“As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt- even at the age of seventy-one- that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were over.” – Nelson Mandela, A Long Walk to Freedom
2013, my year of reading biographies, started off with Dr. King’s and ended with reading Nelson Mandela’s. A perfect end to the year.
Apartheid is something that hit very close to home to me, being a member of the same Bantu people that the racist Afrikaner government believed were on the same level as animals. Mandela has always been a hero in my family and I grew up hearing about his life and his struggles to gain freedom for black South Africans. I knew about Apartheid before I knew about the American civil rights movement.
This autobiography is very comprehensive in scope, covering Mandela’s childhood, his adulthood, his transformation into a freedom fighter, and his time spent in jail, and finally his inauguration as South Africa’s first black president.The history of his African National Congress party was intriguing,and even more gripping were the stories of Mandela’s days as the “Black Pimpernel” travelling all around Africa and Europe.
This was not an easy read. Mandela made so many sacrifices, as did his wife and children. It really hurt reading about how he, his wife and children were treated, and how it took so long for the world to wake up and send proper help.
“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”
A couple of things really stood out to me. The first was how colonized our thinking is. Black Africans have been told they are inferior and even now they often display that inferiority complex. The Afrikaners were fed the same lies and believed that blacks were inferior before witnessing for themselves that that wasn’t true (Boer party propaganda). The second thing that stood out was how this book restored my faith in mankind at times. It was fascinating to read about the humanity that arose in the unlikeliest people.
Mandela was humble and acknowledged all those involved in the freedom struggle. About his inauguration, he said, “I felt that day, as I have on so many other days, that I was simply the sum of all those African patriots who have gone before me. That long and noble line ended and now began again with me. I was pained that I was not able to thank them and that they were not able to see what their sacrifices had wrought.”
After reading this book, my respect for Mandela grew even more. I loved his spirit; he refused to be broken, he refused to become bitter and he somehow kept his wit and his sense of humour. He was honest about what he learned, about his own prejudices and mistakes.
The first time I visited South Africa was in 1995, a year after the democratic elections that officially ended Apartheid. The thought crossed my mind that a few years prior my family and I would not have been able to make that trip in such comfort and safety. Thank you, Madiba for making this happen.
To quote my GR friend Leola, “I feel like the world could never be prepared enough to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela.”
I stayed up late watching the coverage of Mandela’s funeral. Two key speakers at his funeral inspired me like no other. The first was Joyce Banda, the first female president of Malawi, also the first female head of state in the whole of southern Africa. Banda acknowledged both Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Graca Machel, something that I think had yet to be done. Although Winnie had been divorced from Mandela for years, she was so pivotal in the struggle and I am so glad that Banda acknowledged her. Also, I was wondering how those of us who love and admire Mandela can further his legacy, and whether we have truly learned anything from his struggle. Joyce Banda said that reading about Mandela and also meeting him helped her to forgive those who tried to assassinate her. I thought that was very powerful.
The second person who inspired me was former Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda, who seems to have more energy than me despite being 89 years old (he ran up to the podium)! A lot of people criticized him for pretending to forget the name of President Botha (that definitely added a comical element to the proceedings, an element I believe the mourners appreciated) and also by talking about how blacks were treated under the apartheid regime. However, I admire people who don’t sugarcoat history; it’s important for us to know our history regardless of how painful it is. I believe that’s the point; if it’s painful to recount history perhaps we won’t repeat our mistakes.
This is one of the most touching Madiba tributes I witnessed. The song is entitled “Asimbonanga” (“We Have Not Seen Him”), and was originally sang by Johnny Clegg (“The White Zulu”) in 1987 as a tribute to Mandela.