Mandela's chaplain shares amazing stories

Rev Colin Chambers at the Transforming Wigan event
Rev Colin Chambers at the Transforming Wigan event

The former chaplain to iconic South African president and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela has been sharing his extraordinary stories on a visit to Wigan.

Rev. Colin Chambers ministered to the global icon for eight years during a 15-year stint spiritually helping inmates at the notorious Robben Island prison.

He has been inspiring faith groups around the borough with his tales, appearing at a Transforming Wigan event and addressing a Businessmen’s Fellowship dinner at the DW Stadium.

He addressed a rapt room of people involved in leadership on Monday morning at Fur Clemt, the Wigan project saving edible food from landfill, with stories of his faith and meeting one of the most famous political figures of the 20th century.

He showed the groups a Bible which Mandela had owned in prison and the lists of prisoners’ names, including many of the anti-apartheid leaders, written inside its covers.

He told stories about Mandela’s warm rapport with the Queen and said it was his down-to-earth nature that was his most defining characteristic even as he reached the top table of global affairs.

Rev. Chambers said: “ It was that humility, that warmth of spirit. Whether he was with the Spice Girls or whether he was with another head of state from another country he was the same man and he treated those with whom he met with the same grace, goodness and respect.”

Colin spoke of growing up in a segregated country and initially working as a special needs teacher while being a navy reserve before committing to a faith-based path and becoming a prison chaplain.

He initially served at Pollsmoor in Cape Town but after taking a break was called back to serve at the notorious island fortress holding numerous political prisoners.

He said: “I reached burnout so I was sent on a missionary trip to recover but eventually I was asked if I would return and go to Robben Island where they were having a security problem.

“They asked me if I would become chaplain to Nelson Mandela and other leaders. I took some time to think this over.

“I was wondering how Nelson would take to me, a white South African. The great man greeted me with these three sentences: ‘You are welcome’, ‘How is the sea?’ and ‘How is your Father?’ I didn’t quite understand the third question but the car driver who took me home when we were back on the mainland explained that by Nelson asking that it meant he had already accepted me.”

Rev. Chambers also told how the apartheid government would distribute fake photos to suggest the prisoners were well cared for.

Stuart Jones from the Businessmen’s Fellowship said: “It was great to have someone who knew Mandela speak.”