Evangelical leaders in South Africa welcomed last month’s release of activist Nelson Mandela with surprise, but tempered their enthusiasm with reminders that the recent government actions represented only one of many steps yet to be taken toward reconciliation in the country. Freedom for the 71-year-old Mandela came two weeks after South African President F. W. de Klerk lifted a ban on several militant anti-apartheid groups, such as the African National Congress (ANC), and promised to release some 120 political prisoners.

The following are selected comments from several church leaders contacted by CHRISTIANITY TODAY following Mandela’s release:

• Nico Smith, director of Koinonia South Africa: I’ve always felt at some stage the South African government would have to make such an announcement, but I thought there would have to be much more pressure from both inside and outside the country before the government would be willing to do so. It was really an act of God.

Many people now think the struggle is over, but we are still going to go through a time of severe crisis. The basic conflict between white nationalism and black nationalism remains. And the fact that the black political leaders have been released and are now permitted to organize their people has created a situation much more dangerous than before. I can’t see how whites are going to change their minds. Sadly, they have never had the opportunity to be exposed to black political leaders, to listen to them, to hear what they think of government and the future of the country. So there is much distrust.

It’s going to take a long time [to develop trust and bring about reform], and I don’t think we have that time. Expectations have become too strong and too immediate in the ...

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