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Nelson Mandela, Gracia Machel speak to bishops

Bishop Janice Huie escorts Nelson Mandela and his wife, Gracia Machel, as Bishop Joćo Somane Machado leads the way. A UMNS photo by Stephen Drachler. 









By Linda Green*

Nov. 9, 2006 | MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)

People should be recognized for the work they do and not for who they are or where they come from, Nelson Mandela told bishops of the United Methodist Church.

Mandela, former president of South Africa and an international symbol of human rights, and his wife, former Mozambican education minister Gracia Machel, surprised the bishops with their appearance at dinner on Sunday, Nov. 5. Machel is also the widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, who died in a 1986 airplane crash.

Both Mandela and Machel have deep Methodist roots. Mandela was educated in a Methodist school in South Africa. Machel is United Methodist and attended a Methodist school in Mozambique.
Machel called herself a "bridge between Mozambique and South Africa." She and Mandela were married on Mandela's 80th birthday, and they have a home in Maputo. The bishops met Nov. 1-6 in Maputo, the first time they have gathered outside the territorial United States.

In a voice that was feisty at times and somber at others, Mandela recounted his Methodist education and the role of the church in his upbringing.
He told the bishops that when he arrived at the Hotel Avenida in Maputo that evening, "I had no idea whatsoever that I would be brought to such a sacred gathering."
Invoking the African-American spiritual "May the Work I've Done," the 87-year-old Noble Prize winner told the bishops of a story he often tells about leaving this life, going to heaven's door and knocking. An angel comes forth and asks his identity. Mandela identifies himself as "Madiba" Mandela from South Africa, and the angel says, "We have no space for you."

Mandela used that dream to emphasize his point that one should be recognized for one's work and not for who they are or where they come from.

'A Methodist child'

Machel told that bishops that "I stand here mainly as a Methodist child."

She spoke of three women who impacted her life, including her mother, who raised six children alone after Machel's father died. "She did the impossible to educate us all."

Machel's sister became her second mother, and "built me in terms of guidance and making me grow as a woman," she said.

An American missionary named Mabel "identified some sort of strength in me" and she "trusted me and she did everything she could to find scholarships." Machel said her attending school is something "I owe to the Methodist Church, and especially to Mabel."

In 1975, Machel became the minister of education for Mozambique, the first woman to hold that post.

"From the Methodist Church, I had an obligation to give back to those who had supported me. I had to give back to the community," she said. "So my experience as the minister of education was based in linking national policies with communities, in helping communities to fight very actively in building schools, selecting teachers and supporting the teachers in school."

She told the council that when she took office in 1975, the country had a 93 percent illiteracy rate. The country moved to "socialized literacy," determining that people who could read and write would become teachers and those who couldn't would be learners.

"That transformed the county in a huge way," she said.  In five years, the illiteracy rate declined from 93 percent to 10 percent, she said.

When her term ended, she helped create the Foundation for Community Development. Its task was to assist families, which she called a "major unit" of a community. In the family, the woman is the focus of education because women have the children. "My obligation was to give back what I had been given and to be hope and be the future for the children of our country." 

The women are also a focus of education for the foundation because they are being affected by HIV/AIDS. Machel said women are the caregivers and sometimes the providers, and if they are sick they cannot provide. "Empowering women ... through education is a must for us," she said. 

Life and death issues

Today, the country faces "serious challenges," she said.

Mozambique is in the top 10 countries affected by HIV/AIDS, with 1.8 million infected, she said. Of those ages 25-49, the percentage of women infected is 58 percent, "far more than men," she said.  Of those ages 15-34 who are infected, girls account for 76 percent.

No matter what is done to address the problem of HIV/AIDS among women, Machel said, "we will not be able to turn around this problem, in terms of reduction of infection"  without educating women about "gender relations."

"It is a matter of survival for our women," she added.

To the United Methodist Church, she said: "Thank you for the many things you do for many of us. In my generation, there are many young women and young men who had the opportunity to go to school because of your generosity and your solidarity."

Machel expressed appreciation to the Council of Bishops for choosing Mozambique for its meeting. She noted that despite the country's challenges, it has shown resilience and an ability to reinvent itself.

"Our people reinvent themselves even before huge challenges," she said. She cited the country's recovery from a civil war that lasted from the mid-1970s into the early 1990s. "In about 10-12 years, this country has changed its face. Our people are resilient."

The people, she said, will use that same resilience to fight HIV/AIDS, poverty and other challenges.

"Having you here is an additional recharging of our energies, to know that we are not alone - you are there as leaders. Thank you for clearly sending that message that we are not alone," Machel said.

'We are blessed'

Bishop Joćo Somane Machado, who leads the United Methodist Church in Mozambique, told Machel and Mandela that he believed the evening was "providential. We as Africans and we as Mozambicans are blessed to have you here. We as a council are blessed to have you here."

After the other addresses, Bishop Janice Huie, president of the Council of Bishops, responded: "Many people have thanked us since we came here for coming to Mozambique and to Africa, but tonight we are far more blessed. We have been in the company of the saints and we know it, and we are grateful."

She noted Machel's remarks about poverty, HIV/AIDS, children's concerns and the need for education. "We want you to know that as the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, we stand with you, in solidarity with you and we will work with you because you have shown us the way to make this world a better place. We thank you."

As Mandela and Machel moved from their table to leave the dining room, bishops lined up to speak with them, shake their hands or to touch Mandela's arm.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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