art: Paul Don Smith
History is still unsure of what Nelson Mandela’s exact beliefs were regarding God and religion.
The religious beliefs of a politician can often be full of complexities. Staunch stances can divide different communities within their own country and other politicians may hold biases that they hold particular political beliefs because of that religion. That is probably why many politicians decide not to speak openly on their own faiths, and why Nelson Mandela never gave too many interviews on what he believed.
Nelson Mandela had strongest ties to the Methodist and and Jehovah’s Witness denominations of Christianity. His mother was a Methodist and raised him as one. He even attended Methodist missionary school. However, his wife, his sister, and many of his relatives identified as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Throughout the long years that Nelson Mandela spent in prison, he was visited regularly by ministers from the Christian faith, and many of them have confirmed that they prayed with him often. It seemed like that religious connection gave him strength to continue. It is also known that Nelson Mandela received the last rites from a Methodist minister, which gave another clue to the world what his specific faith may have been. But other than those brief hints, Nelson Mandela never made any grandiose statement about what he believed.
Nelson Mandela knew that for his presidency to work for South Africa, he needed to be able to connect with each and every person that lived within the country, regardless of their religious belief. If he had announced his ties with one specific religion, he could have alienated many of the people that looked to him for guidance, and so it is believed by many that for this reason, he decided never to make a public statement about what he believed.
Because apartheid was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, if Nelson Mandela were to chose a denomination, it could have been seen as making a political statement. Like many politicians, Nelson Mandela wanted to keep his personal life separate from his public life, and that is probably why he never came down on any one part of the Church until his very last breaths.