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Long Walk to Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom
Nelson Mandela
638 pages

First sentence: Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla.

Reflections:  Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in 1962, the year I was born.  Apartheid, the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa, and Mandela's life and work, were not taught in any of my history classes.  I viewed apartheid through the lens of the American Civil Rights movement, and was not aware of the unique cultural aspects and political events that shaped South Africa.  

This book is important and required reading.  It tells the story of his country childhood, and the serendipitous turn of events that ensured he received a full education.  As a young lawyer, he began representing black South Africans, something few were willing to do.  He became involved in politics, and then became a freedom fighter rising to leadership roles in the African National Congress (ANC):
"I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people." (p. 95)

For some time, he promoted a non-violent approach but just prior to his imprisonment the ANC determined it was important to build an army, sensing someday they might need to use such methods:
"A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor." (p. 166)

I found his time in prison to be one of the more interesting sections of the book.  Most of this was spent on Robben Island, with several other political prisoners.  Initially conditions were harsh, and the labor difficult.  Family visits were permitted twice a year.  Permission for basic items, such as long pants instead of shorts, was routinely denied.  However, as time passed, some of the rules and sanctions were relaxed.  Prisoners were permitted to study and pursue advanced degrees.  Many years into his sentence, Mandela and others recognized that new, younger prisoners lacked a basic understanding of the ANC and formed a kind of "university" to teach these young men.  Thus prison served to recruit others to the struggle.

We know the rest of the story: released in 1990, instrumental in negotiating the first national, non-racial, "one man one vote" elections, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and elected President.  This review can't begin to do justice to Mandela's life.  You simply have to read the book.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color 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, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.  .... Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."  (p. 622)

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
27 / 50

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
10,075 / 15,000


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2007 12:01 pm (UTC)
This sounds like a beautiful book. I studied Mandela in college and always remembered how charismatic he is. Seems like his autobiography captures this!
Jun. 9th, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)
"I studied Mandela in college ..."
Lucky you. Sometimes I wish I'd attended a more liberal arts-oriented university instead of a science & engineering state school!
Jun. 9th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
Comment from Joy...
This sounds really good, Laura. To be honest, I don't know much about Mandela and this would be great for me. Thanks for the review. :)
Jun. 15th, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
I think I'd really love to read this! On to the wishlist it goes.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )