June 2013

Nelson Mandela and Seventh-day Adventists

"The son of a Seventh-Day Adventist missionary, Luthuli was born in what was then Southern Rhodesia and educated in Natal. He trained as a teacher at Adam’s College near Durban. A fairly tall, heavyset, dark-skinned man with a great broad smile, he combined an air of humility with deep-seated confidence. He was a man of patience and fortitude, who spoke slowly and clearly as though every word was of equal importance.

"I had first met him in the late 1940s when he was a member of the Natives Representative Council. In September of 1952, only a few months before the annual conference, Luthuli had been summoned to Pretoria and given an ultimatum: he must either renounce his membership in the ANC and his support of the Defiance Campaign, or he would be dismissed from his position as an elected and government-paid tribal chief. Luthuli was a teacher, a devout Christian, and a proud Zulu chief, but he was even more firmly committed to the struggle against apartheid. Luthuli refused to resign from the ANC and the government dismissed him from his post. In response to his dismissal, he issued a statement of principles called 'The Road to Freedom Is via the Cross,' in which he reaffirmed his support for nonviolent passive resistance and justified his choice with words that still echo plaintively today: 'Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door?'" (143)


"The act and Verwoerd’s crude exposition of it aroused widespread indignation from both black and white. With the exception of the Dutch Reform Church, which supported apartheid, and the Lutheran mission, all Christian churches opposed the new measure. But the unity of the opposition extended only to condemning the policy, not resisting it. The Anglicans, the most fearless and consistent critics of the new policy, had a divided policy. Bishop Ambrose Reeves of Johannesburg took the extreme step of closing his schools, which had a total enrollment of ten thousand children. But the archbishop of the church in South Africa, anxious to keep children out of the streets, handed over the rest of the schools to the government. Despite their protests, all the other churches did the same with the exception of the Roman Catholics, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the United Jewish Reform Congregation—who soldiered on without state aid. Even my own church, the Wesleyan Church, handed over their two hundred thousand African students to the government. If all the other churches had followed the example of those who resisted, the government would have been confronted with a stalemate that might have forced a compromise. Instead, the state marched over us." (168)


"In Germiston, a township southeast of the city, Joshua Makue, chairman of our local branch, ran a school for eight hundred boycotting children that lasted for three years. In Port Elizabeth, Barrett Tyesi gave up a government teaching post and ran a school for boycotting children. In 1956, he presented seventy of these children for the Standard VI exams; all but three passed. In many places, improvised schools (described as 'cultural clubs' in order not to attract the attention of the authorities) taught boycotting students. The government subsequently passed a law that made it an offense punishable by fine or imprisonment to offer unauthorized education. Police harassed these clubs, but many continued to exist underground. In the end, the community schools withered away and parents, faced with a choice between inferior education and no education at all, chose the former. My own children were at the Seventh-Day Adventist school, which was private and did not depend on government subsidies." (169)

-Excerpts from Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1994).