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From inside South Africa in 1990
Mission associates recall the freeing of Nelson Mandela

Ana and Tod Gobledale, mission associates serving two congregations in London, England, since 2010 with the UCC/Disciples of Christ Global Ministries, recently reflected on their experience living and serving in South Africa when Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was released after 27 years of imprisonment.

Tod and Ana Gobledale

Tod and Ana Gobledale in 1990 with their children and local children on the steps of the house where they lived in Mfanefile, South Africa.   Photos courtesy of Tod and Ana Gobledale

They previously served as missionaries in South Africa from 1984 to 1991, in Zimbabwe from 1994 to 2000.  They were in Cleveland while Ana served on the Global Ministries staff from 2000 to 2003.  They served four-and-a-half years in Australia, then as interim co-pastors of Kirkland Congregational UCC, before going to London.

“Today we give thanks for the life and accomplishments of this father of a nation, beloved by the world,” they wrote recently.

They recalled that when they listened to the “live” account of his release and his first steps into freedom on Sunday Feb. 11, 1990, they had not joined the world celebrating that morning.


People on the road in the village of Mfanefile, South Africa.

“We lived inside South Africa, at Mfanefile, a “black spot” in the hinterlands of today’s KwaZulu Natal,” they said. 

News was heavily censored by the government. 

“Often large black blocks of ink would remind us of items prohibited to be shared in print,” they said.  “Other times, the news would just be missing.”

Ana and Tod relied on family and friends writing them about South African news from The New York Times, which they could share in their Zulu-speaking community.


A copy of the London Herald which confirmed news that Nelson Mandela was freed.

“On that global day of joy, we lived in darkness. Our community’s hope had been so severely snatched, we had only one more unbelievable rumor to dismiss as we gathered for church,” they recalled.

“Yes, we had heard President de Klerk had supposedly removed Mandela from Robben Island. Yes, we had heard new rumors that Mandela was to be set free. Yes, we had heard.

“But none of us believed. Like Doubting Thomas, ‘until I can thrust my hand into his wounds,’ until I can see his face,” they said.

No one, however, knew what Mandela looked like any more, because no image of him had been seen since June 6, 1986, and then it was only a reprint of a 1964 photo printed in The Weekly Mail.

It had been illegal during his imprisonment to publish his photo.

“So, we wondered, could we even believe any photos the white press cared to release?' they explained their experience.

In their community, which received no newspaper deliveries, not even to the local shop, “living proof” would be long in coming, Ana and Tod said.

When a copy of the Feb. 11 newspaper finally arrived at Mfanefile, it made the rounds to choruses, cheers and dancing.

“Hope. Hope restored! Hope that one man’s first steps into freedom might set the path for the people of the nation to follow, walking together from the darkness into light,” they recalled their experience.

“Thank you Tata Mandela for leading the way,” they wrote just before his funeral.  “Today our prayers are with the people of South Africa, at Mfanefile and throughout the nation.”

One of their blogsites is at


Copyright © December 2013 - Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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