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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Sunday, October 11

Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.
—Isaiah 60:18

I have a friend who visited the Robin Island prison where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years of incarceration. Guided by one of Mandela’s fellow prisoners, he saw the single, solitary jail cells. 

He went to the lime quarry where every morning the black prisoners would go to chip the white gleaming marble in the tropical sunshine. The brightness of the sun on the white marble damaged their eyes, and Mandela like most of his fellow prisoners was partially blinded.

While imprisoned on Robin Island, Mandela organized the inmates into small groups. As they chipped marble, they took turns teaching one another whatever they knew—political science, biology, accounting, and so forth. Some prisoners became concerned that the white Afrikaner guards were eavesdropping on them.

Good, said Mandela. They are learning also. One day they will be our colleagues and they will need to know these things we are learning. Mandela himself learned the Afrikaner language and read their poetry, history and theater. When criticized for studying the oppressors' culture he responded, I am learning the language of my future colleagues.

Nelson Mandela insisted that his people see their adversary as their future colleagues for the rebuilding of their nation. When apartheid finally fell and the black majority was ready to go to war and claim a total victory over the whites, Mandela unplugged the energy for violence with these words, I have fought all my life against white domination. I will fight all my life against black domination.

Open our eyes O God, to see your image in all persons, that we may be instruments of reconciliation and peace. Amen.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.