Ethos Education

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: What does someone gain by deciding to forgive?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching on forgiveness.
  • Understanding of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the difficulties of showing goodwill to those who consistently do you harm.
  • Reflect upon the supposed benefits or detriments of hating someone.
  • Analyse biblical teaching on the subject of forgiveness.
  • Reflect on the importance of reconciliation for those who have wronged others.
  • Analyse Colossians 1:21-23 to determine the significance of reconciliation in the Christian faith.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter to someone faced with the choice of forgiveness or hatred.


Ask for some volunteers to play a game. Give out the cards from the Prisoner’s Dilemma handout sheet, one card to each volunteer. Make sure that they don’t show the cards to one another. Three of the cards are identical, but one has special instructions for that volunteer.

Explain, to the volunteers and the class, that they will be competing to score as many points as possible. In each round of the game, they will be matched up with one other volunteer, and each will be given the choice of sharing or stealing. If both volunteers share, they each score two points. If one steals and the other shares, the stealer will score four points and the sharer nothing. If both steal, neither gets anything.

If there is time, play six rounds of the game, keeping a running total of the scores as you go. After each round, swap the pairs around so that after three rounds everyone has played against everyone else once. The next three rounds will see people in a rematch against people who have either shared with or stolen from them in a previous round.

Allow the volunteers a few moments before each game to persuade the other to share with them. Once you are ready, ask the volunteers to stand side by side, facing the class with one hand behind their back and their eyes closed. When you say ‘Now’, they should all hold out either a fist (to indicate that they are stealing) or an open palm (to indicate that they are sharing). Once everyone has showed their intentions, tell them to open their eyes and add any scores to the volunteers’ totals.

Here are the instructions on the cards:

In each round you will have the choice of sharing or stealing. If you and your opponent both share, you will each get two points. If one of you steals and the other shares, the stealer gets four points and the sharer gets nothing. If both of you steal, you both get nothing.

The aim of the game is to get as many points as possible.

Here are the instructions on the secret card:

In each round you will have the choice of sharing or stealing. If you and your opponent both share, you will each get two points. If one of you steals and the other shares, the stealer gets four points and the sharer gets nothing. If both of you steal, you both get nothing.

Whatever else happens, make sure that nobody else gets any points when playing against you. Always steal and never share. You are the only person being given this instruction, the others are free to share or steal as they see fit. In each round try to convince them that you are going to share, but then steal instead.

Ask the three volunteers who had a free choice of their actions how they felt about the one who always stole. If the other players developed a reluctance to share with that player, point this out. Explain that the fourth volunteer was acting on your instructions to always steal, ask them how they felt about the way this worked out. Did constant stealing work well for them in the game, or badly. Hopefully, they will have picked up some points in the early rounds, but then been overtaken by the other players once it became apparent that they couldn’t be trusted to share and share alike.

Explain that the players in the game had to decide whether or not to trust each other. In some cases, it was hard to overlook previous betrayals, particularly from the one player who did nothing but steal. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about why Christians believe forgiveness is so important and so beneficial for people.


Introduce the clip from the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Pathe, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that by this stage of the film, Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) has been in prison for many years. Here, he is visited by his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) who tells him about how the police continue to harass her and their children in spite of Nelson’s incarceration. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Winnie says about her feelings towards the authorities.

  • Start time:       1:06.10 (in chapter 12 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.10.24
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 14 seconds

The clip starts with prisoners mopping the courtyard. The first line is one of the guards saying, ‘Mandela, follow me’. The clip ends after Winnie has repeatedly screamed, ‘Where are my children?’

Remind the students of the following exchange between Nelson and Winnie Mandela from the clip:

Nelson: ‘How do you bear it’?
Winnie: ‘By hating them. Don’t tell me I’m wrong – it keeps me strong’.

Do the students agree that Winnie’s hatred for her oppressors is a good thing? What benefit does she get from that hatred? What might that hatred cost her? How do they think she might react to someone telling her to forgive the people who have persecuted her and her family?

Split the class into pairs or small groups and ask them to read the following Bible passages together. For each passage they should make a list of what that passage has to say on the subject of forgiveness. Once everyone has completed this, bring the class back together and go through their observations together. If you want to get through this part of the lesson a little more quickly, you could only give each group a couple of passages and make sure that they take notes about the other passages during the collective feedback time. Here are the Bible passages: Matthew 5:38-48; Matthew 6:9-15; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11.

Ask the students whether they think that the benefit of forgiving is chiefly felt by the one who is forgiven, or the one who does the forgiving. After allowing some discussion, introduce the second clip from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. In this scene, Nelson has been invited to hold secret talks with representatives of the South African Government. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what he says about revenge.

  • Start time:       1.36.53 (beginning of chapter 18 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.41.17
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 24 seconds

The clip starts with Mandela being driven to a house. The first line, after he gets out of the car, is Mandela saying, ‘Well.’ The clip ends after Mandela says, ‘There will be no revenge.’

Ask the students how Nelson Mandela might have answered the earlier question about who benefits from the act of forgiveness. Draw out from them the concept that forgiveness primarily benefits the one who forgives, not the one who is forgiven.

You might like to read the following quote to the class. Explain that Mary Foley is the mother of Charlotte, a 15-year old girl who was stabbed and killed at a party in 2005. This is part of what she has to say about her decision to forgive Charlotte’s killer:

‘For myself I knew that if I didn’t forgive, anger and bitterness would turn me into a person Charlotte would not have liked. A person that none of my family or friends would have liked, for that matter.

At first forgiveness was about freeing me, because without forgiveness I felt I would have ended up a prisoner’.

For Mary’s full statement, go to

Point out that Mandela’s leadership in regard to forgiveness and not pursuing revenge enabled South Africa to emerge from the years of apartheid as a unified, reconciled nation. Explain that the concept of reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. Read Colossians 1:21-23 with the students. Christians believe that for people to know peace, it is necessary for them to be forgiven by God for their sins against him. Christians believe that not only did Jesus’ death on the cross pay for those sins, but it was also a profound demonstration of forgiveness and reconciliation. Christians believe that God’s plan for reconciliation also results in a new relationship, not simply a mutual moving on and parting of the ways.


Ask the students to write a letter to someone with a reason to hate someone else. It could be someone who has been the victim of violent crime (or the relative of a crime victim), someone whose partner has been unfaithful or any other scenario that the students can think of. The letter should encourage them to choose forgiveness rather than hatred, explaining why this is a better choice for the wellbeing of the recipient of the letter. Students should demonstrate their understanding of Christian thinking on the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation.


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