Nadine Gordimer, white South African writer and friend of Nelson Mandela, noticed something that any of us knows immediately to be true: “There is no moral authority like that of sacrifice.”
It was certainly true with Mandela, who died this month after leading South Africa out of the race-dividing system known as apartheid imposed by Dutch colonizers. Only someone who committed himself totally and suffered as he had, who sacrificed 27 years of his life to imprisonment for the cause, could carry moral authority powerful enough to lead that divided nation away from death by bitterness and hatred.
Of course Christians recognize this right away. We have a leader who is the icon of reconciliation through sacrifice.
Mandela’s was only the most notable death among public figures this year. There were well known others such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and lesser knowns such as the Texan Billie Sol Estes, who made millions of dollars in the late 1950s and early ’60s through fraudulent buying and selling of liquid fertilizer. Walt Bellamy, a top pro basketball player in the 1960s and ’70s, also passed on in 2013, as did Frank Lauterbur, football coach at the University of Iowa whose teams from 1971 through 1973 won a total of four games.