A tribute to Nelson Mandela

By Ted Homdrom

After serving as a missionary for 35 years (1950–1985) in Apartheid South Africa, one example I documented in my book, Mission Memories II, shows the practical effects of Apartheid that spread even to country mission work in the early 1950s:

But there was a new menace of intimidation that was slowly creeping up of which we were unaware when we felt the Call to South Africa. True, Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country vividly portrayed how the blacks were subordinated by the white minority government. But now that the National Party, which had come into power in 1948, was implementing its policy of Apartheid, or separation of the races, they, even on a country mission station, were beginning to see threats.

When Pastor Shadrach Bhengu came to my office early one Saturday morning in 1952, he was remarkably disturbed.

“Yesterday,” he said, “while I was applying for a Marriage Officer’s Permit, the magistrate suddenly began questioning me intensely. He wanted to know whether I was a member of the African National Congress or if I had been associating with any of its members.”

He was then warned to refrain from any kind of politics or association with them—or he could face possible detention.

The district magistrates had evidently been warned to be on the alert for any spread of black nationalism by members of the ANC.

Many, like Nelson Mandela, were prominent members of the ANC who faced the huge Rivonia Treason Trial (1962–1964) and imprisonment until 1990. During Mandela’s imprisonment, there was a complete blackout in the public press. My greatest impression of what Mandela believed in and stood for was the concluding statement of the speech he gave at his trial:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

May God bless his memory.

Ted Homdrom’s book Mission Memories II describes the struggles of an American missionary family as South Africa was embroiled in apartheid. He now lives in St. Anthony Park.