Released by the International Society for Krishna Consiousness (ISKCON) Ministry of Communications, Anuttama Dasa, Washington, D.C., USA, Champakalata Dasi, Durban South Africa and Nanda Kishor Das, Johannesburg, South Africa.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) joins the world in mourning and paying tribute to the foremost human rights icon of current times, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. We offer our condolences to the Mandela family and to the entire South African nation.
In 1990 at the age of 72, after 27 years of being imprisoned by the apartheid government, he reached out to his oppressors and chartered a peaceful transformation to democracy in a country where the minority was gripped with fear for what the future might hold. As a result of the forgiveness that he displayed and kindness that he extended, followers of the African National Congress (ANC) which he led, heeded his call for peace and reconciliation to prevail amongst all the people of South Africa. From the impoverished townships to sport fields to religious communities to parliament, Madiba (as he affectionately became known) worked his own special Madiba magic across the nation.
ISKCON was privileged to have Mr. Mandela visit their temple in Chatsworth, South Africa, in 1992 and discuss the teachings of the ancient scripture, Bhagavad-Gita, over a meal at their Govinda’s restaurant. During this visit Mr. Mandela with dignity but humility bowed before ISKCON Founder Acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and then asked "How did he do it?", meaning how did Srila Prabhupada spread Krishna consciousness all over the world. A discussion ensued about how Srila Prabhupada gave Krishna consciousness to all nationalities and types of people, without discrimination, and Mr. Mandela was deeply struck by this, and was very appreciative of Srila Prabhupada. He also very much appreciated the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita which emphasises the equality of all living beings; as children of God we all deserve to share in God’s gifts and to be treated with respect and dignity.
After becoming the country’s first democratically elected President in 1994, President Mandela, once again visited the Hare Krishna temple. It was from this venue that he addressed the 10,000 strong Hindu community, as well as the nation, on the occasion of Diwali, the Festival of Lights and New Year. Diwali celebrates the return of the famed Lord Rama from fourteen years of exile and his coronation as King of Ayodhya. The community recognised the significant similarities between Lord Rama’s struggle and His ultimate victory and that of President Mandela.
Nelson Mandela addressing the crowd (with late Bhaktitirtha Swami and Indradyumna Swami)
President Mandela gave particular attention to respecting the multitude of different languages, cultures and spiritual beliefs that prevailed throughout what became known as a “rainbow nation.” And, the new Constitution ensured the rights of all South Africans to freedom of expression and religious freedom.
Based on this inspiration, in 1997, ISKCON’s Food For Life project planned and hosted the “Festival for the Children of the Rainbow Nation” with President Mandela as its Guest of Honour. The event saw 50 000 school children with their teachers gather at Kings Park Soccer stadium. After delivering the key note address, President Mandela extended his stay at the event and spent more than five hours watching the various children’s performances. He encouraged the children to excel in school, take advantage of the rights afforded to them, and instructed them to appreciate that the generations before them had fought for their freedom. The Mercury Newspaper reported that he stated this was “the happiest day” of his life.
Nelson Mandela dancing with the children at the ISKCON Food for Life event
Mr. Mandela was much more than a champion of human rights, State President or Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He touched the lives of every single South African and made them feel safe and genuinely cared for. He was indeed the father of the nation, in the true sense of the term, genuinely striving for a better future for all his people. He was a leader, teacher and example for the whole world. He is, and will continue to be, a symbol of hope, faith and forbearance.
May the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna bless this great soul.
President Mandela with Bhakti Caitanya Swami[ africa ] [ nelson-mandela ]