Nelson Mandela’s legacy: ‘Forgiveness brings reconciliation’ Rev Colin Chambers, who was prison chaplain while Nelson Mandela served his sentence, reveals what the freedom fighter was like
A former South African naval officer who was chaplain to Nelson Mandela believes God saved South Africa in the early 1990s. Rev Colin Chambers believes the Christian education Mandela had received from Methodist missionaries had taught him the value of forgiveness, which became more precious during his time serving a life sentence for plotting acts of violence against the state. The young Mandela was head-boy of his school, where he led a Bible class and prayed daily during assemblies. A pastor of an Assemblies of God church at the time, Chambers, now 73, be- friended Mandela and his fellow Africa National Congress inmates during regular visits to the island, just a few miles from Cape Town.
When the offer of a role as chaplain was first put to him, Chambers didn’t think – as a white officer of the South African Defence Force – that he had much chance of being accepted by the prisoners, who had been fighting against the apartheid regime. But he was amazed when first introduced to their iconic leader, who said: “The name’s ‘Mandela’. You’re very welcome. How was the sea? And how’s your father?” Puzzled, Chambers thought he might have known his dad, who was the same age, but later discovered that in the Xhosa culture in which Mandela had been nurtured it was an expression that meant you were accepted.