Mandela was a holy man - Archbishop

2013-12-07 19:00
A banner with later president Nelson Mandela draped on the City Hall in Cape Town. (Adiel Ismail, Fin24)

A banner with later president Nelson Mandela draped on the City Hall in Cape Town. (Adiel Ismail, Fin24)

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Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba remembered former president Nelson Mandela on Saturday as a holy man because of his ability to unite people.

"He [Mandela] was a peace-loving, disciplined human being, no saint at all in the traditional Christian sense, but a holy man because, for me, holiness means the ability to hold yourself accountable, hold others accountable, to respect differences and to ensure the unity of God's people," Makgabo said during a visit to the Grand Parade in the CBD.

Standing close to the City Hall balcony where Mandela made his first speech as a free man more than 23 years ago, Makgabo said what he would miss most was the pastoral support he lent the family while Mandela was ill.

"The first time he took ill, I was asked by [Mandela's personal assistant] Zelda le Grange and [Mandela's widow] Graca Machel to come and offer prayers...a very personal, pastoral interaction where I would go at critical moments in his illness to construct a prayer, read the prayer for the family and for the nation, Makgabo said.

"I will miss that special role."

Makgabo said these moments were personal and private and he would not discuss them in public, as it would be a breach of his pastoral vows.

"Mandela was old and the good Lord has recalled him at the perfect time.

"As we pray for his soul to rest in peace, may we in our daily lives make every day a Mandela day by taking the values that Mandela embodied and espoused and living by them," Makgoba said.

The relationship between Mandela and the Anglican church was not always rosy.

Naughty church leaders

"When I was a relatively young priest we were in trouble with Mandela when he was president.

"The then Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane had criticised him and that criticism was aired before the state of the nation address and he [Mandela] felt that why didn't the archbishop and the team come to him and speak to him, rather than speak to him via the media," Makgabo said.

Instead of responding in the media, Mandela invited Ndungane and an Anglican delegation, including Makgoba, to a dinner at his state residence in Pretoria.

"I was really bowled over that he had the magnanimity to call us to his home... and confront the issue. It takes a great leader to do that."

At the dinner, Madiba chided the church leaders.

"He was really not happy with the then archbishop.... He waved a finger like PW Botha towards naughty church leaders and then we reminded him that 'Tata, this is democratic South Africa, you can't do that'," Makgoba said.

"He was furious with the group of us, but he nonetheless continued to entertain us in his residence and he said 'you guys lack dignity because you come to my house and eat my food and you come and tell me this nonsensical thing'."

Makgoba could not recall the issue at the centre of the disagreement.

He did, however, recall the memorial service for Oliver Tambo, Mandela's friend and predecessor as ANC president.

"I was the priest that was responsible for incensing the coffin at the cathedral when he lay in state and we sang the national anthem, and you could see that Madiba was really quite uncomfortable with how we sang the national anthem and he quietly said to the dean... 'you guys could do much better'," said Makgoba.

Whenever Madiba chided the priests it was in a "very caring yet firm way".

Makgoba will lead a church service at the Holy Cross church in Nyanga tomorrow morning.

"I will...focus on Madiba to allow the Anglicans to hear my message. This is also an opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to doing all that is noble, honourable and good."

Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at

- Share your memories of Nelson Mandela with us.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  thabo makgoba  |  graca machel

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