning.

From there he moved to Johannesburg and worked for a white lawyer.

In 1964 Mr. Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island. In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. In 1988 he was moved to Victor Verster Prison, near Paarl, 30 miles from Cape Town.

He was released in 1990 after a total of 27 years' confinement.

Getting to know the oppressor

A quarter century in prison changed Mr. Mandela, Mr. Botha said.

"The prison guards were all Afrikaners, my people," he said. "For the first time in his life, he [Mr. Mandela] had direct interaction with the oppressor.

"And he found out that, wait a bit, they're not oppressors at all. They're just human beings like I am. They're just trying to put food on the table. We're prisoners, and they're looking after us."

So Mr. Mandela gradually had a major change of mind and heart.

He already had a habit of encouraging his "cadres"--groups of his followers--to get an education. Now, in prison, he encouraged his guards, some of whom hadn't finished high school, to do the same thing: get educated.

"This is a prisoner helping prison guards to get a university degree," Mr. Botha marveled.

When Mr. Mandela left prison in 1990, young black Africans were saying, "Now, we gotta get these whites! Bring the machine guns!"

But Mr. Mandela said, in Mr. Botha's words, "No way!"

"See, he'd been with these people and he realized they were just human beings like the rest of us with their faults, difficulties, families . . . Let's unite people, [Mr. Mandela] said. Let's understand."

They know not

Mr. Botha quoted Jesus, nearing the moment of His crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Can we say this? Will we be able to say this?

"Was Mr. Mandela a saint or a sinner?

"A bit of both."

Mr. Botha concluded with a comparison of Mr. Mandela with Napoleon. The French emperor was interred in 1873 in a tomb in Paris that was magnificent and huge.

It was so big that Mr. Botha remarked to his wife when the Bothas visited it that "they're going to have to bring a crane in here for the resurrection because we're going to have a problem to get him out of there."

The Mandela funeral and burial, on the other hand, were unpretentious.

"Now, Mr. Mandela, amazingly, was a good Methodist," Mr. Botha said. "He wanted to be back down in Qunu, buried with his ancestors."

Blessed are the merciful

Nelson Mandela "was an unusual man," Mr. Botha concluded: "at one time a fighter, a boxer, a terrorist, a killer . . . His cadres killed many.

"But my people also killed many, and we're all sinners before God.

"As Jesus said, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."


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