BOOK (1994)

Nelson Mandela

Rewind, book: 'Long Walk to Freedom' by Nelson Mandela

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 3:51pm

Long Walk to Freedom

by Nelson Mandela

Macdonald Purnell

Around the time a black South African revolutionary was facing a lengthy spell in jail, a young American musician was engaging in his own form of protest.

The year was 1962, and the song Blowin' in the Wind. In it, Bob Dylan asks: "How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?" Not many men have walked down as many roads as Nelson Mandela. His extraordinary life has been filled with love, joy, strife, struggle, incarceration, hope, humility and, finally, freedom.

Mandela endured humiliation from the mouths of the white leaders and at the hands of the prison guards on Robben Island, but also witnessed immense bravery in the face of great prejudice.

Four years after Mandela was released from prison, and three years after he became president of the African National Congress (ANC), he set about writing his life story; not many chronicles before or since had been so eagerly anticipated. It wasn't a life of myths and legends, but one of uncomfortable truths.

The story began on July 18, 1918, at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River. Mandela was born into the Xhosa clan, of the Thembu people, and although technically a member of the royal household, was given the name Rolihlahla, the "troublemaker".

The first section of the book is an ode to childhood, a time of innocence. Nature plays a major part early on, but so too does Mandela's burgeoning sense of honour: "Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonouring them," he writes.

His father passed away while he was still a toddler, and before long he had been sent away to be educated. The story then charts (in great detail) Mandela's schooling, his foray into law, his relocation to Johannesburg, and his immersion into politics.

Mandela's savvy and patient nature made him an ideal member of the burgeoning ANC movement, and his calm, measured approach to political and social change allowed him to confront the apartheid government with particularly arresting power.

Perhaps the most poignant sentiment comes near the end, when he writes: "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love."

Oliver Clasper