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These Words Have Been Waiting


These words have been waiting.

One Friday in late June I was due to go into Radio Bristol to do a Thought for the Day. On Thursday, a call came from the newsroom: “Nelson Mandela is critically ill in hospital. We don’t know if he is going to survive the night. Can you prepare two Thoughts – one to be broadcast as normal, but also one we could use if he does pass away?”

In the end I wrote one thought and tweaked it slightly. The version which went out in June spoke of the people of South Africa standing in vigil for Nelson Mandela. Now that he has died, completing his long walk to freedom, here is the second version:

Sometimes there aren’t enough words.

There aren’t enough words in a Thought for the Day slot, or even in a whole breakfast show, which could adequately sum up the person and character of Nelson Mandela

It would be understandable if we did not have a Thought for the Day today. A time of silence might be more appropriate, a chance to pause and give thanks for a long and full life which included activism, imprisonment, freedom, politics, reconciliation, statemanship and family.

But find words we must, for we seek to remember a remarkable man. He will be not just be mourned in South Africa but around the world for his passion, commitment, leadership and ultimately, his wisdom and grace.

Nelson Mandela was an activist who battled apartheid but also a leader who championed a new South Africa, dubbed ‘The Rainbow Nation’ as it sought to unite people of all ages and cultures. And, ultimately, he also became an elder statesman to the world.

His autobiography is called Long Walk to Freedom. Today, the world which once campaigned for that very release pauses to consider a transition through death to a greater freedom – a walk to a destination described in the book of Revelation as a place where there is “no more tears, crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” A place of peace.

As we consider the words by which we might remember Nelson Mandela, it might be more appropriate to hear some of his words, from a speech he gave in Johannesburg in 2002:

“It is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference that we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.

We give thanks for a significant life and for a leader whose words and actions have made such a difference to the world.”


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