“Please do not fall silent again. You have seen what politicians get up to when the clergy go quiet.”

This was the plea made by Dennis Cruywagen, journalist and author of The Spiritual Mandela, to the Church while delivering the Mandela Centenary Celebration Public Lecture, on 12 October.

“I believe you made a mistake when you silenced yourselves and took away an important moral voice when you withdrew from public life. I am happy that you have found your voice again. Civil society needs you. South Africa needs you.

“We need more examples of how you refuse to accept that the Government’s way is the correct way. I believe you and other religious leaders would be failing in your mandate if you do not speak up on behalf of millions of South Africans who still find themselves trapped in poverty, hunger, informal settlements and staring at a bleak future a 100 years after Mandela was born,” Cruywagen said.

He said the church has a duty to warn about the growing anger among our people.

“You need to be there with them and warn society that the tone of their reaction is getting more strident as they continue to be locked out and starved of the fruits of freedom. This, while a small group is on a looting frenzy that seems to say: ‘we are the champions we can do it better than the National Party.’ You need to warn that the better life that the ANC once promised was meant for all and not for a few.

“Have we exchanged white rulers for looters who happen to be black? This is not right; not after the end of colonialism and apartheid. I am also convinced you need to embrace reconciliation between different groups because racism is an evil force that can destroy the country that Mandela and others dreamed of. We need your voice to be heard by those in power. You did it in an undemocratic era. Do it again,” he said.

Earlier, Cruywagen said much of what has been written about Mandela has been about his leadership, political acumen, imprisonment on Robben Island, marriage to the ANC, marriage to Winnie and the like. But he said that is not the complete picture of the man.

While the apartheid regime tried to paint him as a communist, terrorist, atheist or the devil himself, those who were defending him built an image of a single-minded freedom fighter who had put the liberation of his people above everything else.

“In this battle between the regime and ANC of creating and feeding a particular narrative of Mandela, the truth about his spirituality somehow disappeared. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela mostly also kept quiet in public about his spiritual beliefs.

“He had several reasons for this. Among them were the examples set by the previous government, which said it was a Christian one while its policies were anything but. As President he also sought to a President for all. But in keeping quiet about his spiritual beliefs he was following the Methodist way of letting his deeds speak for him,” Cruywagen said.

But behind that accomplished politician, he said, was a very spiritual man who took Holy Communion while in prison and whose faith kept him going while he was cut off from his family, friends and the African mainland, adding that it was that faith which made him such a strong advocate of reconciliation after his release.

He said, “It was his unshakable Christian faith and his association with the Methodist Church that his mother Fanny was the first to nurture. His guardian, the Acting Regent of the Thembu people, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the dedicated Methodist who took the young Mandela under his wings after the death of his father Henry Gadla, also played a big part in shaping Mandela’s spiritual development.”

Going to school, getting baptised and taking up the name Nelson added to the growing identity of the boy. That changed the journey of a boy who dreamed of being a champion stick fighter into the road that led to Johannesburg, Robben Island and the South African Presidency, Cruywagen said.