It’s a long way from Kansas City, Mo., to Johannesburg, South Africa.
It would take about 17 hours flying time from Kansas City International Airport and cost about $1,675 for a round-trip ticket. I have no plans, or desire, to make such a long, expensive trip.

But two of the greatest men of my lifetime have lived and worked in and around Johannesburg, which is about the same size as Kansas City. Those two men are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Because most of us don’t have any contact with, and maybe not much knowledge of, South Africa, we tend not to be as interested in it as, say, European or even Asian countries.

But most of us have heard quite a lot about Mandela, who died this past December at the age of 95.

And maybe some of you have seen the splendid biographical film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was issued about the time of his death.

The most incredible thing about Mandela is that after being in prison for 27 years, he was elected as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa, which was established in 1961.

That election took place 20 years ago this coming Sunday, on April 27, 1994.

That was the first democratic and nonracial national election to be held in the country; everyone 18 and older of any race (even non-citizens) was allowed to vote. The African National Congress (ANC) was voted into power.

Even though there were three candidates, Mandela was elected president with nearly 63 percent of the votes.

He assumed office on May 10 and served a five-year term that ended in June 1999, about a month before his 81st birthday.

Since 1994, April 27 has been celebrated every year in South Africa as Freedom Day, a public holiday.

On Sunday, there will be big 20th anniversary celebrations in Johannesburg, Pretoria and all across the country of South Africa.

Even though the vast majority of the people were of course black, for a very long time South Africa was ruled by minority whites who lived there.

In 1912, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed with the purpose of increasing the rights of the black population.

That organization became the ANC in 1923, and in 1961 it formed a military wing.

Mandela joined the ANC in the early 1940s and began the ANC Youth League in 1944. In 1961, he became involved with the military wing.

So, yes, Mandala was involved in violent resistance against the oppressive government.

I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England.

Mandala was arrested in August 1962, tried and sentence to prison, where he remained until he was finally released in February 1990, after 27-plus years.

Remarkably, though, rather than harboring bitterness and seeking revenge, Mandela took a forgiving and conciliatory approach toward the white government.

In his new book, “The Book of Forgiving,” Desmond Tutu writes that Mandela’s long years in prison transformed him “from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness and honor.”

Fittingly, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Please join me in commemorating the outstanding life and achievements of Nelson Mandela and in wishing the people of South Africa well on their 20th Freedom Day.

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. He blogs at The View from this Seat, and you can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.

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