Long Walk To Freedom – Autobiography of Nelson
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is a very fascinating book. It is the story of one of the truly greatest men of the 20th Century. The 768-page account of Mandela’s life from his own eyes is so
riveting that no further motivation than opening the first page is required.
Mandela takes you through his childhood; describing in details the events that shaped his life. He describes the loss of his father at age nine and his subsequent dislocation to live with relatives at the Royal household. Then you are taken through his schooling years. A detailed description of his circumcision
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It is interesting that an innocuous occasion like fleeing an arranged marriage drove Mandela to Johannesburg. It was in Johannesburg that he awakened as a political activist. Here he met all the key players in the struggle against white domination and became so deeply involved in politics that it destroyed his first marriage.
Mandela was reluctant to join the armed struggle which was agitated for by most of the members of ANC Youth wing. Once he was persuaded to join the struggle Mandela applied himself passionately to his new found vocation. It is remarkable that his meeting with another struggle icon Walter Sisulu in 1940s triggerred a friendship that would last six-decades through trials, prison and freedom.
Mandela married Winnie Mandela amid the turmoil of the struggle around him. As a result the young couple never enjoyed normal family life. Mandela was constantly being harassed by authorities until he left the country to join the armed struggle.
On return Mandela who had become one the most wanted fugitive was arrested and charged with treason in the famous Rivonia Treason Trial. It is here that Mandela’s famous words were uttered:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination; I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (pp.438)
This speech uttered as his closing argument was to fire the imagination of participants of the anti-apartheid struggle for 27 years.
After sentencing Mandela was incarcerated in the infamous Robben Island Prison. For 27 years Mandela was to remain in Prison until his release in February 1990. The Prison years make for depressing reading. It is remarkable that after He suffered so much depravation Mandela remains free from bitterness.
While in prison he relates how he handled the news of the loss of his mother and then his first born son in a short space of time. He was not even allowed to attend their funerals. It is a poignant moment where he describes how Walter Sisulu held his hand and sat by his bed silently as he was grieving the loss of his son. The constant harassment of his wife Winnie and her imprisonment was a burden he bore alone while in prison.
The negotiations for his release were tough. It is the mark of the Mandela’s greatness that he would not compromise to earn his freedom early. Eventually agreement was reached and Mandela was set to be released on 11 February 1990. This is actual the climax of his life, when he emerges from the Prison walking with his wife Winnie.
The rest of the book quickly covers negotiations for a new democratic order in South Africa. Finally after his party the African National Congress won the first democratic elections in 1994
and he was sworn in as the first black President of the Republic of South Africa on 10 May 1994.
It is amazing that you find Mandela at every significant point of transition choosing the difficult path. As someone connected to royalty he could have quietly married and stayed in his village where he would have leaaved a comfortable life. Instead he refused an arranged marriage and ran off to Johannesburg. In Johannesburg as one of the few educated Africans he could have lived a comfortable working life as an attorney. But he chose to take on the struggle of the masses. After the Rivonia trial and his sentence to life imprisonment he was, on several occasion, offered freedom at the expense of renouncing the armed struggle; he refused. It was too high a price for his own freedom; rather he preferred freedom for everyone.
The closing words of the book sum up Mandela’s own life. One cannot but admire the man’s tenacity in adversity. At the end one certainly agrees it has indeed been a Long Walk to Freedom.
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”